By Bryan Chester Campbell Romero*
HAVANA TIMES – Uncertainty regarding the outcome of the US election on November 3, and the possibility of sustained or more aggressive US sanctions against the Cuban government and its main allies in the Latin America and Caribbean region, remains a matter of great concern for most Cubans.
Most of those living in the island put their hopes on a potential Biden administration returning to Obama-era policies. Meanwhile a majority of Miami Cubans fell under the charm of President Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric. This was confirmed by a recent poll conducted by Florida International University.
Cubans at both sides of the Florida Strait continue deeply frustrated with the lack of political change and economic growth in their country. Many of us don’t perceive Cuba’s future as something that we can shape or fully participate in. Instead we focus on US electoral politics to canalize our anger and aspirations. US politics for Cubans is no more than a (elusive) list of wishes: a choice, a fighting chance, an open future.
However, I believe the conventional wisdom dominating the debate among Cubans in both sides is misguided. No, President Trump won’t bring democracy to Cuba. And Joe Biden is not our savior.
I. Trump (or Biden) 2020
The Trump administration’s narrow-minded approach to Latin America, focused on anti-immigration policies and the fight against the so-called troika of tyranny, has fundamentally misunderstood both the geopolitical reality of the region and the internal dynamics that allow Cuban authorities to maintain the status quo and exercise such a disproportionate influence in countries like Venezuela.
The ghost of regime change comes back with President Trump. But let’s not forget that is the same ghost that brought the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, the Special Period, Ronald Reagan, Bay of Pigs, etc.
Regime change —Trump edition—, says: “maybe this time will be different, the pandemic helps, Fidel is no longer there, just one more sanction”. But it hasn’t been different. Pursuing policies of maximum pressure amidst an unprecedented global health crisis is just cruel and inefficient.
On the other side, the Cubans inside Cuba remember that glorious Obama visit. For them it meant a boost in tourism, the new businesses, the visas, the excitement, the endless opportunities. Those Cubans want to believe the possibility of a future Biden administration completely resuming Obama’s policy of engagement.
Under Biden we can expect a return to basic measures such as unlimited remittances to support entrepreneurs, consular services and constructive dialogue with Cuban authorities. However, Biden’s Cuba policy will lack the intensity and priority anticipated by most people. The progress of US-Cuba relations will be conditioned by the Cuban government’s capacity to preserve and expand the limited freedoms that Cubans have. So let’s not hold our breath.
II. Refocusing our attention
It is difficult for humans to learn from history, but at some point we will have to make peace with the fact that the US doesn’t have the capacity to change Cuba. Instead let’s invest all that time, energy and ingenuity used to survive or escape the country, to transform the nation and demand changes.
But that’s difficult to accomplish. Many of the brighter Cuban minds are no longer in Cuba and the post-pandemic future anticipates another massive brain drain. Cuban authorities, with their shortsighted process of reforms, set goals but penalize the means to achieve them.
They dollarize the economy but limit Cubans’ ability to obtain dollars. They ask Cubans to produce and generate wealth but constrain the private sector. The plan is to promote greater efficiency but they maintain a large and incapable bureaucracy.
Cuba doesn’t need US electoral politics, at least not with the current dynamic. Cuba needs to recover its lost human capital, unleash the entrepreneurial capacity of young people and increase individual economic freedoms as the only way to produce prosperity.
Only through profound institutional reforms and a new political culture that promotes reconciliation and integrates new voices, could we activate real political change, but this time in Cuba.
* Bryan Chester Campbell Romero is a Philosophy graduate from Havana University. He currently contributes to different publications, focusing on Latin American and Caribbean affairs.