Yes, the Castros can be pressured
The Castro brothers’ caving in and allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba aboard Carnival cruise ships revealed that they are vulnerable. Despite their efforts to conceal it, it is clear that they can be successfully pressured.
Now it is time to demand an end to the outrageous requirement that Cubans have a visa to visit their own country, while those who have US citizenship can travel with their US passports, as the socialist constitution's Article 32 actually prohibits dual citizenship.
The acquiescence to the Cuban exile community in the case of Carnival would have been unthinkable back in the days when Moscow was subsidizing Cuba with billions of dollars a year, or during the boom days of chavismoin Venezuela, when oil prices were sky high and the Castros were receiving some 36 million barrels of oil and billions of dollars in cashevery year.
But the Chaves-sponsored boon is over, and in Latin America changes are underway that have begun to erode that scenario of plenty and to aggravate the regime's financial situation every day, already calamitous due to its unworkable socio-economic system.
It is true that the reason for the Castros' consent had to do with the fact that Cuba does not have enough hotel capacity to accommodate the flood of tourists reaching the island every day, and the Government did not want to lose out on the money provide by a floating hotel in Havana Bay.
In addition, there is the devastating crisis in Venezuela, the increasingly likely fall of the professor of Marxism and former pro-Che activist Dilma Rousseff as the president of Brazil, and the rise to power in Argentina of Mauricio Macri, marking the end of the Kirchner era and a turning point, spelling the decline of leftist populism, dominant in Latin America since the beginning of the century, and a possible return to liberal democracy.
It should also be added that Evo Morales lost his referendum and may not be reelected in Bolivia, and Peru's next president will not be a leftist, as neither of the two candidates on the ballot for the second round of elections there on 5 June are of this ideology.
The man from Havana, in danger
Nicolás Maduro actually lived in Cuba in the 80s and studied at the Communist Party's Ñico López Advanced School in Havana. There he was recruited by the Castros' intelligence division and began working for the Departamento América, headed up by Commander Manuel Pineiro (aka Barbarossa, or Red Beard), a coordinator of leftist terrorist groups in Latin America, many of them trained in Cuba. That is, Maduro had stronger personal ties to the Castroist cadre than Hugo Chávez. That's why they requested that Maduro succeed him.
Well, apparently Maduro's days at Miraflores are numbered. And, whoever replaces him, he won't grovel to the Cuban dictatorship like Nicolás did – even if he is a Cháves disciple. Given the appalling crisis Venezuela is suffering, the subsidies for Cuba are bound to decrease, or even disappear, if the devotees of the late Chaves lose power. With these ominous signs on the horizon, and it being clear that neither Russia, China, Brazil or any other country is going to replace Caracas as a patron of the Castros, they need the United States.
If the Venezuelan and Brazilian subsidies (in Brazil there are thousands of Cuban doctors, the regime retaining 70% of their salaries) abate or disappear, the Island's economy will depend on its northern neighbor; that is, on remittances and packages, and Cuban and American tourism, the only thing that can really grow, and quickly, if the embargo is ended, which would also allow Cuba to obtain international loans, and trade with the US.
But with all the bravado in the US Congress, it is unlikely that there will be enough votes to lift the embargo. And there's the rub: the insolent rhetoric of Raúl and Fidel Castro, and the entire ruling elite at the recent VII Congress of the Communist Party lacks any economic or political foundation – much less a moral one.
Such posturing is really just for domestic consumption. The Castros should be pressured for them to tone it down. Sooner or later they will have to do, and at least to recognize the basic rights of their people, and lift existing prohibitions against self-employed and ordinary Cubans.
More vulnerable than ever
The Castros are losing, or about to lose, the political and economic protection provided them for decades by external subsidies and their collusion with populist Latin American governments. Never before they have they been so vulnerable.
This is something that the White House must now realize. With both commanders in power there will be no structural reforms in Cuba, but they are fragile. And Obama made all the unilateral concessions he could do as US president to placate Havana. Therefore, his administration should change course with its accommodating policies, based on turning the other cheek.
Castro's return to his orthodox Stalinist rhetoric also shows something that the White House and the State Department have failed to realize: the tactic of embracing the Castros, to infect them with democracy, is not working.
It is true that Obama's visit to the Island frightened the dictatorial leadership, as it showed Cubans how their dictatorship pales in comparison to a modern Western democracy. But we have already seen their reaction: an attempt to erase the "counterrevolutionary" effects of that visit, to the point of paralyzing the process for the normalization of bilateral relations.
This largely spoiled the legacy the American leader wished to leave, as a normalizer of relations with Cuba. It is one thing to have re-established diplomatic relations – like there were with the Soviet Union for almost 60 years – and quite another is a return to relations without political tension and pugnacious speeches against the United States. This has not been achieved.
"...or the game is over."
The good intentions and optimism of Obama, the Democrats, and American businessmen, their desire to forget the past and focus on the future of bilateral relations, for the benefit of the Cuban people, clash with the retrograde nature of the Castroist hierarchy, only interested in staying in power. The welfare of Cubans has never been a priority for the Government.
But that same civil-military elite is obliged to reach agreements with Washington in order to continue governing. It's a question of life or death. Of course, the regime still has enough strength left to control and repress the Cuban people. And that should also be the focus of both international and internal pressure.
The members of the Cuban diaspora, by demanding their right to travel to the island by sea, also demonstrated their strength, when properly channeled. This, and the increasing and admirable struggle of dissidents and political opponents, constitute a formidable weapon. The able coordination of joint efforts by these three factors could yield additional victories against Raúl Castro and his military junta. In the past this was not a possibility, but today it is.
And the White House should tell them, once and for all: "Move ... or the game is over."