Rogelio Manuel Díaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Less than six months ago, Cuba’s young Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, addressed Cubans living in the United States to explain to them why they could not make any investments in their country of origin. Now, they are saying another Cuban diplomat is explaining to them that a new, amended investments law, one that will entitle them to invest in Cuba, is currently in the works.
At one point, analysts will have to acknowledge that Cuba’s current administration is shaking the very foundations of the country’s old system – or, at least, its economic foundations.
What we find, however, is that every change implemented suffers from the same ill: a lack of democratic interaction between the government, the workers, the intellectuals and the public in general.
When the table has finally been set, Cuba’s civil society is going to be treated to a new, main course, a meal whose preparation it had absolutely no say in, despite its understandable interest in the cooking process.
To begin my rather disorderly reflection, I will first focus on the positive aspects of the possible new reform. I feel we should be pleased that, in terms of foreign investment, the government has decided to put an end to the discrimination of Cuban émigrés, that the right to invest in the country will cease to be the exclusive privilege of non-Cuban foreigners.
There are, in addition, other, potential benefits for many people: the increased flow of capital into the country, the possibility of closer ties with relatives living across the ocean and the creation of valuable assets that can alleviate some economic hardships.
We must also bear in mind that every Cuban-American investor will constitute yet another voice raised in opposition to US legislation designed to stifle Cuba’s economy, such as the embargo/blockade, the persecution of Cuban financial transactions around the world, restrictions on travel by US citizens, and other harmful policies.
In short, a new investment law has many potential benefits, both for the investors and those who could participate in the new initiatives their investments would give rise to. It is here, however, where we should be most careful.
Cuban émigrés with capital to invest in their country of origin have amassed or reproduced this capital in a society that is radically different from ours. It is not my intention, here, to either judge or compare these societies, to say one is better and the other worse. I am simply saying we must be mindful of the fact that the philosophies that govern life on either end of the Florida Strait are very different.
Cooperation between these two societies is not only necessary, it is just and promising. But, given the undeniable fact of their drastic socio-economic differences, such cooperation ought to be managed cautiously.
Our government leaders, as we know, put themselves forth as the best, as the only possible conductors of these processes. For us, below and to the left, they only offer us the right to obey and applaud.
Of course, we have other opinions. And, as we secure more and more means to have our voices heard, we are divulging these opinions and explaining them with all of the sincerity, objectivity and sense of urgency we are able to muster.
To say that secrets are necessary to take certain enterprises to fruition would be to bark up the wrong tree here, for the existence of talks between the Cuban government and émigré community are already public knowledge.
What’s more, the only ones being kept in the dark are people in Cuba. This secrecy aims to prevent questioning, opinions or pressure from below, from those who would have every reason to want to prepare for such a change in advance.
The Cuban émigré who is to invest in Cuba will, naturally, insist on rules that are similar to those that operate where they secured their capital: the land of the most powerful and experienced capitalists in the world, the throne of neo-liberalism. This makes the official declarations of the Cuban government, to the effect that the reform process is aimed at “improving and bringing socialism up to date”, even more ironic than they have been till now, if that’s possible.
For, is Saladrigas and company being approached to come and help develop communism in Cuba? Not by a long shot. These will be business relations. And it would be a huge scandal if people were to find out about negotiations between the Cuban government and boards of Cuban-American capitalists, held behind the backs of Cuban workers.
Obviously, run-of-the-mill Cubans on the island will play no other role than supply the needed labor, and it doesn’t seem it would be in the best interests of Cuban workers to have a government who pays them microscopic salaries, denies them the right to strike or organize independently, and shuts down unprofitable companies unscrupulously, represent them at the negotiations table.
If we recall that the Cuban government takes three quarters, or more, of the incomes that Cubans earn abroad on government negotiated contracts, that it collects the salaries of those employed by foreign firms in Cuba, paid in hard currency, and substitutes it with a measly sum in the devalued Cuban peso, we have even more reasons to be wary.
Neither can we expect the Cuban Workers’ Federation, a union entirely subservient to Cuba’s supreme authority, to champion the interests of workers such as myself.
With such representatives, we would be more than justified to fear getting the short end of the stick again: a situation in which we supply highly-qualified labor in exchange for 5, perhaps 10% of what would be a normal salary, where demanding our labor rights would be the easiest way to get the boot.
We would also not be crazy to ask whether the new investment law will include the provisions needed to curb phenomena such as discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other reason, practices which are an affront on human dignity.
To put an end to these rather hasty scribblings, I feel we should ask ourselves whether a law of this nature doesn’t ultimately force us to re-think other, more or less related issues.
For instance, how would we manage the justified complaints of these émigrés regarding passport restrictions and entry permit requirements, which would be felt as all the more unjust if their money were being used for investments in Cuba – in addition to the by now familiar remittances they send. What of the absurd banishment of Cuban athletes who have emigrated?
Can you imagine Dayron Robles becoming the manager of a hostel in Cuba, and the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) insisting on denying him the right to compete, be it as part of a Cuban or any other team?
Can you picture Yasiel Puig running a tourist sports academy in Varadero, but being denied the right to join Cuba’s national baseball team to compete in a World Baseball Classic?
In short, all who are involved in this matter, who handle such an important decision unilaterally, are guilty of yet another affront on the rights of the Cuban people.