Osmel Ramírez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s official declaration in the face of new Obama administration measures which aim to relax embargo restrictions, was received here with doubts, complaints and a little hope.
These follow and fit in with the last set of measures put into place, which aim to make human and capital flow more viable. The economic embargo still exists and remains subject to legislation which cannot be ignored. Obama sways between his prerogatives and takes steps towards his objectives. He knows he’s up against some powerful forces and that he’s rubbing some people wrong.
On the other hand, the Cuban government is never satisfied. Progress is slow and hard to come by. And that’s not exactly strange. Here, we are used to transcendental decisions being made by leaders, bypassing the legislature. They are the Parliament. As the Council of State, they act as the Parliament for most of the year.
The truth is they belong to Parliament, they are legislators. However, 0-50% of them are delegates who have been nominated and elected by the general population. Instead, they belong to another group created by the Electoral Commission.
In compensation for the measures taken by the US, and first checking its real potential, they promise to rescind the 10% tax on US dollars entering the country. I still remember it as if it were today when this punitive measure was established.
Fidel spoke to the Cuban people, in one of his habitual long-winded speeches. He mentioned the difficulties the government encounters with using dollars because of additional laws and costs. He reminded us, like he always did, of our statistical well-being (infant mortality rate lower than in the US, the calories we consume per person, the number of doctors we have per thousand inhabitants, the number of Olympic medals, etc.). He spoke of imperialism which lurks about us and drummed up nationalism. Everything ended the moment the 10% tax on the dollar was announced. The auditorium broke out in cheer.
The next day, nobody talked about anything else but “the horse” (one of Fidel’s nicknames). “He really socked it to the gringos” – said a number of them. “Now they’re really finished, he put a tax on the dollar.”
However, it was a big surprise a few days later when we discovered that the euphoric law wasn’t made against the gringos, but against us very Cubans.
The tax was for dollars entering the country, effectively reducing the value of remittances. If your loved ones sent you $100, the State robbed you of $10, and this was supposed to make life hard for the Americans. It was a strange way of hurting the great imperial enemy by robbing your own people.
Many Cubans live or just about manage to survive thanks to these remittances. In a country where a quarter of its inhabitants live abroad, many people have a family member outside. Not everybody sends money back and sometimes the relative isn’t very close or attached to family members back home. But many people benefit as a result, directly or indirectly. If more money comes in, more money is moving around and small businesses can continue to prosper.
It meant 10% less in the hands of families. Ten percent which family members have had to sweat far away from their home for and who cut back on their own expenses in order to help their loved ones. It sounds like robbery to me. If the US made Cuba spend more because of the embargo, why should the people who have nothing to do with this pay for it? Now, they’ll remove the draconian law as a response to relaxing the embargo, if it works. It’s not fair; they should get rid of it unconditionally.
I don’t receive remittances, not today, not ever. I don’t have any close relatives abroad, nor anyone attached. So I don’t disagree, nor criticize on a personal level. I’m merely against injustice and my “pen” is committed to writing about a better Cuba.
In relation to ending the embargo, it seems to all be coming along very well. Regarding Cuba’s stance on the subject, I think that it should respond with equal legislation meant to shatter our domestic embargo, which is more suffocating for the Cubans who remain here. I hope ending the 10% tax is only the beginning. But I must be honest: although I’m optimistic, it wasn’t what I thought it was.