By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — Since December 17, 2014, relations between Washington and Havana seem increasingly marked by the ups and downs of unfulfilled and rejected proposals, and no one side is entirely to blame.
Perhaps the White House and even the US Congress don’t have the authority to decide. Perhaps real power is in the hands of weapon manufacturers or among the super-rich, those who conceal their fortunes in tax havens.
In his most recent essay, professor Noam Chomsky points out that, in the times of Adam Smith and especially in today’s world, true power isn’t to be found in States or governments but in transnational conglomerates, gigantic financial institutions, commercial emporiums and similar structures.
How else can we explain that, following Washington’s promises two months ago, made shortly after President Obama’s visit to Havana, that Cubans and their banks would be authorized to use dollars for commercial transactions, Cuba is still unable to make a single transaction in greenbacks?
In March, foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes told Cuban newspapers that the decision to authorize the use of the dollar by Cuba was apparently not enough, because banks still feared possible sanctions from Washington. Rhodes added that the administration would have to speak to banks about the change in policy.
In addition, on April 20, a European court accused the online payments system PayPal of allowing a user in Luxembourg to purchase a theater ticket for a play that had the word “Cuba” in the title.
On May 9, Cuba condemned the continued application of the US blockade’s extraterritorial laws when a British bank shut down the accounts of the Cuban Solidarity Campaign (CSC) owing to US sanctions.
Though Washington’s unfulfilled promises put the ball on its side of the court, it didn’t take long to tie the game announcing the start of voyages to Cuba by the cruise company Carnival, based in Florida.
All of a sudden, the many Cuban-born US residents wishing to travel to Cuba were informed by the company that they were only authorized to carry US citizens falling under one of the 12 categories approved by the government, as Cuba maintained a law that barred Cubans from travelling to the island by sea.
The old regulation still in effect, dating back to the first years of the revolution, was unearthed by the US company, which was condemned by protesters in Miami who accused it of discrimination, threatening to file suits in court.
After being made fools of, at a time when Cubans no longer require government permission to travel, the island’s authorities lifted the restriction and freed Carnival of any liability.
The cruiser arrived in Havana with 700 passengers on board, including nearly two dozen Cuban born travelers, and continued on its way to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Moving on to Coffee
On April 22, the US State Department and Treasury announced that the United States would authorize the import of Cuban coffee, but only beans from private growers who had to demonstrate they had no links to the State.
This rather forced proposal, which was not accompanied by the crucial ingredient of guaranteeing the use of the US dollar in transactions, was not met by a clever or creative response from Havana. The initiative remained a proposal.
Instead of returning the blow and accepting the deal, establishing export licenses for producers and all applicable sanitary restrictions, the use of certificates of origin and the payment of pertinent tariffs, on the condition that the United States authorized the use of the dollar in transactions, the response was to retreat to the barricades.
For the United States, establishing the “defense of human rights” as a condition for all dealings with poor countries has yielded results, not because they abide by the norms of international trade this way, but because they can show their brawn more clearly.
For Cuba, an adequate response would have been to up the stakes, to make an unexpected move or reply with an offer that’s impossible to turn down, to have surprised its opponent.
Cuban coffee does not stand out because it is exported en masse but because of its excellent quality, particularly true of the Arabica beans, which places among the world’s favorites.
The grain is sold by several State companies who package the product and hold export licenses.
In addition, the coffee industry has only now begun to recover in Cuba. Suffice it to compare the 2015-2016 harvest, which reported 5,503 tons of green coffee (ready for toasting), with the 1961 harvest, where 60,000 tons were collected.
Besides the low yields, the area planted in coffee trees dropped from 160,000 to 67,087 hectares. Elexis Legra, head of the Coffee, Cocoa and Coconut Department of the Grupo Empresarial Agroforestal business group affiliated to Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture reported that, in addition to guaranteeing supplies, the company has also raised the price paid to growers to the equivalent of US $14 dollars per 100 pounds of green coffee.
Legra explained that, with more supplies and through science and technology, in 2017, coffee yields will increase by 30 percent and that, by 2020, the country will be producing around 20,000 tons.
As no one is exactly sure who’s the boss in the United States, and even more doubts will exist after the November elections, Havana must modernize its methods and be clever in negotiations if it wishes to maintain its independence.