Siren Songs

Photo: Peter Deel

At election time, the issue of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States becomes a regular part of the speeches of the different candidates, whether Democrat or Republican. A key issue is the so-called blockade (in reality an embargo), which for over fifty years has served Cuba’s leaders as a comfortable rug under which to sweep the national trash resulting from their inabilities (economic disasters, inefficient public services, general scarcities, difficulties, dual currency, abusive taxes, travel bans, limitations on civil rights, etc.).

There were times, while enjoying the millionaire Soviet subsidies and living the story, when it was barely mentioned, and if it was talked about it was to make fun of it: “the blockade is a strainer” the president once said. Then the subsidies ceased and, given the need for belt-tightening, it returned to the fore. When the Bolivarian friend (Hugo Chavez) appeared and, on a much smaller scale, undertook subsidies at the expense of the wealth of the Venezuelan people, it changed shape and became a required component of the official discourse, trying to meet, with its elimination, the gaps that were impossible for the new guarantor to fill. Along with the battle for the liberation of the five spies (actually only four are prisoners), achieving the unconditional removal of the blockade (embargo), as emphasized, is a priority of the authorities, trying to attract broader international support. They have been repeated so often that all visitors must refer to both in their public statements — it seems to be a requirement for granting a consular visa. Many argue that the blockade (embargo) is unfair, but they forget that the reason for it was the uncompensated seizures, which were also unfair, as implemented by the Cuban government against citizens and foreigners alike in the early years of the establishment of the “model,” not to put what was expropriated into production for the nation, but to manage it terribly and leave it destroyed, turning it into actual ruins.

Today, in the face of economic chaos and uncertainty about the future of Venezuelan subsidies due to the illness of its president, the Cuban government, with little international credit (because of its reputation for not paying its financial commitments), has focused on U.S. investments as the only possible hope of salvation. But given the choice between the democratization of the country or the maintenance of absolute power at all costs, it seems to opt for the latter. Perhaps the tutelary shadow of the former President weighs too heavily on the shoulders of the current one, though both, each in his own way, have been and are staunch supporters of the failed model. It seems the update that has been implemented has not delivered the expected results, plus it has no certain future for solving the nation’s economic problems. The logical thing would be to change the model, but in our case that is like asking an elm tree to produce pears. The same is true in the case of the blockade (embargo), where the logical thing would also be to sit down and talk responsibly, ready to receive but also to give.

It is understandable that North American (and Cuban-American) producers see in Cuba a major market for their products and wish to participate in it: they are businessmen and not politicians. They may forget their own negative experiences (or those of their parents, grandparents, or other relatives) when they were stripped of all their property and expelled from the country in the frantic years of the sixties, or the later experiences, also negative, of Spaniards, Italians, Mexicans, Canadians, Israelis, and others, who came hurrying to invest, and have had to withdraw in the face of millions in debts and absurd restrictions on the exercise of their activities.

I believe that the embargo should be eliminated, but for that to happen, serious and visible democratic measures are necessary: freedom of speech; the right to form groups, associations and political parties; freedom to leave and enter the country; separation of the legislative and judicial powers of the executive; elections with full participation of all components of Cuban society, etc. Without these, everything else are siren songs to trap the new unwary, with the sole purpose of extending a little while longer absolute power of the current authorities.

June 3 2012

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