By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez Photos: Juan Suarez
HAVANA 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.
They 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.
Raul 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.