Will Cubans Profit from Obama’s Visit?
Imagine thousands of Cubans —members of the CDR, the Territorial Militia Troops and even the Communist Party— spontaneously clapping and cheering the US President while he strolls, smiling, through the streets of Havana, accompanied by Raúl Castro. This would have been an absolute fantasy until very recently, quickly censured as "counter-revolutionary."
However, in a few weeks it will be a reality. Of course, we can't jump to conclusions, because they can be erroneous. This visit by the leader of the "Yankee empire" and highest representative of the "enemy," without the Government of Cuba lifting a finger in the area of human rights, will be Castroism's biggest political coup in its 50-year history. And precisely for that reason, barring some great surprise, it won't benefit the Cuban people much.
There are no doubts as to whether it will benefit the Castros. But there are about whether it will satisfy those who harbour high hopes for this visit. Many argue that the president will bring a message of hope to Cubans and that, right in the faces of the Castroist elite, he will speak of democracy and the rights of Cubans to the civil liberties of which they are currently deprived.
Although I'm not sure that Obama will actually do that publicly, if he did, that would be fantastic. But if groups of dissidents manage to organise a small demonstration somewhere far from the president (they will not have access to areas near his entourage) and shout "Freedom," "Freedom," "Freedom," the regime's minions will descend on them, no matter who is in the capital, be it Obama, or Mazzantini the bullfighter. They did so in Panama while a beaming Obama conversed with the Cuban dictator.
As soon as the US president leaves the island, General Castro will reiterate that the "blockade" remains intact, that the "Revolution" will be derailed from its "independent and sovereign" path towards Socialism, and that the flags from Moncada and the Sierra Maestra will never be furled, etc.
Machado Ventura 's office will probably issue a statement to the whole PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) explaining that the visit was due to the fact that Obama is black, and on the left of the American political spectrum, but that will change when he leaves the White House, within 10 months, especially if the new president is a Republican.
In the economic sphere optimists say that the visit will promote both bilateral relations and mass contact by Americans with the population, which will open up spaces for private initiative, erode State control over the economy, and push the country towards capitalism through contagion and "contamination."
This is a very desirable scenario, but not a realistic one. Certainly with the flood of US tourists and visitors —always limited by the insufficient hotel capacity— the self employed will have more customers, and the Government, with more revenue, will be able to import more food and consumer goods. But that won't do much to improve the backwardness and very low living standards of the population in general.
With or without the "blockade," in order for the people to escape from poverty the regime has to repeal its Stalinist laws, which prevent Cubans from investing in their own country and creating private capital. It must unify the two currencies, create a large wholesale market, and let the self-employed import and export, and do business, not only with the State but freely, including foreign companies.
There cannot be a vibrant private sector in Cuba if the only thing permitted are timbiriches: artisanal services that date back to the time of Columbus. And university professionals should be allowed to provide their services on a private basis.
Wages too low
For an effective commercial and investment connection with the US, Cuba's ramshackle Cuban economy does not have the infrastructure when it comes to roads, transport, telecommunications, finance, or any other economic sector. The Castros also need to legally recognise private property, provide foreign investors with guarantees, and let them hire their workers directly.
Above all, there has to be a national market, which does not exist today. The two currencies (CUC and CUP) must be unified, and the average salary of 24 dollars a month - half that in Haiti - must be tripled or quadrupled.
How many Oggún tractors does the US company Cleber LLC think it is going to sell, at 10,000 USD each, when it produces them on the island? Apparently its owners, Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, want to export them at low prices, taking advantage of the cheapest labour in the West.
The nation requires a dramatic increase in productivity and new technologies to boost its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through the production of goods and services – without exporting doctors just to seize their wages – which will only be possible if the country’s productive forces are liberated, which the dictatorship refuses to do.
It is true that there are many new palates. That's encouraging. But the Government refuses to furnish them with legal status. They are recognized under the law as private businesses, but rather operate as "food vendors" with a "self-employment license" that may be revoked. In the last five months of 2015 8,213 self-employed Cubans had their licenses rescinded for various activities, and their numbers dropped from 504,613 to 496,400, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Besides being strangled by abusive taxes, those who manage small restaurants, and all the self-employed, in the absence of a wholesale market, acquire their supplies on the State's retail network or the black market. Thus, their costs are very high and they have to pass some of those extra costs on to prices. That affects demand, and they don't make the profits they would if they were able to buy supplies wholesale.
Authoritarian State capitalism
In short, so long as the nation is a private province of the Castro brothers and their families, run by the military and the PCC's upper echelons, now with sweet international support, led by the US, there will be no real change in Cuba. The worst thing is that a civil-military autocracy is being groomed that transcends the Castro brothers' lineage.
And this is no conspiracy theory cooked up by the "Miami Mafia." The Vice-president of the Government and Minister of the Economy, Colonel Marino Murillo admitted it openly when he told representatives that the regime does not want to "the self employed to operate individually" but rather to form local State cooperatives (controlled by the Government).
Murillo announced that these cooperatives will have priority access to the wholesale market when this "can be created," and will enjoy low taxes not available to the self-employed operating individually.
Crystal clear: the dictatorial leadership wants to prevent the self employed from prospering and becoming capitalists that might compete with the political-military caste, which already dominates 80% of the economy, and is gradually implanting its model of authoritarian State capitalism.
Is this Raulist strategy compatible with the empowerment of "entrepreneurs" and the economic and social progress Obama is talking about?