For Most Cubans Hope Has Vanished

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez  Photos: Juan Suarez

PescadoresHAVANA TIMES — Twenty months after Barack Obama and Raul Castro simultaneously announced that relations between Cuba and the US would thaw, nothing significant has changed for most Cubans. I can still remember our people rejoicing on the street, interviewed by Telesur or on Cuban TV. Nobody talked about anything else and our hopes were running high.

A new and broader Law for foreign investment had been enacted prior to this; a flagrant investments portfolio was being “sold” at trade fairs and they were expecting, as a fundamental complement, that great legal decisions relating to growth and regulating the private sector would be made at the Cuban Communist Party congress and in its Conceptualization of the Cuban economic model. Everything seemed to point towards the beginning of an irreversible plan of action for our country’s economic development, the prelude to greater economic openings in the future.

What a disappointment! Nearly two years have gone by and our economic landscape is depressing to say the least. The new era that seemed to be on the horizon after these historic bilateral events has once again remained in dreamland. I felt Raul’s initial drive towards this new era, however, after Obama’s visit and his opportune words to the Cuban people, panic spread. Fidel’s highly negative reflection on Obama’s visit paralyzed Raul and with him any possibility that productive forces would become mobilized from within the Party itself which would lead to the economy taking its first steps towards achieving sound development.

This was followed by a meek Communist Party congress which, rather than being an ode for positive change, praised the old politics of the Cold War. Then came the Conceptualization of the Cuban economic and social model, where you couldn’t find anything new even if you scanned it with a CAT machine. It seems that they’ve never made any mistakes and that nothing has expired. Everything appears as it did in any extremist text from the 1980s.

IMG_3870They don’t even talk about Mariel anymore on the news like they did a few months ago, and their famous investments portfolio seems to have been entirely forgotten. The National Plan for Economic and Social Development through to 2030 is a pipe-dream because the country is like a boat that has always had leaks, but refuses to be substituted or repaired.  Conceptual and legal advances relating to the private sector in the Conceptualization of the Cuban model are illusions, abstract trivialities that only promote more corruption and patronage.

Many experts, including those here on Havana Times, have highlighted the fact that the Cuban government has wasted a great opportunity to take concrete steps towards improving our economy. These could include tearing down the country’s internal blockade, and opening up and giving the national private sector further opportunities, not only to foreign businesses. Creating a pressing legal framework is essential that protects entrepreneurs, especially when the Revolution has stripped thousands of business owners of their assets in the past which they’d worked so hard to build with years of sacrifice.

This same law which makes possible the offering  jobs through a state-run recruitment company and which robs workers of 90% of the real salary foreign investors pay, is completely unacceptable. And it has already begun to create problems, because if you don’t pay then it’s hard to demand quality of work or prevent employees from stealing. The foreign business person pays his/her employees well [through the government agency] but the employees aren’t well paid.

This is just one of the paradoxes we see on a daily basis, the result of which is this new crisis, which doesn’t make sense in our economy. Especially in the field of energy, at a time when oil prices have dropped and we’re not a major oil exporting country to be directly affected. This has more to do with the “shortage of milk in the teat of the moment” than with a real situation that justifies it in our own back yard.

Companies with only 50% of their fuel supply without having their production plan cut; seriously reduced public transport services because it runs off stolen petrol which has become harder to obtain; forced electricity saving, air conditioning switched off in the middle of a suffocating summer and dark streets at night. Products which had their prices lowered a little are barely even seen in stores, the majority of them have disappeared and remain in the realm of politicking.

Servicios 2Raul has been in power for ten years now and he hasn’t managed to do a single thing; no positive results can be seen in anything tangible and it’s about time that we see whether we’re walking along the right track. “Slowly but without stopping” is his slogan, however, no matter how slow he’s going, we should have got somewhere by now. It’s been ten years, not ten months! It’s totally understandable why people throw themselves on suicidal adventures through jungles and across seas, exposed to whatever’s out there lurking about.

Obama wanted to help us to understand that the solution to our problems is something that comes from us; that we have to rescue our sovereign importance. Everything seems to point to the fact that this has had more of an impact on our government (albeit negative) than on our people, who were the true addressees of his message. We Cubans have done very little since then to take the reigns of power into our own hands about what affects us; however, the change in the government’s attitude has been quite significant, which is now much more withdrawn, shut off and wary than they were in the days leading up to Obama’s visit.

It’s been almost two years now since that initial event awoke our hopes. Years come and go for us Cubans and it’s as if we have long Biblical like lives, as if we were Methuselah. Ten years and nothing, two years and nothing, 56 years and nothing; entire lives are lost in this misery, waiting for better times.

In our desperation, tired of them only offering us “resistance”, we’ll hold onto any life saving device. Reestablishing diplomatic ties between Cuba and the US; Obama’s visit and the appearance of an opportunity to seriously change our economy, led us to dream once again of an end to our suffering. However, what has become a tradition here in Cuba has happened again: hope has disappeared.

31 thoughts on “For Most Cubans Hope Has Vanished

  • Still studying obesity Gordon?

  • Just back from my 92nd trip to Cuba. I was at the Melia Varadero and it was not full due to September being the slowest for tourism to Cuba. The plane from Vancouver was nearly full both ways. Many Cuban resort workers are looking forward to serving Americans as they are very generous with their tips compared to those from Europe. Gordon Robinson – Port Alberni B.C.
    email – [email protected]

  • Well? ….nothing? Didn’t think you.

  • it’s been approved. But no one is standing in line for that. Can you name any?

  • That’s a bit of a non sequitur, don’t you think? Besides, if you are inferring what I think you’re inferring, Cuba, as part of the soviet block, would have done very little trading with the US. Also, as an ardent hater of all things US, Castro would have never have permitted such a thing.

  • Believe that if you like. The parts suppliers are where? The market is where?
    The skilled labour lives where?
    Mariel is let face it, a pipe dream!

  • I am not sure about that. I haul produce and move auto parts for ford and I am under the understanding that under current trade agreements this can only happen if Cuba allow those manufacturers to ship cars and trucks into Cuba duty free. At this time there are many other countries that the same or lower cost structure than Cuba and seem more trust worthy.

  • My brother married girl whose family had at hand bag plant in China and made backpacks. These were made for the U.S. and Europe from 1991 until 6 years ago. The plant was closed when China change the rules at the plant which was joint venture much like Cuba is trying to do today. Production was moved to Mexico after looking at Cuba because workers better treated in Mexico.

  • Re : Mariel – All the major US auto makers are looking at putting in plants in the Mariel port area.

  • Correction – MacDuff. If endeavouring to make comment, get your spelling right!

  • You are absolutely correct Gordon in drawing attention to the benefits which have accrued to Canadian businesses and industry as a consequence of NAFTA. I understand that some 77% of Canadian exports are to the US.
    It is also worth recalling that NAFTA was negotiated between Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Government with Michael Wilson as the responsible Minister, and the Republican Government of George Bush Snr. represented by Carla Hills, although the change in the party in power resulted in Bill Clinton actually signing it into law.
    The current narcisstic candidate for the Republican Party is undoubtedly a threat to the continuation of NAFTA as is, but then that is only one of the numerous threats he poses.

  • Empathy for the people of Cuba is very different from detestation for the Castro communist regime – I have both!
    As for trade with the EU, it took several years for the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper to negotiate the agreement that is awaiting ratification by the EU – we can only hope that it is as successful as Brian Mulroney’s negotiated NAFTA has been for Canada and that Trudeau Jnr. signs approval. His father did which trade deals?
    You obviously do not recall Aruba endeavouring to become part of Canada – it would have supplied your need for a warm country and the people there are satisfied with their programs.
    China has a proven history throughout the ages of only considering China. Those who fall into deals with China end up learning that at their cost! Far better to give preference to democratic countries – even with – like Canada, their faults.

  • Nice that you have your own language there. I’m sorry that the speech of working class Cubans offends your pre-1959 Vedado senses.I,m certainly not going to use “companero” w/ mcDuff.

  • We would trade with Britain China and other countries. We do not trust the USA 100% and have empathy for the people of Cuba. The Cuba government has made very hard to trade with even with out a embargo. We are a cold country and would love has a special relationship with a warm country with good social programs.

  • I agree completely. Handouts & remittances will breed dependency and resentment. What the Cuban people need is for the Castro regime to get off their backs. Open up the economy and allow true free enterprise. The creativity, intelligence and industry of the Cuban people will soon create enormous wealth.

    For this to be achieve, Cuba will need a free economy, property rights, free elections, respect for human rights and just labour laws including free & independent labour unions.

  • I interchangeably use it to mean “low”. As in Castro has brought Cubans down to the lowest common denominator.

    Your use of that word is an “affectation” and makes you sound silly. …you can look that word up as well if you like.

  • Where would Canada be if we could not sell to the USA ?

  • Gutteral ? Yes. It is a sound produced by the throat. You mean vulgar ?

  • Learn Spanish huh? …speaking of which, “asere” is a rather gutteral word. Certainly not something an educated person would say. Also, it seems to me, when you use the word, you comes across as a wannabe Cuban.

  • LOL. The actual quote, from John Heywood, goes something like this; “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.” …something that cannot be said for Communist Cuba.

  • Fear holding back progress. But reality is that change needs to take place, the old model is not sustainable.

  • What about Mariel Gordon. $5 billion – gross shipments?

  • Rome was not built in a day !!! The USA has major problems ahead and I do not see any major investments until after the US election.
    In Canada we also have problems and our economy is under stress due to low demand for our export commodities. For the first six months of this year the Port of Vancouver had a drop of 6.5 % in gross shipments.

  • Nngo, you spend alot of time pontificating on every post, asere. Why not spend some of it trying to learn Spanish so that you can better understand your so-called adopted home ?

  • I think this is the exact opposite of what Cuba needs to succeed.

    Yet more handouts seems totally counterproductive to me. At some point they have to stop standing there with their hands out, begging as usual, and instead take some responsibility for the utter mess they’re in.

    More free handouts accomplishes zero on the long run.

  • Truly a sad article and I too felt that President Obama’s trip offered some alternatives that the Castro regime rejected outright. It’s not my country but if I did live in Cuba, I would be a revolutionary, as the present regime was back in the fifties and wouldn’t let go until I succeeded.

  • I’m not sure how the resumption of regular passenger flights to Cuba at the end of this month nearly 54 years after they were shut down due to the Cuban Missile Crisis will affect the remittances’ value, because restrictions on baggage weight imposed by regular flights mean that Cuban Americans taking baggage to their relatives in Cuba including TVs will have to think twice about bring flat-top TVs. And with FedEx and UPS gearing up to resume cargo flights to Cuba later this year, the mule trade might be slightly or partially diminished.

  • This article defines why it was that I wrote: ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’ which is dedicated to the people of Cuba. My view is that many Cubans would have wished to write such a book, but they are forbidden from doing so.
    The opening paragraph of the introduction reads:
    “Since 2013 the free western world appease to be increasingly developing a view that change is taking place in Cuba. That hopeful opinion is largely held by people who observe the politics of the island from the outside looking in. The author spends most of his time at home in Cuba and consequently is in daily contact with the reality within the island and observes that for its people there is little change to perceive. The key question is whether the Cubans are suffering from mass myopia or those who are outside looking in are suffering misapprehension.”
    Osmel Ramirez Alvarez’s article verifies that view.
    Osmel makes specific reference to the ‘letter’ purportedly written by Fidel Castro – but more probably by the Propaganda Department of the PCC, one week after the Obama visit which raised false hopes in the hearts of Cubans that some real change might actually occur. As that venomous letter entitled ‘The Man Obama’ was read in full on Mesa Redondo at 7.00 p.m. on the 28th March (Mesa Redondo is broadcast simultaneously on four of the eight channels) and as Bruno Rodriguez in a speech given on the 29th March clarified that the US had to lift the embargo unilaterally and that there would be no form of reciprocation, it is clear that Raul Castro must have approved both actions. There can be no doubt that one of the conditions laid down for the visit of Obama to Cuba was opportunity to address the people of Cuba live. Allowing it was a calculated risk by Raul and it back-fired.
    As is well known, Raul has anointed Miguel Diaz-Canel as his Presidential successor. As I wrote, during Obama’s address at the Alicia Alonso Teatre, he said that in order to achieve change, reciprocal actions would be required of the Castro regime – a view which he had expressed the previous day at the press conference. This requirement equivalent to throwing down the gauntlet and clearly created a heated debate in the Castro upper hierarchy and one week later they gave response. With regard to Obama’s speech I wrote:
    “For Miguel Diaz-Canel who remained poker faced throughout, the question in his cold calculating mind was probably whether Raul Castro had opened a Pandora’s Box from which he as Raul’s appointed successor would in the future receive the contents and reap the consequences.”
    As I wrote in the final chapter of my book:
    “For the people of Cuba there remains only that faint hope which they have tenaciously clung onto for so many long years. Hope for the younger generations that they may yet know freedom and opportunity to live in their beautiful country free of repression, with freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom to vote for political parties of choice. Cubans deserve no less, for only then will they become members of an open society in a free world that waits to welcome them with open arms. Liberty and that poignant cry for freedom beckon and humanity demands.”
    Thank you Osmel for your article, may you yet know freedom in Cuba.
    To quote Barack Obama:
    “We stand on the side of those who want to be free.”

  • Make it work!!!

  • The opportunity to help the Cuban people needs to be driven by family members in the U.S. Remittances were around $3bn dollars last year. That is not small change when you consider that it made up a good portion of the countries GDP. With easing of cross border remittance amounts to Cuba what can we do to make $3bn into $6bn then $9bn. Cuban Americans helping Cubans to be financially included…I plan to do my part!

  • Some very good points in the article.

    That said, there’s a burgeoning middle class of entrepreneurs who are making out like bandits right now, but they are of course far outnumbered by the countless Cubans with no will or drive to help themselves, and no skills or money to do so. It’s a very sad situation to see the gap widen by the day between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

    No easy answers, it’s a mess that I can’t imagine being improved upon no matter what new policies are implemented. Cuba has a very tough road ahead…

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