Rogelio M. Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — The owner of a fantasy milk churn imagines an entire fortune ahead of him, heading to the market. Sadly, reality places a pot-hole in his way and the jug that should have brought him such wonders spills.
Cuba periodically offers us a new version of this well-known fable. Between the close of last year and the current one, we have seen yet another version of this folkloric tale. If it wasn’t given more press, it may have been because of the concerns surrounding prices and inflation or the drama of Cuban migrants, or the Pope’s visit, or any other distraction opportunistically taken advantage of.
Despite its apparent insignificance, the matter has probably caused much concern among Cuban bigwigs and their teams of economists. It turns out that the last, great projects conceived to consolidate and develop the country’s economy have not been as successful as they hoped.
As you’ll recall, the last great bet of Cuba’s reform process was laid on the effects of foreign investment. The same apparatus that had raged against the evils of foreign capital, penetrating and taking hold of the poor Third World, now longs to see these arrive. Because of this, the Mariel bay and port became a Special Economic Development Zone. In addition, Cuba promulgated a juicier Foreign Investment Law, which the government dared design.
According to the reformists, the Cuban economy needs billions in investments every year in order to grow. The blessed law aimed to draw international companies with the resources that the local government obviously lacks, or so its promoters claim. In fact, many visits by delegations of potential investors have been going on for months, and many additional meetings with interested countries have been held. However, something has not yet clicked.
After more than a year, Cuba’s expectations are far from being fulfilled. Some new businesses have been set up, but the figures are well below those aimed at. A small number of companies have decided to make additional shipments to Mariel and other Cuban localities. If the entire media campaign had been designed to convince us this was the best possible way forward towards prosperity, serious concerns may be emerging now.
It isn’t hard to prompt triumphalism regarding measures aimed at drawing in “good” capitalists early in the game. The owner of the milk churn could not have mustered more optimism. As time passes, however, the mood has become a bit more serious. Isidoro Malmierca, Ricardo Cabrisas, Cuban officials in this businesses of dealing with finances and foreigners, explain what’s going on to journalists during the parliamentary sessions. They claim we need a lot of patience, that this is a complex process, that it will yield fruit, but slowly.
The word out on the street is that the bureaucracy and unwieldiness of the system make quicker progress in this direction impossible. That may not be the only – or most important – cause for lament.
The most maddening thing may be that, to play this hand, other options that people have called for with true will and initiative (not seeking to exploit others) were frozen. The charm of these promises may have had a say in the fact that, in 2015, the process of authorizing new cooperatives was paralyzed, and the fact the country’s leadership continues to look down on the need and right of workers to manage their activities in a democratic and horizontal manner.
Whatever the case may be, the attempt to set up a dairy with a foreign jug has failed. The delegations from “abroad” are fewer and fewer and offering no more revenues, not even following the positive results of the renegotiation of our debt. The Cuban government will now be forced to face up to decisive moments in its reform process.
This year may again bring us new developments in terms of the country’s economic and social transformations. After all, the 7th Communist Party Congress is to be held this year. This Congress promises to discuss the hitherto highly secretive “Conceptualization of Cuba’s economic and social model.” The no less secretive commissions that are cooking up constitutional reforms will eventually bring their Machiavellian proposals to light. The reticence of foreign investors could be the decisive argument wielded by the many admirers of the Chinese model, and they may realize their aim of opening the doors to domestic capitalists.
The last pie in the sky to be offered seems to be as high in the atmosphere as the last and the one before that. It remains to be seen – and suffered – what terrible things will ensue down the way.