A Return to March 12, 1968
In the year that has passed since the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, what progress has been made?
There has been little, and in my opinion the biggest beneficiary has been the Castro regime, which, ironically, is committed to hindering the rapprochement process, as long as the embargo is not lifted. Obviously, the main development was the restoration of bilateral diplomatic relations, which has made possible a fluid and unprecedented relationship between the two governments. But this has resulted in a political legitimation of the military regime, which sees its "useful life" prolonged.
The White House's gesture of recognition opened up doors for Cuba all over the globe, placing it in the international spotlight and unleashing a flow of tourists, politicians, businessmen, famous artists, and curious visitors to the island. All this meant a lot of money for the Government. Of course, Cuban restaurants and other services offered by the self-employed also enjoy more customers.
Progress has been made in the re-establishment of regular flights, postal service, environmental protection, and the fight against drug trafficking. But nothing has been done to really improve the daily lives of Cubans, which was Barack Obama's stated goal one year ago. The regime refuses to reach an agreement with the US to modernize telecommunications, along with Google's proposals, which could deliver a solution to the technological backwardness plaguing Cuba, the least connected country in the western world. The periodic meetings between negotiating teams are torpedoed by Havana, as a form of pressure to lift the embargo.
Over the last year, what has characterized the actions of the Cuban government: changes or resistance to change?
Resistance has prevailed. Never mind the US's concessions and the calls to "empower" the self-employed. The regime prevents them from growing their businesses, or investing capital in their own country. It refuses to restore the right to private property, it will not allow university graduates to provide their services on their own, nor will it permit farmers and the usufruct cultivators of state lands to grow what they want and sell their crops freely. Not to mention the lack of political and civil liberties, or free expression. This aversion to human progress is obstructing the reforms the country needs.
In addition, except for the purchase of houses and cars, and some other irrelevant measures, Raúl's "reforms" are nothing more than a return to March 12, 1968, the eve of the day when Fidel Castro nationalized or abolished the 57,280 small businesses on the island. If his brother now authorizes cooperatives for hair salons or cafes, 47 years ago they were completely private. Also private property were the thousands of neighborhood taverns, newsstands, laundromats, guaraperas, bars, car rental operations, repair shops, guest houses, gyms, inns, billiard halls, mechanical and carpentry workshops, etc. Have there really been changes in Cuba, or a restoration of the way it was?
Above all, the increased repression against political opponents and defenders of citizens' rights and liberties is a colossal impediment, impeding any chance at revamping the quasi-eternal tropical tyranny.
What measures beneficial to the people of the island have been implemented over the course of this year?
In my view the most beneficial measure has been the "Wi-Fi hotspots." That is, areas in parks and public areas with antennas offering access to the Internet - censored by the Government, but still making some browsing possible, and communication with people in the US and other countries.
Of course, what has really been most beneficial for Cubans has not been any specific measure, but rather having been spared the unbearable anti-American rhetoric and the calls to prepare for a military invasion. The "Yankees" are no longer the enemy, and one can speak well of the US President, or wave an American flag without going to prison. This national psychological relief could gradually lead Cubans to lose their fear of stating many truths and demanding the real changes the nation needs.
Moreover, the unstoppable exodus of Cubans who are leaving the island, anyway they can, and the humanitarian crisis that has arisen in Costa Rica, with thousands of "overland balseros," reflects the people's frustration with a dictatorship that is not taking the measures that are really needed. Worst of all, young people have lost hope for a better future in their homeland.
What can be expected in the short term from relations between Cuba and the USA?
Very little. General Castro and his Military Junta have made it clear: until the embargo is lifted, there will be nothing more than embassies in both countries and meetings just to talk and talk.
However, with the opposition's victory in Venezuela and the possibility that free oil and subsidies may diminish, or disappear, as the MUD has already promised, the logical thing would be for Havana to negotiate more seriously with the US, in order to have an alternative solution capable of alleviating the effects of the foreseeable Venezuelan debacle. Logic, however, has never flourished in the Castro regime.
I must insist on an essential point: Cuba's dictatorial leadership does not want friendly and normal relations with the US, but rather for it to lift the embargo, to receive loans, and lots of American tourists. And that's it. Obviously, the Congress in Washington is not going to take any steps in this direction if the regime does not first make some kind of overture.
For the Castros, moreover, getting too friendly with Washington would mean a betrayal of their traditional leftist anti-Yankee leadership in Latin America, and also erode the sickly control they have over Cuban society. That is, so long as the two brothers and the rest of the historic gerontocracy hold power, Cuba can expect nothing really fruitful, with or without normalized relations with the US.