USA-Cuba Progress Report

By Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — I was interviewing medical doctors about to leave for Brazil when my office phoned me to tell me Alan Gross had been released from prison and was flying back to his country. I assumed Cuba’s three agents [of the Cuban Five], imprisoned in the US, had also been released and that they would soon be back in Cuba.

Minutes later, they announced that Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama would make statements at noon. They didn’t offer any further details, but, a month before, Cuba’s foreign ministry had granted me an interview and explained to me they were in negotiations with the United States.

That 17th of December of 2014 raised many hopes, but the “normalization” process made slow progress. The reopening of embassies was chiefly symbolic, as interest sections with the same functions as embassies were already operating in the two countries.

Obama offered US citizens 12 lies to justify travel to Cuba and skirt restrictions on tourism on the island. This mechanism, however, makes for slow growth: less than 150,000 US tourists visit the country, which welcomes over three million people every year.

The embargo/blockade still stands, holding back US entrepreneurs, the only ones barred from trading with Cuba. This problem will be difficult to overcome because it depends on the will of Congress, not the president.

At any rate, there are still many prerogatives the president can use. The most significant move would be to authorize the use of US dollars in commercial transactions, a prohibition which makes business dealings more expensive for Cuba and is enforced through the application of billion-dollar fines on banks in third countries.

Despite the obstacles, Barack Obama’s public opposition to the embargo has undermined its extra-territorial effects. Businesspeople in third countries consider that they can begin to invest in Cuba without fear of reprisals from Washington.

US tourism has grown but is still at 10 % of its potential owing to a law barring US citizens from visiting the island as tourists. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
US tourism has grown but is still at 10 % of its potential owing to a law barring US citizens from visiting the island as tourists. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Ironically, the “normalization” of relations is not benefitting US companies but those of third countries, which see an opportunity to find a niche in the Cuban market, where they don’t have to compete with the world’s greatest economic power.

This past year demonstrated that the embargo is much more than a bilateral issue. No sooner had Obama suggested its elimination than business delegations, trade offers and credits from around the world arrived at the island en masse, even from countries that have no relations with Cuba.

It’s a big wave of interest, but relatively little business has actually materialized in the course of the year. Some Cuban economists are wondering whether the country “is taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the moment, because the interest won’t be there forever.”

The Mariel port continues to be surrounded by green areas. A reader told us that “last Friday, I attended a tour of the Mariel Special Development Zone offered by a government official, and the only thing they had to show for after two years were the foundations. They haven’t even finished building the administrative building.”

Internally, Cuba faces a powerful paralysis. Not a single cooperative was authorized in 2015, no new self-employment categories were approved, wholesale markets continued to be conspicuously absent and the much awaited elimination of the two-currency system has not yet seen the light of day.

Travel restrictions applied on medical specialists was, for many Cubans, a step backward and proof, if needed, that reforms can be reverted. This has been the biggest fear harbored by citizens who over the years have seen more than one liberalizing measure taken back.

Politically, we are seeing a “witch hunt” which reflects fears prompted by Washington’s new strategy. Receiving foreign money to pay for a plane ticket, offer a lecture, write an article or organize an event immediately makes you are suspect.

Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone makes very slow progress. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone makes very slow progress. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Uncertainty surrounding the future of the reforms, internal ideological rigidity and the fear that Washington will eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act are the basic ingredients which, in 2015, impelled tens of thousands of people to immigrate to the United States through any means possible.

Next year will be decisive for both governments. Obama must take more determined steps if he doesn’t want his replacement to undo his “legacy.” He can do it: the majority of the electorate, the bulk of US businesspeople and even the Cuban-American community would support him.

For Raul Castro, 2016 will be vital: he will take part in the last Congress of the Communist Party before his retirement. If a clear position regarding the direction and pace of the reforms doesn’t emerge from that congress, the leadership will pass on a “hot potato” to those who come afterwards.

Any radical change to the model will be more difficult to make by the successors. “The historical leadership” aren’t only the founding fathers of the revolution, they are also the creators of the model, and both these things give them the political authority to change things.

If Obama’s legacy is to be the rapprochement with Havana, Raul Castro’s are reforms aimed at creating a sustainable and prosperous economic model. The difference is that, in Cuba’s case, the very fate of the revolution depends on this legacy.


48 thoughts on “USA-Cuba Progress Report

  • December 26, 2015 at 7:19 am
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    I can see that you are still struggling to grasp how democracy works in the US. President John F. Kennedy once said “one man can make a difference, but every man should try”. The strength of our democracy is that while Fidel may not care what I think, he has certainly lived long enough to care how millions of people who believe what I believe. Despite his arrogance, and it would appear yours as well, he will have to swallow his pride, and accept the hordes of US capitalists, demanding more ice in their mojitos. Talk all that Cuban pride crap if you want. But in the end, lift your skirt, bend over and take it like I tell you to take it. That’s what the revolution has come to. Still laughing.

  • December 25, 2015 at 6:10 pm
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    Sure, your opinion is extremely important to Cubans, specially to Castro. What a laugh.

  • December 25, 2015 at 6:09 pm
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    Thank you for minding your own business.

  • December 25, 2015 at 9:10 am
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    You can’t have it both ways. The Castros can’t beg for US dollars from remittances and tourists and at the same time not expect Americans not to weigh in on how to do things in Cuba. If you want my money, I get to call the shots. That’s life dude.

  • December 25, 2015 at 8:40 am
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    …He means you’ve made yourself out to be a fool.

  • December 25, 2015 at 7:29 am
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    Thank you for minding your own business.

  • December 24, 2015 at 7:55 pm
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    OK, I give up. It stops being fun when the other person doesn’t understand they have made a fool of themself.

  • December 24, 2015 at 7:11 pm
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    Kennedy, thank you for your time to write such an amazing piece of propaganda. I mean, I grow up not having to read this in a foreign language but to listen to it in perfect cuban spanish every day from AM to PM. Thank you so much for making me remember all those years of misinformation and ignorance, you are a good supporter of what you don’t know. I will pray to my orishas that you in your next life will be born right in Cuba during the revolution and after. I hope in that next life of yours you won’t migrate to the US or any other capitalist country, or beautiful island in the Caribbean. Merry Christmas and Happy Noche Buena!

  • December 24, 2015 at 7:07 pm
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    Exactly. It is our business if we talk trash or truth about our own country. Gladly we won’t get into other countries affairs and start up in a pseudo-my-opinion-matters-career over the internet.

  • December 24, 2015 at 6:54 am
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    Hahaha! Pardon me, I understand now. As long as you were born in Cuba it is acceptable to lie and mislead people. Sort of like what the Castros have done for 57 years.

  • December 24, 2015 at 1:28 am
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    Dude that’s my opinion, Elio has the right to talk lies about my country, because he is Cuban he can talk sh*t it is our problem.

  • December 23, 2015 at 8:39 am
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    I am Cuban, and I agree with Griffin. The world needs to learn and educate themselves about the “Cuban revolution” , then separate facts from stereotypes.. Unfortunately, many of us Cubans fail to distinguish between the two. It’s also true that if you criticize the so called revolution, then you get called out as a batistiano, which is way before my time. If you really believe in freedom you need to respect people’s different points of views, this is not happening in Cuba. I say anyone who agrees with the Cuban government should live there. And of course, let’s not forget the latin american countries have benefited themselves from Cuba’s education and health care systems. They praise the Castros because they have exploited Cuba’s very own future.. With time I have come to understand that Cuba will never be a true free country full of opportunities and personal advancement unless it drastically moves in a new direction, such as true free elections and allow its people to pursue their happiness.

  • December 23, 2015 at 6:45 am
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    You missed my point. If the truth is spoken, (or written in this case) does it matter the nationality of the speaker? Likewise, Elio Legon, Cuban-born and frequent Cuban contributor to Havana Times, publishes lies about Cuba all the time. I’m as pro-US as anybody but I am a bigger fan of the truth, no matter who tells it.

  • December 22, 2015 at 11:24 pm
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    It makes them authentically cuban.

  • December 22, 2015 at 11:23 am
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    Minister of the Economy, Marino Murillo just announced that Cuba’s economy expanded by 4% in 2015.
    http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1450695535_18977.html.
    He did not release how the economy grew so well, exceeding all of Latin American growth but promised to release those figures at a later date. Yea, right.

  • December 22, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    Does hearing bad news about life in Cuba when written by Cuban writers make the news any less bad?

  • December 22, 2015 at 9:10 am
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    Robert Mugabe is a corrupt racist kleptocratic dictator. You support him. Enough said.

  • December 21, 2015 at 4:15 am
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    Forgive me Moses, I “white”-represented in my last reply. I have witnessed first hand the discrimination against struggling Spanish (Canary Island) Cubans by Western tourists due to their fetish for all things exotic. This may be a minor problem, but it resonated very deeply with me and to my mind is the reason “blacks” get a bad name now.

  • December 20, 2015 at 11:55 am
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    What you have in the U.S. is assimilation. Cuba has more African doctors than the U.S. with a fraction of the population. That to me is not positions of “equal” importance, pero positions of “higher” importance.

  • December 20, 2015 at 11:48 am
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    You are misled or blind to the racism in Cuba. While not as virulent as US racism, it is just as prevalent. The difference between US racism and the racism that exists in Cuba is the victim. American minorities openly resist and confront racism. Cuban blacks and mullatos accept their victimhood with barely a peep.

  • December 20, 2015 at 9:12 am
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    Que paquete George! Racism is deeply imbedded in Cuban society, It’s just not openly addressed. The US undeniably has it’s own challenges with racism. The difference is that the US airs it’s dirty laundry for all to see. But in many ways the US is far in advance of Cuba when it comes to race. We’ve had African Americans in most of the top leadership positions in Government, including Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of a Staff, and of course President of the United States if America.

    Undoubtably progress on racism in the US has progressed fitfully and unevenly, but can you tell me what positions of equal importance have been held by blacks in Cuba?

  • December 20, 2015 at 8:59 am
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    Freedom to elect the govt. they want. Freedom to work where they want and to attend the schools they want and to read what they want unfettered from any govt. intervention. Capitalism has nothing to do with this. It is an economic system and not a political system. The Cuban govt. has already instituted capitalist measures to boost their economy.

  • December 20, 2015 at 3:33 am
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    Moses, look at Brazil, is this the kind of society you want? I do not begrudge the success you have had in the states, pero seriously, how is Brazil going to resolve its racial problems, even the United States with all its wealth can’t compete with Cuba on this, this despite you and others being “astute business” men. Let us not even call it “racial” pero “ideological”. Cuba is the most successful country in the Western hemisphere when it comes to African ideology its only competitor is Jamaica. I am not talking about Haiti which is struggling the hardest because I have yet to see their success. Trade is not anti-communist, pero the mode of trade you propose is ultimately anti-African even if it brings some benefits to a minority in the short term.

  • December 19, 2015 at 5:30 pm
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    The greatest test of any idea is its ability to stand up to critism. If your beliefs are so easily shaken they were probably weak to begin with. Keep in mind Kennedy that “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism” …Woke Soynka

  • December 19, 2015 at 5:02 pm
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    The various contributors to HT live all across the island, and some are travelling abroad. I read once that the editor resides in Nicaragua, but he also travels to Cuba regularly. That’s the miracle of the internet: writers in many different places can come together electronically to create a unique publication.

    Pravda is a tabloid for raving lunatics. Even in Russia it’s considered trash, similar to the US tabloid National Enquirer.

  • December 19, 2015 at 4:57 pm
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    Wrong. I’m Canadian, with no Cuban heritage at all. If you have read my comments here you will know that I have been throughly critical of the criminal dictator Batista. It is typical of Castro bootlickers such as yourself to attempt that ridiculous bit of rhetoric, “Oh, you are against Castro? Then you must be a Batistiano!!!” – but as always it’s an utter failure.

    Havana Times has a definite pro-Cuba perspective, including pro-Cuban Revolution. The editor does include a broad spectrum of opinion, from solidly Fideist to somewhat critical, and many things in between. This range of opinion sets HT apart from all other Cuban themed websites & blogs which tend to be either pro-or anti but never a mixture. I have never read any contributor here who could even remotely be called a Batistiano. The author of the above piece, Fernando Ravsberg, is a Marxist, and a long time supporter of the Cuban Revolution. If occasionally he is critical of certain aspects or problems in Cuba, his criticisms are rather mild and from a Leftist perspective.

    Batista was a dictator, because he seized power in a coup and ruled by executive order over a puppet legislature. Opposition to his rule were jailed or executed.

    The Castro’s are dictators, because he seized power in a coup and ruled by executive order over a puppet legislature. Opposition to their rule are jailed or executed.

    Batista to Castro. Same shit, different bottle.

    The difference of course, is that while Batista ruled for less than 8 years during which the Cuban economy grew, if unequally, the Castros have ruled for for 56 years while the Cuban economy has shrunken for everybody (except for the ruling elite, of course).

    PS: At no time did US gangsters own everything in Cuba. If you believe that, you are out of touch with reality.

  • December 19, 2015 at 10:32 am
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    I have been wondering that myself. Hahaha!

  • December 19, 2015 at 10:31 am
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    For the umpteenth time, I don’t long for anything (read: not anything) that would harken back to that time in Cuba from 1952 – 1959. I can safely speak for Griffin on this point as well. What I do long for, since you seem anxious to quote how I feel, is the day when Cubans go to the polls to vote in multiparty elections. I look forward to the day when Cubans can legally start and grow businesses to become as large as the customers and not the government decide that business should become. Finally, I can hardly wait for the day when Cubans can buy newspapers published in Cuba that both support and criticize the Cuban government. Cuban news programs on television that have a point of view that reflects the POV of their viewers, and not just that of the regime. Actually there are quite a few changes that would be cool to see in Cuba but these are the biggies. Give Cubans these three and everything else will fall into place.

  • December 19, 2015 at 10:15 am
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    Tehran Times? Talk about high journalistic standards. Are you being serious? Do you really prefer Granma? Ask your buddies in the Cuban medical brigade what Cubans really do with Granma. Hint: rhymes with Poilet Taper. Why do you care about the physical location of Havana Times? Sounds creepy to me.

  • December 19, 2015 at 10:11 am
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    Thank you for the HT publication Circles. You’ve always managed to present both sides of the Cuba debate.

    …For Kennedy I have only this to say. The greatest test of any idea is its ability to stand up to critism. If your beliefs are so easily shaken they were probably weak to begin with. Keep in mind Kennedy that “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism” …Woke Soynka

  • December 19, 2015 at 9:52 am
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    According to Dictionary.com, the definition of freedom is: #2. exemption from external control,interference, regulation, etc. Does that help?

  • December 19, 2015 at 9:49 am
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    Wrong blog dude!

  • December 19, 2015 at 7:18 am
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    Brother Circles, the Bible says that we must know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free. I am glad to be of service to the brother, of opening up his eyes, of enlightening him. I have oft times indicated to H.T where is their location in Cuba, but to no avail. The Cubans who form the Medical Brigade here in my country, do not know about the existence of such an entity. I have been to Cuba this year and have inquired about its whereabouts but to no avail. When you read its articles, when you compare it to Cuba SI, when you read the Tehran Times, when you read Granma, when you read China Daily, whenyou read Pravda, you get a different version of what is happening. I am able to compare; that is why I can criticize H.T., Glad to be of service to you brother Circles. I try my utmost to present Titus 2. 8 information. “Sound Speech Which Cannot Be Condemned Information.”

  • December 19, 2015 at 6:51 am
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    Dear Kennedy, thank your for letting me know why HT was created. I wasn’t aware of it.

  • December 19, 2015 at 6:48 am
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    Brother Diaz, What do you refer to as Freedom? Are you advocating that Freedom means Capitlism which means keeping people in ignorance, being excploited of their natural resources, where the majority of the population are kept in bondage. lacking in the essentials of being a real human being such as education and access to real medical attention and a roof over your head? Where the minority lauds it over the majority by enjoying all the fruits of the land while the majority catch hell? Brother Juan Diax is this your version of Freedom? Do you have a heart, do you posess human feelings for your fellowmen? Are you not touched by the human sufferings of your less fortunate brothers and sisters on the Planet? Kindly explain to me, what is demoracy. Explain to me what you mean by FREEDOM???

  • December 19, 2015 at 5:28 am
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    Fernandez, Anything which is anti-Cuba will always be high lighted in Havana Times for this is its purpose, this is the purpose for which it was created. Moses and Griffin are from the oligarchic community who have been severely affected by thr Revolution. They long for the glory days of the pre-Revolutionary days when the working class of the land were kept in total ignorance and the Amerian gangsters owned every thing in Cuba including the politicians.. If Batista was a Dictator and the Cubans were rescued from this Dictator, how come the Cuban Revolutionary leaders are now labelled Dictators? When Batista governed the country, the American media never referred to him as a Dictator whilst the Cubans were subjugated, illiterate and lacking in medical attention. But, the Castro’s who have liberated who have liberated the Cubans from ignorane and degradation are referred to as Dictators, Why? So, when the propaganda and misinformation are spewed out by these two, the comments are not palatable and are therefore unworthy to be digested!!!

  • December 19, 2015 at 5:23 am
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    Whilst it is true that you can find corrupt priests in all walks of life, cashing in on ancient knowledge, you have to understand that the African and European ways of doing things are different. This point was made by King Goodwill Zwelithini who accused the South African government of squandering the resources of the Europeans through ineptitude. There is an old African saying “don’t give up your whites”. Having said that I support Mugabe despite the protestations of my Trade Union brothers. Salam

  • December 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm
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    If we want a progress report on the new US-Cuba relationship, let’s go to the numbers:

    Migrants: There has been a huge increase in the number of Cubans leaving the island. Some 43,159 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry in fiscal year 2015, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Many others left for other countries or in transit to the US now, such as the 6000 Cubans waiting at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border.

    Trade: Despite the Obama Administration’s easing of sanctions, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba have precipitously declined by nearly 40% compared to last year — from $290 million to $160 million. In August 2015 alone, U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84% from $14.3 million in 2014 to $2.25 million, one of the lowest numbers since U.S. agricultural exports were first authorized in 2001. For some reason, the Castro regime, which controls all imports into Cuba, has cut back on purchases of US goods. Why?

    Repression: Over 200 Cuban dissidents were being arrested on International Human Rights Day, last week. There were 1,477 politically motivated detentions in November 2015, the highest monthly total in many years, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and 7,686 for the year to date.

    But it’s not all bad news! Tourism is up. Remittances are up. And the coffers of the Castro regime are way up, helping them to afford ever more repression. Obama’s gift has ensured regime survival for the dictatorship.

  • December 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm
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    I rented a room in a house owned by a Babalawo for a couple of months. With no intent to disrespect the religious beliefs of Santería, my personal experience is that while most Babalawos are astute businessmen, they have no, spiritual or otherwise, influence over the Castro oligarchy.

  • December 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm
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    President Obama, first and foremost, is a politician. Politically, he is fully aware that when the US flag went up the flagpole in Havana and the Cuban flag in DC, he had achieved whatever political end he sought to achieve in normalizing relations with Cuba. He doesn’t need to do anything else to solidify his Cuban legacy.

  • December 18, 2015 at 10:27 am
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    “President Obama is under absolutely no pressure, political or otherwise to do anything more with US/Cuban relations.”

    There is a lot of truth to this statement, but I think it misses what the motivation was to change the US relationship with Cuba. The US had failed to reverse the Cuban Revolution and the ongoing campaign against Cuba was tending to isolate the US in Latin America and more broadly than that. The easing of the campaign has restored to some degree the political and moral authority of the US.

  • December 18, 2015 at 10:02 am
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    Moses what you fail to realise is that Cuba is as Eldridge Cleaver said practicing “Voodoo Socialism”, Fidel was put there by the Babaleyos, they are the ones who pull the strings

  • December 18, 2015 at 2:43 am
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    For some reason this guy’s articles are always highlighted, why? Where are my cuban writers, not this guy please.

  • December 17, 2015 at 8:48 pm
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    The fathers of the revolution can evolve it into more pragmatic economic model or they can expect it to implode. Long term systems adapt to reality.

  • December 17, 2015 at 7:17 pm
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    “Obama offered US citizens 12 lies to justify travel to Cuba…”

    I had to read this sentence more than once. He doesn’t seem to be accusing Obama of lying, but rather coaching Americans on how to get around travel restrictions. Presumably by telling lies.
    A remarkable thing to say. It seems more like an expression of opinion than a statement of fact.

  • December 17, 2015 at 2:49 pm
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    I almost completely agree with Ravsberg’s observations. A first. What I continue to read from Cuban writers is a sense of entitlement. It is as if Obama would somehow fail as a President unless he continues to unravel the limitations imposed by the embargo through Executive Orders. News Flash: President Obama is under absolutely no pressure, political or otherwise to do anything more with US/Cuban relations. He has opened the door. We have an embassy. His legacy is assured. In fact, should he do any more without some measurable response from the Castros, he will risk helping the anti-normalization folks make the argument that relations with Cuba are premature. Ravsberg, like many others loyal to the Castros, have little or no expectations of the Castros. Why is that? Is it because they believe the regime to be near perfect and without a need for change? Or do Castro sycophants share my belief that the Castros could not care less about a relationship with the US? What the Castros want most is to stay in power. So long as making nice with Yumas make survival more possible than not, then hanging the Stars ‘n Stripes from Cuban balconies is permissible. But if Cuba were to actually find all that oil that they say exists in Cuban waters and after selling that oil, they had enough money to what they really want to do, the Castros would send Washington a huge F*ck You. Ravsberg knows that attitude makes change in Havana next to impossible.

  • December 17, 2015 at 2:01 pm
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    When you finally topple the communist govt. in Cuba, you may finally get real reform. It is incredible what freedom can do for a country’s economic development.

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