Cuba: Rumbles left and rumbles rightSunday, July 25, 2021
ON Sunday, July 11, 2021, Cubans left their homes spontaneously and demonstrated in the streets, expressing their frustration concerning shortages of food, medicine, frequent electricity cuts while some dared shout for freedom and a change in the 62-year-old political system.
The Cuban community in exile in Miami and Jersey City were heartened by the seemingly spontaneous mass protest. Elected representatives like Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, expressed that this was the beginning of the end for the authoritarian communist regime.
The following Saturday in Havana there was mass support initiated by the Cuban Communist Party, and the State blamed the economic hardship the Cuban people are experiencing on, and as a as a result of the unending American economic blockade.
Cuba has entered into the new post-Castro era and a post-revolution generation which has emerged and is influenced by the Internet and other changes taking place in the world may not have that emotional and doctrinaire commitment like their fathers' generation.
In the early years of the revolution, Cuba received economic support from the Soviet Union. The Russians bought Cuban sugar above world market prices and sold petroleum below world market prices. That economic support enabled the Cubans to invest in education and health care. Nonetheless, the adopted Soviet model of production produced low labour productivity and high levels of inefficiency. Wages remained low and the standard of living depended heavily on subsidies.
For example, Cuba has not had the necessary surplus capital to provide housing for the mass of the population. Even in the capital Havana, old apartment complexes had to be demolished because of crumbling foundation structures.
The Cuban economy and standard of living were severely compromised when the Soviet model collapsed in the Soviet Union in 1991. The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics became non-existent and the subsidies and economic support that propped up the Cuban economy became a commitment of the past.
Cuba deviated somewhat from the highly socialised, centralised model and began experimenting with opting for a private sector. In those early days, there emerged a parallel economy. There were the hard-working Cubans who were engaged in the State-run pesos economy and there were those who worked in the dollar economy, and – based on the strength of the American dollar and the weakness of the Cuban pesos – the folks who worked in the tourist industry or the dollar economy were in a much better position to consume goods and to enhance their standard of living. But that anomaly meant that even some qualified university graduates, doctors and school teachers gravitated to the dollar economy even though that meant that they had abandoned their profession.
The post-Castro Government has allowed the development of private property and a real estate market. There are service sectors which include restaurants and individuals who rent rooms to tourists. The Cuban State limits the capacity of private restaurants.
The present Cuban Government has spoken of a tri-sector model that would include the State, a domestic private sector and foreign direct investment. A number of hotel chains have been involved in the refurbishing and the construction of new hotels to meet the needs of the tourist market.
Barack Obama in his second term pursued the initiative of establishing diplomatic relationships with Cuba and easing restrictions on flights, cruise ships and other travel arrangements. Based on these changes, it became easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. President Obama did not have the power to lift the economic blockade as that has been imposed by the United States Congress.
The Trump Administration rolled back all the Obama attempts of creating the ethos for a rapprochement with the Cuban people. Trump imposed harsher sanctions and made it difficult for third parties to have economic relationships with Cuba.
Like all small island economies, economic development has been a Sisyphean struggle and the American blockade has not made that task any easier.
The collapse of the tourist market, the trying time of containing the pandemic and the Trump-imposed sanctions have created a perilous period for the Cuban Gwaovernment and the Cuban people.
American policy toward Cuba has always been dominated by what takes place in Miami. The Cuban Diaspora, through their organisation and elected officials, have been able to vehemently oppose any lifting of the age-old economic blockade. Cubans in exile have lived for the fall of the Cuban regime.
President Biden in his first term has abandoned the Obama policy of rapprochement and has cast his lot with the hardliners.
Interestingly, Florida was always seen as a toss-up state in presidential elections but in recent years, as in 2020, Florida has been trending Republican. Trump won what could be called a decisive percentage victory in comparison to previous presidential elections. In recent senatorial and gubernatorial races, Republican candidates have prevailed. The Cuban vote and other Latin American countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc, have voted for the candidates with the strongest anti-communist message.
Sanctions affect not just the State apparatus but also people. The day-to-day citizens in Cuba are being crushed by Cold War politics, and that imposed suffering may not lead to a post-revolutionary government but just unnecessary suffering for the Cuban people.
Professor Basil “Bagga” Wilson is retired provost at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the United States. Born in Jamaica, Professor Wilson excelled in academic work at Kingston College, which he also represented as a forward in Manning Cup football.
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