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US reality in socialist Cuba

 I never miss reading a Rickey Singh column on purpose.  His takes on Caribbean politics and geopolitics are incisive and usually on target, with one exception: his take on Cuba. 

It is in dealing with that socialist state that his steely analyses turn mushier than yesterday’s pablum.  His recent (April 16, 2014) piece arguing that Cuba’s new foreign investments law is intended to “combat the destructive effects” of the US “blockade,” is a case in point.  Its “core dimension,” he insists, is intended “to finally overcome persistent consequences of America’s crippling economic blockade.”  This blockade, he says, also involves US “acts of terrorism.”

Mr Singh should be a little more precise in his terminology if he is to understand what the changes in Cuba’s economic direction are intended to achieve.  Several points:  First, a “blockade” is what President Kennedy put around Cuba during the Missile Crisis of 1962, i.e., nothing enters or leaves Cuba without being boarded by US ships.  No such action is in place.  What is in place is an embargo which is onerous enough but not fatal. Not unlike Radio and TV Martí, which hardly anyone in Cuba pays any attention to, its main purpose is to mollify the die-hard recalcitrant Cuban-American lobbies in Miami and New Jersey. After five decades of failure to achieve “regime change”, the embargo is being overtaken by events. 

Consider the following: Some 450,000 Cuban-Americans travel to Cuba every year and they, and the remittances of an estimated 75 per cent of the other Cuban-Americans, are now the second major source of hard currency after the Venezuelan oil and payments for services.  Second, investigate the expansion of cuentapropista paladares (restaurants) which have become such an integral part of tourism in the island, and you will find Miami money. The sirloin steak you ordered? Most surely from Florida since the US is now the single most important supplier of food in Cuba.  Even the mix for the very Cuban daiquiri comes from Miami.

The reason behind the new law on foreign investments is the total failure of the socialist command economy to generate growth and especially its inability to absorb into cuentapropismo (small enterprises) the estimated 500,000 state workers now made redundant.  Raul Castro himself has repeatedly argued that there is need for foreign investment and foreign know-how—call it private enterprise. This explains why the new law specifies that those who “live abroad and have capital” are welcome.  This includes Cuban-Americans.

But there is a fly in the ointment of this new initiative. Once again the Cuban reforms leave out just what would put a real dent in the embargo—allowing native Cubans to expand their enterprises beyond the incipient and puny cuentapropista dimensions. 

 This responds to the idée fixe that doing otherwise would encourage “capitalism.”  Foreign capitalism, yes; domestic capitalism, no.  And, Mr Singh, please note that this detrimental streak of ideological intransigence has nothing to do with the US embargo.  Fortunately, as China and Vietnam demonstrate, this too will  soon pass.


Anthony P Maingot

Professor Emeritus 

Florida International University

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