The energy that Castroism is stifling
In recent weeks the regime of General Raúl Castro has "spooked," and is now galloping in the wrong direction, in defiance of time and history. The economic crisis is compounded daily, and the dictator and his military junta, far from taking steps to unshackle Cuba's productive forces, are restricting and choking them more and more.
Price caps on taxi drivers, prohibitions against street vendors hawking fruits and vegetables, the nationalization of agricultural markets based on supply and demand, and bans on the self employed in Varadero, are just some of the Stalinist measures exacerbating the severe economic crisis.
Turning its back on the people, the Government is thus recklessly staving off the emergence of a massive and vibrant private sector, the only force that can rescue the country from this crisis, and that will be, necessarily, that which rebuilds the devastated Cuban economy.
Meanwhile, poverty, despair and unhappiness grow amongst Cubans. The economic, social, political, moral and even anthropological cataclysm caused by Castroism is now of such a magnitude that it is difficult to assess the disaster. Yet, this diagnosis is the first thing that must be done to rebuild the country.
It is a historical shame that Cuba is the only Western country that is actually less advanced than it was in the mid 20th century. The same cannot even be said of Haiti. Many Cubans on the island would be happy if the country enjoyed the same standard of living it did 60 years ago today, when it was one of the highest in Latin America.
So, although it seems a Kafkaesque absurdity, Cuba today is socioeconomically below zero, which it needs to get back to, going on to build a future. The situation is that serious.
The Castroist higher-ups are trying to ignore the fact that it was European entrepreneurs in the 16th through the 18th century who made possible the emergence of a large private sector based on free enterprise. Private property and economic liberalism were what brought and end to the ancien régime; that is, the absolute monarchies like those under Louis XIV, and the enlightened despotism embodied by Catherine the Great of Russia, with her policy of "everything for the people but without the people," which, by quashing individual liberties, prevented the development of productive forces and the creation of widespread wealth, leading to uprisings like the French Revolution.
Entrepreneurs paved the way to modernity
It was the sector of entrepreneurs that rapidly grew and shaped the modern world we know today. Traders, artisans, innovators, investors and enterprising people in multiple activities, in a spirit of laissez faire (live and let live), encouraged by French physiocrats and English liberalism, took the baton of capitalism and changed the face of the planet.
This possibility is what the Castro dictatorship is denying the Cuban people. These are freedoms and rights enshrined in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris in 1948, and instituted through a series of political, civil, social, cultural and labor rights, none of which are respected in Cuba.
It is no coincidence that the 35 most developed countries in the world, members of the OECD, enjoy all of these individual economic freedoms and democratic systems. Nor is it a coincidence that these freedoms do not exist in any of the 41 poorest countries (according to the UN), or in dozens of other Third World nations.
General Castro and those who maintain him in power must be aware of two things:
- The more they tighten the political screws on Cuba, and hound the private sector, the less able they will be to resolve the national crisis in a humanitarian fashion.
- The more restrictions there are on the self-employed, the more poverty and shortages there will be throughout the country, and the longer, more difficult, and more expensive will be its economic reconstruction.
A secret source of funding?
Hence, it is scandalous, and suspicious, that in response to the near collapse of the Venezuelan economy, and all its political tribulations; the lack of subsidies from Brazil, Beijing's and Moscow's refusals to send aid to Havana, and a new administration in Washington that is not leftist or pro-Castro, the regime is not only refusing to promote economic freedom, but is increasingly curtailing it. Is the regime concealing some source of financial support that it cannot divulge?
After not paying a penny for the servicing of its foreign debt for 30 years, the regime announced recently that in 2016 it paid the enormous sum of 5.299 billion dollars to its short and long- term creditors. And it is surprising, to say the least, that the payment of such a sum of money, so disproportionate to the small size of the Cuban economy, came precisely during the year in which, for the first time, the Government admitted to a drop in the GDP and a deteriorating economic crisis.
Is it possible that the Castro regime has links to high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government who are, effectively, drug kingpins? Is it receiving “donations” from the FARC in Colombia in exchange for the peace agreement, favorable to it, forged in Havana?
The military and younger members of the dictator's leadership are determined to remain in power and to establish, starting next year, a kind of neo-Castroist model of authoritarian and militarized capitalism under which only they, the military, the Castro family, and some civilian members of the Communist Party (PCC) will be able to do serious business and make big money.
A right of all
The struggle of the Cuban people, political dissidents and human rights activists, journalists and independent trade unionists, the self-employed, and all democrats and anti-Castro elements inside and outside Cuba, necessarily hinges on preventing the perpetuation of the dictatorship. Opposing this is a natural right of all Cubans.
Cuba also needs international support, particularly from the US, as the policy of former President Barack Obama politically fortified the Castro regime and opened to it the doors of the world.
From the existential point of view, that of daily subsistence, everyday Cubans need the dictatorship to loosen its grip over economic matters and to let the self-employed off their leash. Economic freedom is essential to save the people from their appalling poverty.
Raúl Castro and his military junta must legally recognize private property, and Cubans' right to hold it, and to invest and create their own businesses. They cannot continue to limit and even strangle the private sector, the only economic force that the nation can count on.
If they fail to do this everything will be increasingly difficult, not only for the people they claim to represent, but for them too.