Putting the Cuba Puzzle Together

On Obama’s Recent Visit to Cuba

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Photo: Juan Maria Mondelo

HAVANA TIMES — US President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba has been interpreted in the most varied ways. In this post, I try to offer a reading that I feel necessary and has been conspicuously absent from all analyses to date.

To begin with, the leader’s visit must be located within the context of the process aimed at normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. As we know, on December 17, 2014, the presidents of both countries set in motion a thaw in bilateral relations. The White House has announced several series of measures to partially alleviate the pressure applied through the embargo. Havana is often reproached for not having responded with reciprocal measures, though the latter hadn’t developed or implemented policies on a par with US sanctions. The actions of the Cuban government, however, have moved in a different direction.

Obama’s visit was a veritable media spectacle, with episodes involving politics, culture, ideology and sports. Many consciously took part in the tableau, from those in the highest echelons of power to “common citizens” like the ones shown by the local press. In everything broadcast to us, we must read between the lines, between the unavowed aspects of the visit, to understand what’s missing from this big picture.

To understand what’s missing, we must assess one of the aspects of the notorious embargo that many overlook. The said policy, technically, has been anti-capitalist. It has worked as an obstacle to the expansion of capitalism.

Back in the days of the Soviet Union and when the Cuban government said foreign investment and the dollar were bad, this aspect of the embargo wasn’t evident. After the collapse of the socialist bloc, may things would change. For instance, European and Chinese capitalists began to buy the things that Havana was suddenly eager to sell.

Over the economic crises of the past decades, more and more US capitalists began to look towards the market that was at their doorsteps. Eleven million inhabitants, a skilled workforce, significant natural resources and an enviable geographic position were some of the factors inviting capital to expand, as it does by dint of its essence. On the basis of pragmatism alone, such characters as Donald Trump and Jorge Mas Santos want to invest in Cuba. Suddenly, the ideological differences underscored by the blockade policy began to be obstacles standing in the way of good business.

The existence of a single-party system won’t keep potential US investors up at night. The experience of trade with China showed them that this could even constitute an advantage. Social control and governability are more easily achieved in such systems and, as such, profits are easier to guarantee, particularly when a population has little recollection of past civil disobedience and democratic struggles.

Foto: Juan Maria Mondelo

In Washington, those who opposed the blockade most staunchly had much to gain, as in the case of the exporters of farm products. Lobby groups, such as Cuban-Americans for Engagement (CAFE), skillfully took advantage of such sentiments in their efforts to show what both countries “were losing.”

South of the Florida Strait, at least some foreign capitalists ceased to be “bad” when Soviet aid was discontinued. The reforms advanced erratically, establishing ties and then taking steps back, but the general impulse forward towards liberalization seems irreversible. The Cuban government began to grant licenses to operate for centuries, access to natural resources, decades of tax exemption, rights to exploit a workforce with limited labor rights. All of these delicacies, offered in good faith and in exchange for any hard currency, were denied the land of the dollar, but only because of that country’s own government.

A policy that has been in effect for 50 years, which gives material and electoral benefits to many people in the United States, is certainly hard to change. Washington’s current administration needs to work “slowly but surely,” it seems. The steps it has chosen to take are totally congruous with capitalist market logic. This policy can easily be accompanied with the discourse in defense of change, modernity and the democratic empowerment of the Cuban people.

US farm exporters were the first to be granted permission to sell to Cuba, even before Obama came to office.

Airline companies wanted to expand. So people-to-people trips are authorized and licenses for many flights to the island are granted.

Other transportation and tourism companies want a slice of the cake. Well, they get permission to operate ferries, to enter into hotel management contracts. And more will come little by little.

To be sure, all of this is easier to do when the use of the dollar is restricted up north and over-taxed down south. If the penalization applied up north is eliminated, the tax down south automatically disappears.

All the while, Cuba’s infrastructure still leaves a lot to be desired, as is evident in the telecommunications field. There’s Google and the rest, which were quickly granted the pertinent licenses. Havana resisted a little at first. ETECSA, its phone monopoly, garners high profits, and it allows them to control information. Finally, they realized they had to sacrifice a piece in the interests of the long-for capital flows.

Photo: Juan Maria Mondelo

The sports sector speaks of this process eloquently. The Major Leagues also ditched a clause that was rather uncomfortable for athletes from the island. Immediately, authorities at the Cuban National Sports and Recreation Institute (INDER) announced the complete opening of this market, which had hitherto been closed to foreign markets under the rhetoric of “slave ball, athlete commodity,” etc.

This is not, therefore, a bit of ultra-left paranoia. There’s no hidden conspiracy. This is quite simply the dismantling of an anti-capitalist policy, by the capitalists who had been affected by it. If there’s a Trojan horse to be found here, it is made of transparent glass, and those inside are waving energetically to those outside the beast. The city is doing everything in its power to let the horse in. It is of course keeping up appearances, using the discourse of dignity, sovereignty and all that jazz.

Now, US capitalists, who have already gotten the green light down here, are also on their way to getting it back home. Freedom to exploit our resources and our workforce, set up their sweat shops here, and so on and so forth, so that US agriculture can raze ours to the ground, so that Chevron and company will have the freedom to decide whether they use fracking in those wells of ours not taken over by Sherrit, so that Cuban-American millionaires like Alfonso Fanjul will retake our sugar mills, a process that is notorious in the rest of the Caribbean and Central America.

The relations between the Cuban people and any other people around the world stand to benefit from this friendship. This must be celebrated and actively encouraged. Naturally, we also have to have relations with the outside, capitalist world. The only socialist solution is to ensure that such business done in Cuba or abroad remain controlled by the democratic and sovereign power of citizens, while encouraging solidarity with the working peoples of those countries, with their proletariat and peasants (with agricultural workers, farmhands, and others, current relations are based on a business logic). This is my contribution and these are my ideas on this subject.

10 thoughts on “Putting the Cuba Puzzle Together

  • When will the socialists in Cuba return the private property of about 11,000 entities, half of which are not American? Obama might be able to talk for Americans, but why would one assume he can dictate a change for the otherfolks.

  • You can keep repeating the same thing over and over again, but the inherent problems with socialism is still there. The problem is exactly what Bob Michaels states. There will be no or very few jobs if there is no investment and management. This is why the Cuban State has to create jobs through their state run companies like ETECSA and many others. You complain about the owners of companies being rich and “poison to the workers” yet if you take “business owners” and replace it with “Cuban Communist party elite” you have basically the same thing. The Cuban elite is no different than any business owner. In the end, you get jobs in a higher number with better quality if you let people own and start businesses, which benefits the people.

  • The Cuban revolution took place because of the economic conditions coupled with a brutal dictatorship .
    The economic conditions of economic disparity were and are caused by free enterprise neo-liberal /investment capitalism in Cuba and throughout the world.
    To say that that same type of investment is what is needed is asking the Cuban people to accept gladly that which the GOUSA and people who think like you
    has been trying to force down their throats for 54 years .
    Free enterprise capitalism/neo-liberal capitalism as is your wont is the problem and as far from being a solution to Cuba and the world’s poverty as one can get. .

  • An excellent piece in my opinion.
    The penultimate sentence centers on the crux of the matter which is/are the need for more democratic processes in both the governmental and economic spheres as is central to any socialist system ; any system that could be legitimately called socialist.
    The PCC has long touted its socialist nature or aspirations to carry the revolution through the embargo and all other U.S sponsored hostilities much as did the Lenins and Stalins and Maos of the state capitalist countries . All those Communist Party government/systems , all state capitalist became the self-preserving, corrupt and ultimately totalitarian systems that anarchist belief dictates they would being long enough in power to fall prey to those things.
    It remains to be seen if the PCC follows a Fidelista line and move to socialism ( bottom-up systems) or if they too will have become like all the other PCCs which were all Stalinist ( socialism in one country) and Leninist (elitist cadre-led /top-down governance of both the economy and government.

  • Very well stated Bob.

  • So you think the Fanjul family contributed nothing to their sugar business in Cuba? No purchase of the land? No investment in the factory? No time invested? No management skill? Nothing? It was only the “toil & sweat of the workers”? And, those workers did not receive compensation for what they did? Did the Fanjul’s capture them as slaves in Africa and force them to work for free?

    One can debate if the allocation of profits between investors, management, and workers was equitable. But each was a participant of their own free will. But to contend that any business was solely the result of “toil & sweat of the workers” and nothing else conflicts with every concept of economics. Even Lenin understood and accepted that.

    There will never be any jobs for workers under the scenario you portray because there will be no investment, no management effort, or anything else.

  • and the Fanjuls the mills where? from the toil & sweat of the workers.No change so

  • “The only socialist solution is to ensure that such business done in Cuba
    or abroad remain controlled by the democratic and sovereign power of
    citizens, while encouraging solidarity with the working peoples of those
    countries, with their proletariat and peasants”.

    The devil is in the details.

    What does the preceding paragraph mean, exactly? That minimum wages and decent working conditions are enforced by the Cuban state? That projects which threaten Cuba’s natural beauty are prohibited? That firms profiting from Cuban investment pay taxes which are then used to benefit all Cubans? Who could disagree, at this level of abstraction? The arguments will come when we ask, concretely, what trade-offs we — or rather, the Cubans — want to make: just how high should the minimum wages be, just how good should the working conditions be (a four-hour day?), just which projects (all of them encroach upon nature) should be prevented, just how high should taxes be?

    We must hope that these discussions are opened up to the whole Cuban people, and not made behind closed doors by a few ‘experts’:.

  • While the author indicates a grip on reality in the majority of his thoughts, the train runs off the tracks with his conclusions. He has that old socialist dream of wanting someone else to provide investment capital while he is not willing to give up any control of the business. Successful business ventures are a partnership representing investors, workers, customers, and other stakeholders.

    It takes big cojones to say something like “so that Cuban-American millionaires like Alfonso Fanjul will retake our
    sugar mills” without mentioning that it was the Cuban government that originally expropriated this sugar business from the Fanjul family following the Triumph of the Revolution.

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