Latin American politics is focused on the Venezuelan crisis. Despite all the changes that have occurred in Cuba in the last years, the island seems increasingly less important.
The enthusiasm that came from the reestablishment of relations with the US, the Obamas’ visit, the Rolling Stones, and the Chanel runway is a distant dream now. Only the deteriorated Venezuelan government continues to hold Cuba in high regard.
Russia reappeared, and agreed to lend 38 million euros in order to purchase weapons to modernise Cuba’s old equipment. China is the third trading partner of the island, however, the amount of business they conduct in Cuba is insignificant compared with other Latin American nations.
Despite the vice president of the Chinese Council declaring that “sugar, rum, tobacco, and seafood originating from Cuba are increasingly well known by Chinese consumers”, the fact that one of the most well known Chinese investments is in the installation of a golf course speaks for itself.
Those who follow Cuban politics for diverse reasons ask ourselves what the future may hold. Do members of the Communist Party and the Armed Forces believe they can maintain political stability and peace in a context of economic ruin that will only get worse when the Venezuelan regime completely collapses?
Data from the World Bank demonstrates a decline in the GNP from 5.9% in 2000 to 1.8% in 2017. The Center for Cuban Economic Studies of the University of La Havana reported that the GDP was around 1.2 in 2018.
CEPAL’s 2017 report warned that net produce was below what had been predicted. Reductions in income for exporters of sugar, nickel, and the paralyzation of medical services in Brazil have all combined to produce a negative effect on the value of the Cuban currency.
Tourism additionally hasn’t grown as expected, with the arrival of cruise ships being the only exception. One of the causes of this are the restrictions put in place by the US government that their citizens may not stay in establishments administered by the Armed Forces. In the first semester of 2018, tourism fell by 6.5%.
In 2017, the online publication Cubanet published a list of hotels and businesses that were banned for US citizens as they are considered to collaborate with the Cuban army. The Business Administration Group SA (GAESA) control around 50-80% of all business activity in the country, including tourism, shops, communication companies, and agricultural production. It is estimated that they control around 844 businesses currently.
However, change is inevitable. We don’t know when nor how, nor whom will drive it forward, and the patience of Cubans will not last forever.
One country that doesn’t appear to be particularly alarmed at the state of the Cuban economy is Spain a fundamental trading partner particularly in the tourism sector. One in every four foreign businesses in Spanish and in 2017, Cuba was the second largest recipient of Spanish exports in the region.
Miguel Díaz Canel is feeding into stagnation. For this Cuban with little charisma and easily forgettable, it’s unthinkable promoting changes that would disturb the status quo and the almighty general Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Calleja, the director of GAESA and ex son-in-law of Raúl Castro.
However, change is inevitable. We don’t know when nor how, nor whom will drive it forward, and the patience of Cubans will not last forever. For now, the power of Cuban bureaucracy seems unbreakable and its authority unquestionable, but the revolution is product of historic conditions and these conditions are malleable.
The authorities do not appear to be preparing themselves for how to maintain their achievements were changes to arise. The survival of the revolution is a utopia that only generals believe, and its possible they don’t have a way out.
The most worrying of all is that there is nobody willing to assume the responsibility to transform Cuba. Opposition groups, American Cubans, and dissidents have failed to demonstrate the capacity to articulate a proposal for government, or to mobilise against living conditions on the island.
On the 26th of March general Ulises Rosales del Toro, vice president of the Council of Ministers and ex-head of the Armed Forces, recognised on his Twitter account that the days of dominating news headlines were gone. One can also assume the days of dominating the truth are also gone. The longer they go on fooling themselves for, the more difficult it will become to protect the fruits of the revolution when it all comes to an end.
Cuba has also become an exception in rates of violence across Latin America, which is an achievement that should not be undermined.
Free health care and education as the main successes of the revolution have been exhausted. One only needs to take a stroll through Havana to observe the current worn-out state of schools and hospitals with the exception of the military hospital, The Medical Surgical Investigations Clinic, where army officers and the elite are attended to. Regardless, Cubans have internalized their right to health care and education due to revolutionary teachings.
Cuba has also become an exception in rates of violence across Latin America, which is an achievement that should not be undermined, along with the avoidance of Cuba being included in the list of countries currently held at ransom by the drug trade.
Díaz Canel has an opportunity to begin preparations to transform the nation or write his goodbye speech. Cuba is in need of a leader that is capable of negotiating and creating dialogue with the regime and those who are exhausted with the regime.
A leader that wishes to reconcile the past with the future, that understands and includes diversity in a plan for governance, that won’t fall at the feet of the US, but that refuses to punish future generations with the current limitations of the Cuban political system.
The history of the Cuban revolution deserves a dignified and respectful ending, given its regional importance in standing up to US imperialism during the Cold War and thereafter.
Whilst we spend our time contemplating the Venezuelan crisis, we could also take the time to understand how to avoid such a crisis in the future.