The Russian Reconquest of Cuba: What We’re Not Seeing

Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. (Archive/Kremlin)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo, Quito, 3 June 2023 — After twenty long intergovernmental sessions between Cuba and Russia and a visit of moral support by Díaz-Canel to the butcher of Ukraine — the warrior Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin — the Havana regime opened its arms to the proposals and pressures of the Russian oligarchy. Cuba is going through the greatest economic, political and social crisis in its recent history, and for the Kremlin’s vultures it is low-hanging fruit. The conditions ceased to be mere points of negotiation to become a “take it or leave it.”

What is Russia looking for in Cuba by gaining land in usufruct for more than 30 years? This is the question that the official media makes us ask, when, without a doubt, it is the least important element in the geopolitical move that the weak Cuban regime is making.

Let’s pay attention. Russia is a country of 17 million square kilometers (6,563,737 sq. miles), while Cuba does not exceed 11,000 (4,247 sq. miles). The small Caribbean island fits 1,545 times into the territory of the Russian Federation.

One might think that fertile Cuban lands are an appetizing prize for Russian farmers and Siberian businessmen tired of snow and frozen furrows, but such ideas would be typical of an irrational villager.

The most fertile lands on the earth’s surface are called chernozem, and they are only found on 7% of the planet, and of that amount 74% are in Russia. To be clear, Cuba would fit 23 times into the highly fertile territory of Russia, and we are not even talking about the other arable lands of the largest country in the world. A small detail: Cuba doesn’t have a single square meter of chernozem.

It is evident that it is not the “privileged” lands of Cuba that convened the eleventh business meeting between the Russian oligarchs and the worn-out Cuban leadership. The words of Boris Titov, the most visible face of the Russian right-wing billionaires and businessman close to the Castro regime, should serve as an alert for us to understand what is coming.

As “Comrade” Titov said at the inauguration of the XI Meeting of the Business Committee: “There is a whole set of proposals for Russian businessmen, such as the usufruct of land for more than 30 years. The elimination of tariffs for the import of high-tech products and the guaranteed right to be able to send the earnings and profits obtained in business to Russia (…). Currently, the Government of the Republic of Cuba guarantees that this process will be done in a short time with privileges for Russian businessmen.”

These words may seem innocuous, but it is necessary to translate Russian intentions into neighborhood Spanish. Titov is the main teacher of the political guidelines (requirements) of the Russian oligarchs to the Cuban regime. The so-called “roadmap” between Moscow and Havana are commandments to move forward with investments. The official document is preserved under some secrecy, as usual, but official publications of the Putin Government already allude to it, using that name.

From what has been published by Russian media, it is understood that the lands in usufruct are nothing more than the elimination of land leases for Russian agricultural and technology companies. Even the Americans were not so evicted with the Treaty of the Lease of Naval Bases and Coalfields. The “imperium” always paid rent. But the Russians will take the land for their companies and businesses without paying, and they will enjoy privileges that have not been given to any Cuban company that doesn’t have a direct association with the military entrepreneurship of the Castro regime.

Russians will be able to bring in technology for their businesses without paying the tariffs that Cubans have to pay even for basic necessities. They are guaranteed that they will not be disturbed at the Customs of the Republic of Cuba, while the citizens of the Island do not have that security.

The most scandalous of the privileges is that “the elimination of tariffs for the import of high-tech products is guaranteed, as is the right to be able to send to Russia the earnings and profits obtained in business,” according to Titov. If it were another country that spoke of free-form capital outflow, the Havana regime and its press would shout that they are profiteers and vultures.

It is natural that Russia’s “vulture” investments arrive at this time with guarantees of return to the accounts of the oligarchs outside Cuba. Russians can be whatever they want, but fools they have never been. Cuba is a country in political and social crisis, lacking leadership, and a hotbed of silent conflicts between the military, select cadres of the Communist Party and those close to power. In an increasingly unstable country it is mandatory to have a capital escape route that does not collide with bureaucratic obstacles and lack of legal guarantees.

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Chernishenko, said during the meeting in Havana: “The Governments of Russia and Cuba are working on the creation of beneficial conditions for business. That means the elimination of bureaucratic barriers, the reduction of taxes and tariffs and the development of banking infrastructure to guarantee uninterrupted service.”

There are many optimists on social networks who see in this move the salvation of the dictatorship and the rebound of the Cuban domestic economy. The big question they should ask themselves is in what currency they plan to use to pay the Russians for the agricultural and technological products they will develop in Cuba. Do you really believe that the Russian ultra-capitalist millionaires led by Titov want to accumulate pesos?

Cuban emigration has decimated the Cuban population in the last decade. Estimates indicate that more than 2.3 million Cubans live in the United States. The northern neighbor is the largest source of remittances for Cuba. If the Russians take charge, they will try to monopolize the turbulent foreign exchange market of the Island and fill their pockets while they can.

In these circumstances, Fidel comes to mind, when he was questioned by a journalist at the inauguration of one of those first hotels for foreigners which denied access to Cubans. “If these mixed hotels were to charge in pesos, the hotel would not be built here. Because even the capitalists would not come to invest; it they wouldn’t really be interested in accumulating pesos.” Then he continued with his diatribe about the American blockade, in the same style as the current Díaz-Canel discourse.

Cuba is a long loop of repetitions of history. Memories of past failures come and go. The owners of Cuba’s destiny are not the Russian oligarchs, nor the pink cadres of the Communist Party, nor the old military, nor the last-minute screamers. This prolonged and unpleasant novel will culminate when the Cuban people do what they have to do.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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