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To the uninitiated, occasional news of “Cuban reforms” is received with some sense of hope that the Castro regime might be loosening its stranglehold on the economy to create new opportunity for the island’s 11 million people.
Such false expectations are raised by professional Castropologists, who peddle the narrative that Raul Castro is a frustrated reformer who would spread his wings once he assumed power from his brother Fidel. That dynastic transition happened six years ago, and the Castro stranglehold on the economy is barely loosened. Yet every hint of “reform” is still trumpeted as a new birth of freedom. Of course, that is rubbish.
The latest evidence of the Castro regime’s single-minded agenda can be found in the New York Times, in an article entitled, “Cuba’s Reward for the Dutiful: Gated Housing.” Although one might expect from the NYTimes an homage to Raul the Reformer, this piece reveals that the regime’s motivation for doling out privileges or slivers of economic space is to preserve the regime and its hold on power.
Reporter Damien Cave says, “Cuba is in transition,” but the bulk of his article describes a regime struggling to “elevate the faithful and maintain their loyalty….” The measures he describes have nothing to do with economic liberty, but are implemented with great care not to dismantle the existing power structure. Indeed, the NYTimes piece focuses on the impact of the economic transition upon the security forces that Raul Castro has led for more than 60 years.
In the 1990’s, when the regime allowed foreigners to partner with the government to build tourist hotels or light manufacturing it was to generate hard currency after the loss of a $5-7 billion annual Soviet subsidy. When Cubans were permitted to establish very small businesses or rent out bedrooms to tourists, it was to provide jobs and meager income to people – particularly military retirees –displaced from the state payroll by a fiscal crisis.
Behind every “reform,” a key motivation was to preserve the privileges and loyalty of the military or to provide income to military retirees. Indeed, the handful of foreign companies that invested in the tourism industry often had military-run businesses as their partners. More evidence of the real motive behind these economic “openings” is that, as Cuban self-employment grew too much, too fast; as the fiscal pressure was eased, due to the new subsidy from the Venezuelan regime; or as regime businesses outgrew the need for a foreign partner, the regime cracked down. Many microenterprises have been suffocated by regulation and taxes, and many foreign partners have been shaken down and run out of the country.
So any argument that the United States should reorient its Cuba policy to encourage the trend to reform is disingenuous, as such advice usually is. The latest attempt comes in the form of a poll that says most Americans support a change in US policy toward Cuba. For decades, critics of US foreign policy toward Cuba have sneered that it was a function of “Florida politics” – alluding to the political might of the Cuban-American community in south Florida. So, it is more than a little ironic, that the latest argument for embargo critics is that the policy should be changed because of a poll.
The cruel lesson of history, which good people on all sides of this debate should learn, is that nothing good is going to happen for the people of Cuba as long as a despot like Fidel or Raul Castro holds power. Those selfish men and the totalitarian regime they built are today the only real obstacles to genuine economic and political change in Cuba. Worse yet, they have demonstrated their capacity to manipulate any economic opening to serve the interests of the regime and, particularly, the state security apparatus.
Any unilateral concession by the United States that buys such a regime one more day in power is not only strategically questionable, it is unconscionable.
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