When the Obama administration repealed some of the restrictions of the US travel ban I was surprised, and, dare I say, a bit hopeful. Considering the State of the Union was a week away, I thought that perhaps the subject of the longstanding blockade of Cuba by the United States might make its way into President Obama’s address to the nation. It was not to be. However, we can still find some shared space between the two neighbors. And maybe some lessons as well.
As I read through the State of the Union I noticed I had already scrolled through 2/3 of the speech before President Obama even began talking about foreign policy. He touched on the security of the United States with references to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as curtailing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
I think that the first link between the State of the Union and Cuba would have to be the recently expressed worries on the part of both countries leadership about nuclear weapons proliferation. Perhaps these governments would be wise to water this patch of common ground. Especially considering their near first-hand experience in atomic warfare in the fall of 1962.
But there was another obvious link between President Obama’s speech content and recent changes to Cuban policy: the domestic economy. In both instances there seems to be a top-down approach with the goal to open grassroots space for new small businesses. But it seems the link ends there; besides “small business” is a completely relative term in each country.
President Obama is talking about extending 30 billion USD worth of loans to small businesses and offering tax incentives to businesses that hire more workers or raise salaries. On the other hand the Cubans are just going through the teething phases of their brand of small business tax reality.
On Wednesday the mid-day TV news in Havana had a story in which Cubans working in their own small businesses were talking about the cost of taxes, paying retail space fees, and now social security payments. They say these costs of doing business are making it difficult to stay in business. How soon until we see tax incentives in Villa Clara, Holguin, and Havana? I guess that depends on the bubble.
In his address to the United States, President Obama quoted an unknown source and called the 2000’s the “lost decade” because of the global recession. Now, I’m hesitant to classify any decade as “lost” just because of financial downturn. This seems to be an implicit disregard for the lives that were lived and lost during that time.
However, I’m sure President Obama did not mean his words in that way. He meant it in terms of the financial success of the American people, and how their government and institutions failed them during this time. How the “bubble” that had been inflated by these same institutions burst, and in a moment it was all gone.
So what of Cuba’s experience in the past with “bubbles”? During the Cold War I would have to go with the colloquial of the period and call the Soviet Union’s support of the island the “iron bubble”. But then again iron doesn’t burst, it rusts. Well, that could be very fitting anyway.
If there was going to be another bubble in Cuba I could guess it might have something to do with Venezuela. But after the experience with the Soviet Union we should hope that lessons have been learned. And with Cuba’s expanded foray into small business let’s hope they take a lesson from our burst bubbles as well.