Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Change in Cuba

The U.S. commentariat on the right tends to argue that change isn't happening in Cuba, generally to justify criticism of President Obama's normalization of relations. This article in Dissent is a leftist view of the actually radical economic changes taking place and how much controversy it is generating among Cubans.

When Raúl Castro succeeded his brother, official policy substantially shifted. Raúl Castro’s government shelved the Battle of Ideas, set in motion large-scale layoffs in the state sector, and encouraged the expansion, within limits, of private businesses. A small number of Cubans were able to take advantage of the more favorable atmosphere to push the boundaries of what was possible, legally and illegally. With money from relatives in Miami, or embezzled from the state, the new rich opened large, garish restaurants, bought properties to operate upscale Airbnbs, ran small and not-so-small import operations. Many flaunted their newfound affluence.

Capitalism and inequality go hand in hand, and Cuba is experiencing that now. Those with access love it, those without lament the betrayal of the revolution. The article shows how the Trump administration's policies are squeezing people once again. The problem, an age old one, is that U.S. policy makers believe that hurting the average Cuban will help bring about political reform. Instead, what it really causes is emigration.

Although Cubans across the board tell me they are disaffected, it is very unlikely they will act collectively, much less take to the streets. Cubans’ traditional form of resistance is to leave. Now leaving is more difficult than it was before President Obama ended the immigration program designed to lure Cubans to the United States, and before President Trump dramatically downsized the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Nevertheless, Cubans continue to plot ways to emigrate. For decades, leaving has been the escape valve that prevented Cuba’s pressure cooker from exploding.

What should we take from all this? Isolating Cuba is proven not to achieve U.S. policy goals. Especially given the historic political transition that will soon take place, the U.S. should be ready to engage. Nothing else has worked. Change is indeed happening and the U.S. should not be punishing Cubans as it occurs.


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