The Reasons Behind the “Changes” in Cuba

Dariela Aquique

Havana street scene. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — As of 1960, Cuba was taken under the wing of the former Soviet Union and became one of its key bastions in the Cold War waged by the world’s two superpowers and their political and economic blocs. The overseas Communist satellite was fashioned in the image of its mentors: atheistic, totalitarian and other demons.

Hoping to export Marxist ideology to other parts of the hemisphere, the island sent doctors and teachers to countries around the continent in order to secure their sympathy and gratitude, while at the same time sending troops and military advisors to different guerrilla movements.

The death of Che Guevara and the defeat of many of these guerrilla movements, the coup d’états and military dictatorships installed across Latin America, the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (Feb. 1990) and the peace accords of 1989, served to undermine Cuba’s efforts to propagate its political model.

Also in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed. With the fall of State socialism and the rise of neoliberalism, the moderation of the capitalist economy seemed the only viable option.

That, however, presupposed hasty changes to the country’s political system and, as such, constituted a threat to the island’s totalitarian regime. Despite this, the Cuban government, faced with an economic crisis, had no choice but to trace new strategies and introduced a number of market-oriented reforms, such as the development of the tourism industry, the legalization of the dollar, the authorization of self-employment and foreign investment.

These measures were implemented on a small scale and resulted in a degree of economic growth that was not enough to lift the ruined national economy off the ground. They did, however, serve to keep the system, which has always favored a centralized State economy, from collapsing.

At the close of the last century, Left and Center-Left parties suddenly became popular and came to power in some countries. Hugo Chavez, a disciple of the Castro, became the president of Venezuela and a new patron of the island’s government (which it supplied with 100 thousand barrels of oil a day).

The region, however, was still haunted by prejudices against the communist specter, and people harbored many reservations vis-à-vis any version of Cuba’s absolutist political system.

The new Latin American Left claims to lay its bets on changes that involve a reduction of poverty and the gradual elimination of social inequality. There are even those who speak of a new, Christian socialism that respects democracy, can co-exist with the opposition and supports private enterprise.

Cuba had to get in step with the times and grow closer to its new friends. Medical and other types of internationalist missions served to strengthen diplomatic ties and consolidate financial and commercial collaboration and exchange treaties between the island and nearly all countries in the continent within the context of so-called “Latin American integration.”

To win over allies in the region and reduce existing ill-will, Cuba had to change in the eyes of world public opinion – it had to show itself more tolerant and inclusive. The Mariel Special Development Zone is an example of how the island has managed to take in more dividends.

These are the reasons behind the wave of disconcerting “changes” in Cuba, which are aimed at disguising the parasitic nature of the country’s economy as it adjusts itself to the new times, when, if you’re not open minded, you are simply left behind.

We are seeing a Cuba that has spread its legs to foreign investment, a Cuba now announcing it will make Internet available to everyone, which allows people to buy and sell houses and cars, go to hotels, travel without a permit and own a cell phone, all the while capitalizing on the enthusiasm over Latin American integration.

32 thoughts on “The Reasons Behind the “Changes” in Cuba

  • I WISH for a free and democratic Cuba. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • Here is but one of the many areas where we disagree; I do not believe that the US embargo causes misery for the Cuban people. The Castros cause this misery and have the power to alleviate it.

  • What is your point? That life is tough in Jamaica too? OK, you win. But as you said, this is Havana Times so before you begin to wax nostalgic about your life in (insert poor country here) and how tough things are there as well, calm yourself. Jamaica’s problems are real but they are not caused by a brutal dictatorship unable to see beyond their own survival. For Cuba, among its many problems, the Castro regime is at the top of the list.

  • Your response to my fact-filled and lengthy post was noticeably short on refutations of specific pieces of information .
    Feel free to correct my errors of fact IF you are capable of doing so .
    Otherwise : as Christopher Hitchens would say: “That which can be asserted without evidence can likewise be dismissed without evidence. ”
    You are herewith dismissed.

  • I realize how inconvenient a point the triple rate of Jamaican emigres is for you but I’ve spent a great deal of time in Jamaica since 1980 and lived side-by-side with mostly poor working class people and farmers .
    That country has gone steadily into decline since the U.S. intervention against Michael Manley in the late 70s and early 80s .
    The schools are dreadful and the population is hugely FUNCTIONALLY illiterate . Yes they may know the alphabet and numbers but they generally don’t read as a means of entertainment and are grossly under-educated for existence in today’s world.
    There are no jobs and no job creation . Wages are below what we would call a minimum wage.
    Life is very hard and the emigration figures for Jamaica are showing just how hard.
    Yes this is the Havana Times but Jamaica is just a hop across the strait from Cuba and Cuba and Jamaica had a history together before the U.S. intervention .
    The fact that the U.S. was successful in getting rid of Manley and his socialist ideas and thus had Jamaica’s neo-liberal capitalist economy continue is the main factor in the huge increase in Jamaican poverty, joblessness, low pay , no benefits etc that come with supporting the top people and not those at the bottom as neo-liberalism is constructed.
    SO,,, although these facts are inconvenient for you, they are pertinent in the big picture as to why people are leaving (socialist-style ) Cuba and (neo-liberal capitalist.)
    Jamaica in the respective numbers they are.
    Cuba’s socialist-style means of distribution alleviates the suffering of that island’s population while the absent social safety net in Jamaica does little to mitigate the suffering of the majority of the people there
    Hence, we have triple the percentage of Jamaicans fleeing their poverty than we have Cubans fleeing theirs
    AND….AND…as you claim, the Cubans live in a communist /Communist DICTATORSHIP hell-hole and have even more reasons for emigrating, don’t they ? f
    AND… they can just float into Florida and get citizenship and no Jamaican is allowed to do that.
    Yeah, sure. Tell me my facts don’t speak for themselves.

  • There is no one so deaf as one who will not hear.
    The Cubans leave at one third the percentage of Jamaicans
    because things are not as tough in Cuba, day-to-day life is more bearable in Cuba than it is in Jamaica .
    Cuba has a far larger and comprehensive social safety net than does CAPITALIST Jamaica and the very poor do not suffer as they do in Jamaica to the point that they feel they must leave.
    Were the U.S. to end its war on the Cuban economy, that 3-1 ratio between Jamaica and Cuban emigres would only increase as conditions vastly improved in Cuba
    Your reference to the “socialist paradise” is just one more chunk of hypocrisy from you : the biggest supporter of the immiseration of the Cuban people and including your own close relatives, via the U.S. embargo.
    You are so far removed from your human instinct for mutual aid as to be a candidate for a recall of your human credentials.

  • You’re not even being inaccurate. You’re lying.
    The reason you always support the embargo and call for its intensification is because you know that Cuba’s economy is surviving the attack.
    You lie when you say that the embargo is ineffective and that the “Castros” are all that is holding Cuba back .
    I say you lie because you and your friends at State KNOW that the embargo is achieving one of its purposes and that is to make the Cuban system look bad.
    You know it is creating dissent and protest inside Cuba and all that feeds the propaganda effort against Cuba .
    You rail against Cuba’s totalitarian system but retain a completely totalitarian belief set in your personal life.
    You wish for a capitalist Cuba and that is a wish for a brutally-enforced totalitarian economic system that a majority of Cubans still reject as unacceptable and worth dying to oppose.
    Physician, heal thyself.

  • Cuba never installed a communist system .
    You evidently have no idea of what communism is but it is NOT Stalinism, Leninism, Maoism or Fidelism .
    It is totalitarian which means it cannot be communist.
    Were you up to snuff on your economics and philosophy , you’d know this. .
    Because you clearly exhibit a misunderstanding of communism to anyone cognizant of that philosophy , the credibility and effectiveness of your posts suffer .
    FYI , you could classify any democracy as a dictatorship of the majority, should you choose to do so, and you’d be quite accurate .
    The U.S. oligarchy is no less dictatorial than are Cuba’s government and economic systems but you wear blinders when it comes to looking at that..

  • My anger is directed’ as you say, at the rightful owners of the problem, the Castro’s. It was they and a close group of cohorts that pulled a fast one on the Cuban people with the imposed totalitarian system. Under the guise of removing Batista and restoring the 1940 constitution, a communist system was established in Cuba. Cuba’s prosperous trajectory into the future (sans what would have been a brief hiccup under Batista) was cut short and have a century of Orwellian stagnation was the result. It is surprising that your hate of the US allows your acceptance of a dictatorial Cuba. So you probably agree with Che’s statement (I’m paraphrasing) “…yes Cuba is a dictatorship….what’s wrong with that?

  • If you had even half of your anti-US zeal redirected toward urging the Castros to step aside to allow for a more democratic Cuba, you would see better results. The problem for the Cuban people does not begin with the US embargo. It begins with the Castros. Your energy is better spent railing against the totalitarian regime.

  • And your government should have no problem quitting the economic embargo. I never thought for a moment that I might “hypnotize” you. You’re beyond help. You would rather continue to support your government’s tyranical policies that do nothing but hurt the Cuban people…and your inlaws alike. You’re one sick puppy.

  • Terry,

    Fidel Castro did not ask the US for help. He did not want help from the US. He wanted the US to get the hell out of Cuba and never come back. You should be aware of his famous words while fighting in the Sierra Madre, that when the battle against Batista is over, his real enemy is the USA.

    By the way, the US government did not put Batista into power in Cuba. Batista organized and lead the coup himself, as he had a base of support in Cuba. The US was perfectly happy to recognize the dictator as soon as he was in charge, just as the US government recognized Fidel Castro within days of his seizure of power. In the opinion of many Cubans, the US was wrong to do so both times.

    The history of Cuba-US relations is long, complex and contradictory. It is certainly not so black & white, good & evil as Castro-apologists such as yourself pretend. The US is partly to blame for the poisoned relations with Cuba, but the Castro regime must also share some of the blame.

  • Likewise, John should come visit Canada, where the former Governor General (our head-of-state) was a Haitian born woman, Michaëlle Jean.

  • Your bizarre version of the Mariel Boatlift is proof you live in an alternative universe, unchallenged by facts or rational thinking.

  • A time of more individual liberty is coming. Well said that Cuba can either join the ranks of developing countries or get left behind. Totalitarian forced equality is a passing phase.

  • You remind me of the story about the carnival hypnotist who fails to hypnotize the volunteer on stage but ends up hypnotizing the addle-minded onlooker in audience. I don’t know one Cuban, not even one, who believes the Castro propaganda that you just wrote. Cubans, like my wife, who lived the Castro reality know exactly who to blame for being forced to attend May Day marches and who is behind making the price of rum cheap and milk expensive. Cubans don’t blame the US when there are no potatoes in the Agro. My wife is headed to Cuba in a few weeks and she understands very clearly why her mother needs her to bring high blood pressure medicine for her grandfather and it is not because of the embargo. You should quit focusing on the hypnotist’s watch.

  • Again, you’ve missed the point. If you are right that there is no difference between the immigration environment in Cuba and those other neighboring countries, then the reason for the Cuban revolution is lost. The paradise created by Castro-style socialism must be a lie and the sacrifices made by the Cuban people to sustain the revolution were for nothing.

  • …I can see him typing away in his basement and a voice calling down, “time for dinner Johnny”. ….”Ah Ma! Leave me alone!”, he replies. Can’t ya see I’m busy here!”. “I got these capitalists whormongers on the run!”

  • Only one thing is certain…you’re full of resentment. But your resentment should be directed towards the rightful owners of the problem they helped create over 5 decades ago. Fidel initially asked the US for their help after he threw out the puppet dictator the US government had put in power in Cuba. But he was snubbed by the US government because he refused to be their new puppet. The US has always been responsible for the mess…they have just always found it more convenient to blame the Castros because the Cuban government has refused to cowtow to American imperialism. Cuba now poses no threat to America what so ever, and yet they are treated like a terrorist state and held hostage to America’s long-standing resentment for standing up for themselves in the face of American tyranny.

    I’m happy you were able to bring your family to the US to realize a different life for yourselves. That’s wonderful. I’m sure that all Cubans would love to have that life too. But don’t ever forget that the US government is responsible for creating the mess. They also have the ability to help end it by normalizing relations with the Cuban government immediately. But America’s resentment runs deep. And so does yours…alas, conveniently misdirected of course.

  • You should get out of your basement once in a while an visit the Bed-Sty neighborhood in New York City. You will meet scores of well-educated Jamaicans who travel back and forth to their native Jamaica with relative ease. Beachfront homes everywhere in the world are for a privileged few and Jamaica is no exception. You are, not surprisingly, missing the point. Because Jamaicans have always been free to travel, it is no surprise that they would choose to migrate to the US in large numbers. So what? It is this migration to the US that has made the US great! Here is the point: Castro-supporters and US-haters alike love to extol the virtues of Cuba ad nauseum. If Cuba were the paradise that you and other Castro sycophants would have us believe, then there would be no reason for the debilitating outmigration of Cubans. Comparing Cuba to Jamaica is pointless. This blog is HavanaTimes and the issue is Cuba, not Jamaica.

  • Really? …Cubans understand the government is doing the best they can? Ohh poor baby. Well buster, I’m Cuban, and I’m here to tell you that you’re full of it! The million plus who have escaped Cuba say you’re full of it!. The rest of my family, brought over one by one over the span of a decade, say you’re full of it! And the thousands upon thousands who risk their lives to escape your Cuban paradise, on rickety rafts (and who’s actions speak much more eloquently anything I can say), say you’re full of it!

  • ” I have stayed at his Jamaican beachfront home near Ochie…”
    Damned few Jamaicans become doctors or move from poverty to the middle class.
    Most have never been to Ochie’s exclusive beaches and resorts much less own a second home at the water.
    I have spent considerable time in Jamaica and with the poorer people of that country .
    Once these poorer people get to the U.S. or Switzerland as is the case for two Jamaican men friends, they do not make but the very rare ( and expensive ) trip home having found a far better place to make a living . My building contractor does go back and forth from Baltimore to Jamaica but again, his limited education limits his earning abilities and his trips are infrequent .
    The Jamaican school system is deplorable and huge numbers of Jamaicans are functionally illiterate.
    As a result Jamaican migrants are at a considerable disadvantage in the industrialized countries they migrate to when it comes to finding other than subsistence wages.
    Jamaica is a very highly indebted nation, there are few opportunities to elevate oneself financially and the social safety net is a mass of holes.
    That is why the rate of emigration to the U.S. from Jamaica is triple that of Cubans.
    That is w

  • It is not the Cuban government that is holding up Cubans from going to the U.S. , it is the U.S.
    In case you did not know it , there is an agreement of sorts between the U.S. and Cuba that allows just so many Cubans to legally enter the U.S. each year .
    This is what they do with all countries.
    However a Cuban applying to the U.S. Interests Section for legal emigration must pay a huge sum of money ( for a Cuban worker) and then wait EIGHTEEN months before hearing that they are accepted.
    A huge percentage are rejected just as are a great number of Jamaicans, Haitians etc.
    The Cuban government, in fact, just reduced the fees and paperwork that a Cuban must submit to emigrate.
    So you don’t know what you are talking about.
    Now to the really big lie in your post.
    A busload of Cubans ran down and killed a Cuban guard at the Peruvian embassy and claimed asylum once inside.
    In contravention to all other history of embassies in Havana NONE OF WHOM RECOGNIZED POLITICAL OPPRESSION IN CUBA, , the Peruvians granted asylum to the busload.
    In the weeks that followed the Cubans fed and maintained the health of those Cubans inside the embassy grounds.
    That reversal of policy was fully intended to embarrass the Cuban revolution and Fidel said that anyone who wanted to leave could .
    Simultaneously, the USA began a big “political prisoner” propaganda push to free Cubans held in prison .
    Fidel TOLD the USA and the world that those in prison were there because they were criminals such as every country has in their prisons and few were what could be considered political prisoners. Lots of thieves, rapists , the usual .
    The U.S. INSISTED that all Cubans in prison were political prisoners and so Fidel said ” If you’ll take them, we’ll let them go ” ( paraphrased) .
    The U.S. initially agreed, the Cubans let out all the prisoners and then the U.S. reneged on the deal .
    As a result , there was a mini-crime wave in Cuba created by these released criminals and it was then that Fidel declared the port of Mariel open to all craft coming from Florida to pick up friends and relatives.
    Of course, the Cuban authorities rounded up all the released prisoners and put THEM on any and every boat BEFORE any friends or relatives and thus got rid of most of the criminals they had in jail and the U.S. found to their chagrin that a huge percentage of these people WERE , in fact, hardened criminals .
    To lend a little perspective to your figures, during each violent revolution throughout history, some ten percent of such societies in upheaval leave the country.
    Cuba’s emigration fits easily in that general rule.
    Lastly, were any and all boats sent to either Haiti, Jamaica, DR etc and were able to bring all they could carry to the U.S. , those countries would empty out overnight as well.


  • “Cubans know what and WHO is wrong with Cuba.”

    You see, that’s the reason why you’ll never be able to see the forest for the trees. Cubans understand that the government is doing the best they can under the circumstances (and I admit, their best hasn’t been that great)…but it’s been necessary and understandable given their combined situation. It’s been necessary to protect their nation from a return to American dominance and the loss of their sovereignty as a nation. But end the embargo, normalize relations, acknowledge their right to exist, and the war will effectively be over. The Cuban government will relax a myriad of restrictions that they’ve needed to implement and uphold during the many years of war-time siege brought about by your government. Your government’s hands are just as dirty, and you can’t pin the blame on the Cuban government entirely until you also first wash up.

    And just so that we’re clear, I’m Switzerland. I believe in allowing the Cuban government and the Cuban people to decide the fate of their nation…without any outside interference of any kind. If I lean one way more than another, it’s to disgrace the US government for their appalling interventionist policies around the world…but especially with regards to Cuba. If you continue to support your government’s moronic policies in this capacity, then I have a problem with you too.

  • This is the best Havana Times article ever. It stops short from condemning the communists for
    oppressing his people but it contains a good review of Cuban history in the last 50 years. An excellent article.

  • More Jamaicans leave because they are allowed to leave. They have been free to emigrate for decades. They continue to leave, return and leave again. If Cubans had been free to emigrate, how many more would go?

    During a fit of pique while giving a speech in 1980, Fidel declared that any Cuban who didn’t want to stay in Cuba was not wanted and should leave. Within days, ten thousand Cubans were packed into the Peruvian embassy, trying to get out of Castro’s hell-hole. In six months, some 125,000 Cubans had fled the island. If he had not stopped the flood, Fidel’s fiefdom would have emptied out.

  • Jamaicans don’t migrate, they ‘commute’. My children’s doctor is Jamaican and he left Jamaica for medical school 30 years ago and goes back and forth several times a year. In fact, I have stayed at his Jamaican beachfront home near Ocho Rios. The comparison between the migration patterns of Jamaicans and Cubans to the US is difficult to make and therefore meaningless. Jamaicans don’t face political persecution nor do they have any difficulty returning to Jamaica to own property or start businesses. As a result, it comes as no surprise that more Jamaicans would temporarily leave to better their financial circumstances.

  • Well, its the constituents from the subject country (1+ million) that arrive to our country feeling so violated by “you know who”, that they pressure their political action committee’s to spank the monkey…

  • More than three times the percentage of Jamaicans leave that island because of economic deprivation than do Cubans .
    I don’t have to wonder about the reason which is failed neo-liberal capitalist economic policies that simply do not work in underdeveloped countries.
    And how many Haitians flee their desperate lives in flimsy craft to get to the U.S. where most often they are sent back to Haiti ?
    You have eyes but can’t see obvious truth. .

  • Okay, let me get this straight. Let’s say that I am a well-educated, healthy, 25 year-old Cuban who has heard all my life…USA/bad….Cuba/good. Despite the propaganda, the first chance I get to leave for the US, the cause of everything (as you just said) that is wrong with Cuba, I take it. What’s wrong with that picture? The truth is that folks like you who drink the Castro Kool-Aid are more gullible than Cubans who actually live the Cuban reality. Cubans know what and WHO is wrong with Cuba.

  • Moses, we’ve always known what the problem is…it’s your government, and their insane and arrogant policies intended to lord over Cuba and the Cuban government.

  • All these ‘changes’ and still they are leaving Cuba in droves. Kinda’ makes you wonder what (or who) is the real problem?

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