The U.S. Project to Help Small Businesses Within Cuba is Controversial

The Bohemia Café, adjacent to Estancia Bohemia, private businesses in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 19 September 2023 — The Biden government plans to announce this week the lifting of restrictions to help Cuban micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), according to knowledgeable sources in several American media. Both the Palm Beach Post on Saturday and the Bloomberg agency on Monday indicated that these are “specific guidelines” for U.S. financiers to grant loans to independent companies within the Island.

According to América TeVé, the new measures will include the management of bank accounts in U.S. institutions for residents of Cuba, something prohibited until now. “For example, a small business owner in Cuba can travel to the United States, create a bank account in a U.S. bank and then return to Cuba and manage it from there to make payments, deposits and transfers,” an anonymous source told journalist Mario J. Penton.

The same source says that the prohibitions imposed by the Trump Administration on transactions with third countries to send remittances to the Island will also be overturned.

The State Department refused to confirm to these media the concreteness of the announcement of the measures, but it did say, “We believe the private sector is Cuba’s best hope to generate economic development and employment to improve the living standards of the Cuban people and reduce the current high levels of migration.”

“We believe that the private sector is Cuba’s best hope to generate economic development and employment to improve living standards”

By helping “independent entrepreneurship and civil society,” the organization also said, “we support the Cuban people in their efforts to improve the economic condition of their country, generate employment and escape poverty.”

It is not expected, however, Bloomberg warns, “that more radical changes will be imminent,” given that “American Democrats are wary of doing anything that could alienate Cuban-American voters in Florida, a determining state ahead of the 2024 elections.”

The long report published on the subject by the Palm Beach Post includes a “recent lunch” in Miami-Dade full of “ambitious and successful expatriates from other countries,” including two “owners of private companies on the rise within the communist country.” One of the residents in Cuba, who requested anonymity, is engaged in international trade, and the other has a chain of cafeterias.

The owners of Cuban MSMEs complained about the “important obstacles” that prevent their growth, such as the terrible state of the Island’s infrastructure, “from a short circuit in the electricity grid to bumpy roads,” and a “practically non-existent banking system.” The latter, according to the Florida newspaper, is what has led them to seek funding in the United States.

Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group in Washington D.C., who attended the event and spoke with the aforementioned media, also believes that the “package of political adjustments” is imminent. These “will detail how Cuban businessmen can open bank accounts in the United States and then have access to those bank accounts from within Cuba,” Herrero told Bloomberg.

“Following the game of their maneuvers or, even worse, supporting them financially, will only prolong the agony of the Cuban people”

However, there are many suspicions aroused by the new measures, as revealed by the Palm Beach Post, which explains the “paradox” that MSMEs are seen as “Trojan horses” on both sides of the Florida Strait: “Ideological communists perceive them as a threat to the Cuban Revolution, now in its 64th year. The anti-communist exiles in South Florida suspect that they are a facade for the successors of the Castro brothers.”

“How does Raúl Castro get his cut?” asked Rubén Roque, an exile from the 1960s, and the epitome of the mistrust that any independent firm within Cuba that is not “openly dissident” lacks credibility, or is even linked to the regime and the apparatus of the Communist Party.

Adolfo García, a lawyer who has worked on trade agreements with Cuba, told the Palm Beach Post that “recent history” does not bode well for the MSMEs. In this regard, he recalled the time of the thaw of then-President Barack Obama in which he believed: “The fact is that the opening not only did not work, did not have the success that both Obama and people like me thought, but it also tremendously strengthened the hand of the supporters of the hardline. Clearly it is a system that values the political control, policies and total influence of the Communist Party and does not want a rival source of power, which is what makes a prosperous economy: a prosperous capitalist private sector.”

For its part, the organization Cuba Siglo 21 has expressed criticism of these possible measures on Tuesday, recalling that “the highly propagandized MSMEs barely add up to 8,000 businesses and do not work in a context of free enterprise and a market economy,” and they will only be truly free if the “economic regulations that prevail today on the Island” are lifted.

“The State’s insistence on authorizing the existence of any business is to be able to discriminate against citizens for their political or religious beliefs or for the simple fact of having another country of residence and excluding all of them (millions of Cubans) from investing in the Cuban economy,” warns the NGO co-directed by Juan Antonio Blanco and Emilio Morales. “Following the game of their maneuvers or, even worse, supporting them financially, will only prolong the agony of the Cuban people.”

“There will be no private sector in Cuba, no private companies, no private entrepreneurs until the State – among other things – legally recognizes the right of these companies to decide in which sectors to invest, to select their partners among Cubans or foreigners within the territory and abroad, export and import directly, set the prices of their products and services and sell them directly or through an agency of their choice,” they say.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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