Sweet and Sour Taste as the US Moves into Havana

By Circles Robinson

The newly opened US Embassy in Havana.  Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebate.cu
The newly opened US Embassy in Havana. Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — There were mixed feelings today regarding the official reopening of the US embassy in the Cuban capital and how this might play out in practical terms in the coming weeks and months.

The sweet side includes many who consider themselves part of the traditional political left in the US and in Cuba. They see the raising of the US flag as acknowledgement of a failed US policy of isolating Cuba and the beginning of the end of the embargo, allowing the island some breathing room to try and kick-start its depressed economy.

They are joined by strange bedfellows: corporate America, led by the US Chamber of Commerce and many large corporations. This group sees Cuba as one more new market for their investments, forever searching for growth. They believe that business is business, and politics should not get in the way.

Both see lifting the embargo and the remaining travel restrictions as key next steps for improvement. They are joined by many ordinary Cubans and Cuban-Americans with family on both sides of the Florida Strait.

On the sour side, disaffected Cubans and others on the right are thoroughly disgusted with Obama, believing the administration has capitulated to the Castros, breathing new life into a regime they consider on the brink. They are banking their hopes on the Republican-led US Congress and presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush to pull the rug out from under the rapprochement, either now or later.

These hardliners reject the idea of worthwhile change and reconciliation in Cuba, holding fast to their insistence that the removal of the Castro family and the Communist Party from power represents the only acceptable transformation of the island’s political and economic life.

Yet another segment of the population agree with the opposition’s general call for greater human and civil rights on the island (freedom of speech, the press and association), while having deep reservations about State, military or corporate control over the country’s economy and political life.

Stick with us at Havana Times; we will continue to give a voice to our divergent group of writers and readers.


44 thoughts on “Sweet and Sour Taste as the US Moves into Havana

  • Yes, if you reprise my comments you will find that I have repeatedly written that nothing is intended to change within Cuba. I consistently use the phrase “Castro family regime” because that is what rules Cuba – and does so with an iron fist. Raul Castro has through the military owned GAESA, controlled Cuba’s economy.
    I continue to think that in 2018 there will be an interesting potential conflict between the so-called Government of Diaz-Canel, Murillo and Rodriguez and the Castro family regime (ie: Raul Castro’s family).
    Yes, the oppression will continue and the Cuban people will continue to strive daily for survival.
    I have little optimism that there will be change. On the other hand I look at my four year old God-daughter and find it difficult to think that the regime that has controlled her parents lives will continue to control hers for another fifty six miserable years.
    Lifting the embargo will make little difference to the Cuban people – but it will serve to remove the excuse that the Castro family regime has used constantly to explain their incompetence. It will become evident that it is they that have mismanaged the economy, managed the agricultural sector into disintegration and constantly lied by blaming the embargo. The BIG BAD WOLF will no longer be there to blame.
    I agree with you about the Raul/Kerry relationship. All the movement has come from one side. Raul Castro Ruz as a communist dictator does not change!

  • Carlyle,

    Your clarification confirms that you see the economic reforms introduced by Raul are helping the regime much more than the Cuban people. You are aware that repression has increased over the last few months. Therefore it is only logical to conclude that lifting the embargo without any change to the Cuban political and economic systems, will only serve to continue to enrich the regime, which will continue to oppress the people. How can it be otherwise?

    I have no crystal ball to see what will happen when Fidel dies and Raul retires (or dies) in the next few years. My guess is that the Castro regime will live on under the direction of the next generation – mostly Raul’s side of the family, as Fidel’s sons are less involved in politics. Diaz-Canal may be a figure head, but the real power behind the throne will be Alejandro Castro, currently a Colonel in MININT. As you have noted, the FAR controls the lion’s share of the economy and the senior officers won’t give up the perks & power that come with directorships of state-monopolies. Perhaps at some point they will give up the pretence of belief in the socialist values of the “Revolution” and endorse a policy of privatization, in which, as the only people in Cuba with money, the Castro clan will “buy” the state owned corporations. They will then carry on as the new oligarchs, just as the old communists did in Russia.

    What I don’t see the happening is anything resembling democracy or improved human rights for the Cuban people. The dissident groups have no power and the Obama administration isn’t much interested in what they say. Kerry is far to eager not to offend Raul.

  • Griffin:
    In my opinion the Castro family regime will continue to plunder Cuba irrespective of the embargo being in place or not.
    As you know, many of the contributors to these columns have only restricted knowledge of the reality of life for Cubans existing under the power and control of the regime. They have gleaned some knowledge as tourists but they know naught of the CDR – or who is the President on their block. Others, have only knowledge gleaned from reading having never actually set foot in the beautiful country.
    I try in my contributions to include descriptions of the realities I observe in Cuba when living there as a member of the community – a privilege.
    As an example, you may recall my on a few occasions mentioning the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba. Subsequently Mr. John Goodrich reasonably questioned whether that department existed – and I think he now accepts that it does.
    You may have noted that I have not joined those who think as a consequence of media reports that life in Cuba is changing. Also, my view that in 2018 when Raul Castro Ruz steps down as President and Maduro is potentially no longer in power in Venezuela, that there could be some form of strife between the Castro family regime and the so-called Government (with it’s potential troika of Diaz-Canel, Murillo and Rodriguez). With 80% of the economy directed by a member of the family and the security services controlled by another, it is difficult to believe that they will meekly step aside. Raul Castro Ruz did his best by personally selecting Diaz-Canel but who knows?
    In the portion you quote, I am trying to describe the reality of life for Cubans, rather than reflecting the somewhat pious hopes of others for “change”.
    Hope that clarifies!

  • It’s not the NRA members who are shooting each other. Gun crime is committed by criminals who rarely have legal gun ownership, not by responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

    I would feel much safer in any town in Montana where most adults own legal firearms than I would in Chicago which has a gun ban and thousands of illegally armed criminals. Only a lunatic liberal could believe declaring an area a “gun free zone” will reduce crimes. When that man in Colorado shot up the movie theatre (with an illegally owned gun), of the 8 movie theatres in the area, he chose the only one which had a No Guns Allowed policy. Go figure!

    Incarceration rates are high in the US because conviction rates are alarmingly high and the most common penalties are incarceration. “Tough on crime” attitudes are politically more popular than dealing with the root causes of crime. The high incarceration rates are just one of many problems with the US criminal justice system.

    Above you wrote this:

    “You make another error in suggesting that as in a capitalist society that a “trickle down” effect is possible in Cuba. “Local services” are controlled by the regime not by individuals as in a capitalist society. The shops are all controlled by the military – TRD, CIMEX ETC. Yes, there are some Cubans selling small volumes of clothing and shoes from their homes (they have to buy from the State Importing the goods) and CD’s. Any “new found influx of cash” will go directly to the Castro family regime.”

    The logical conclusion from that is that the regime is getting richer. Daily reports from Cuba show that repression has increased, not decreased since Obama announced his new policy on Cuba. It sure sounds like you think the gradual lifting of the embargo now proceeding under Obama is making the regime richer and more repressive.

    Obama makes the argument that lifting the embargo and allowing US citizens to travel to Cuba will have the effect of making the Cuban people less dependent on the Cuban state, and that this will in turn weaken the Castro regime’s grip on power. The statement you made, & which I quoted above, suggests the opposite is happening. You pointed out that the self-employed remain dependent on the state for licences and wholesale supplies, while paying high taxes, and the people in smaller towns and rural areas are untouched by the new economic opportunities.

    If I drew the wrong conclusion from your statement quoted above, perhaps you could clarify it?

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