Seven final warnings about Obama’s new Cuba policy

By: Carlos Alberto Montaner
Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Miami

This is one of those rare cases where it’s best to begin from the end. These papers are intended to swiftly outline the state of relations between the United States and Cuba since 1959, so as to analyze the new Cuba policy announced by President Barack Obama and Gen. Rauìl Castro in December 2014.
This path leads me to formulate seven warnings. They are neither recommendations nor conclusions. They are observations that emerge naturally from the history I shall relate shortly.

Let me list them:

The first warning is that the government of the Castro brothers maintains in 2015 exactly the same vision of the United States that it had when the guerrillas came to power in January 1959.

To them, the huge and powerful neighbor and its purported predatory practices in the economic field are at the root of mankind’s basic problems.

Because they read little and observe poorly, they continue to believe that the Third World’s calamities are due to the ill will of the developed nations and most especially to the United Nations, with its perverse terms for an exchange and its inclement exploitation of the resources of poor nations.

The second warning, a consequence of the first, is that that regime, wholly consistent with its beliefs, will continue to try to affect the United States negatively in all instances that present themselves.

Yesterday, it placed itself under the Soviet umbrella. In the post-Soviet era, it built the foundation for the SaÞo Paulo Forum and later for the circuit known as 21st-Century socialism, which extended to the countries of the so-called ALBA. Today, it allies itself firmly with Iran and is lining up with the Sino- Russian side in this new and dangerous Cold War being gestated. To the Castros, anti-Americanism is a moral crusade that they’ll never renounce.

The third one is that the Cuban dictatorship has not the slightest intention to begin a process of liberalization that might allow political pluralism or freedoms, as these are known among the world’s most developed nations.

Opposition democrats are tolerated so long as their movements and communications can be regulated and watched by the political police.

The regime perfectly dominates the techniques of social control. Aside from the conventional police to keep the opposition in check, it has at least 60,000 counterintelligence officers under the MININT [2] and tens of thousands of collaborators. To them, repression is not a dark and shameful behavior but a constant and patriotic task.

The fourth is that the economic system being erected by Rauìl Castro has not been conceived to nurture a civil society, a society that someday will magically overthrow the dictatorship. Instead, it is a model of Military Capitalism of State (MCS), whose backbone consists of the Army and the Ministry of the Interior, institutions that control most of the country’s productive apparatus.

Within that scheme, as can be surmised from the words of official economist Juan Triana Cordoviì[3]. the State (in reality, the military sector) reserves for itself the management and exploitation of the country’s 2,500 medium and large businesses, leaving to the self-employed entrepreneurs a large number of small activities that it doesn’t care to sustain.

Contrary to the thinking in Washington and among the nongovernmental Cuban sectors that support those economic reforms, Rauìl Castro and his advisers assume, correctly, that the self-employed entrepreneurs will be a source of stability for the Military Capitalism of State, not because of ideological affinity but because they don’t want to lose the small privileges and advantages they gain.

The fifth one is that the Castro brothers’ regime is not at all interested in propitiating the enrichment of foreign businessmen. They despise the capitalists’ zest for profiting, which they find repugnant, although they themselves practice it discreetly, somehow.

Investments from abroad will be welcome only and solely if they contribute to strengthen the Military Capitalism of State that they are forging. To the Cuban government, those investments are a necessary evil, like someone amputating his own arm to save his life.

If anybody thinks that that regime will permit the emergence and growth of an independent entrepreneurial fabric, it’s because he has not taken the trouble to study the writings and speeches of the officials of the regime or even to examine their behavior.

Real-estate investor and renowned millionaire Stephen Ross [4] was absolutely right when, after returning from a trip to Cuba, he declared that he had not seen on the island the tiniest serious opportunity to do business. In reality, there is none, except in those activities that provide a clear profit for the government or those that are absolutely indispensable for the survival of the regime.

It is obvious that the Castros’ priority is to cling to power and not develop a vigorous entrepreneurial fabric that will bring Cubans out of misery. To explain their shortfalls, they have created the alibi of revolutionary austerity and criticism of consumerism (people’s attraction to “junk”) as a heroic and selfless form of confronting poverty.

The sixth warning is that, in the face of this depressing picture of abuse and insistence on the usual blunders, Washington’s rejection of containment and its substitution by engagement (plus cancelling the objective of trying to promote a regime change, as Obama announced in Panama) is a dangerous and irresponsible hastiness that will harm the United States, encourage its enemies, dishearten its allies and affect very negatively the Cuban people, who desire freedoms, real democracy and an end to their misery.

What’s the sense of the United States — and the Catholic Church — helping to strengthen a Military Capitalism of State, a foe of freedoms including economic freedom, a violator of Human Rights that perpetuates in power a collectivist dictatorship that has destroyed Cuba and today contributes to destroying Venezuela, because it cannot show anything other than what it has done for 56 years?

The seventh warning is that the democratic opposition has never been more fragile and less protected than today, despite the impressive number of dissidents and the heroism they display. It has never been more alone.

Why would anyone take that opposition into account when the United States has renounced regime change and is willing to accept the Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange?

The United States has renounced indicating to Havana clearly that true change begins at the moment when the top level of the dictatorship accepts that the first step is to dialogue with the opposition and admit that societies are pluralistic and harbor differing points of view.

What argument can be wielded now by the silent and always cowed reformists in the regime to ask — sotto voce — for political and economic changes from the Castros’ government when nobody else demands them?

In sum, Obama has made a serious mistake by separating himself from the policy followed by the 10 presidents, Democratic and Republican, who preceded him to the White House.

Nobody can state by decree that his enemy has suddenly turned into his friend and has begun to think along one’s lines. That’s childish.

It is not a question of criticizing Obama for having essayed a new policy. The problem is that it is a bad policy.