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Neither Demonic Tyranny Nor Heroic Workers Paradise
April 16, 2019

So much hope: Expectations, anticipation, and promises. So many emotions: Excitement, sentiment, and joy. Mild winds caressing leaves of palm trees, moving in the stimulating rhythm of rumba, possibly salsa. The dancing bodies in harmony with the Caribbean mood. Happiness despite misery. Laughter overwhelming fear. Barack Obama visiting Cuba. Rain and tears unite, pomp unmatched by the Pope visiting the island some years earlier, enthusiasm pure. An Afro-American President is willing to end the Cold War.

The sanctions and trade embargos that have been put in place by Kennedy’s administration were lifted. Few days later, a band arrived to celebrate freedom. For the first time, one million Cubans embraced a live concert by the British “Rolling Stones” - the four legends certainly did not offer Beethoven’s “The Hymn of Joy”, but their own classics, like “Jumping Jack Flash.”

The island of eleven million citizens, located just 94 nautical miles off Florida, was rocking, feeling waves of history, inhaling the air of freedom, promising free speech, freedom of expression, uncensored press, freedom to pray, travel, criticize the government, organize labor unions, demonstrate without ending up in jail - no more disappearing into Dante’s hell, never to return. Lost in history, drowned in ocean waves. After all, Cuba is a communist state, just like other leftovers of the Marxist illusion: China, Laos, North Korea, Venezuela, and Vietnam. One party state – a state that is watching you. The big brother turned into literature by George Orwell. “Animal Farm,” pigs learn walking, “1984,” walls have ears.” Que bola Cuba,” tweeted Obama, the apostle of humanity, when Air Force One touched down in Havana, the legendary capital, where Ernest Hemingway met Fidel Castro, and antique Cadillacs, pink colored Buicks, and ketchup red Ford Mustangs, gave foreigners the feeling that time never changed -at least not in Cuba. 

In 60 years of Castroism, no American President ever visited the Island. The last American President to honor the island with his presence was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Obama’s arrival, as reported by Dan Roberts for the Guardian from Havana, was a “Berlin wall moment,” a step towards liberation worthy of Nelson Mandela, at whose funeral Obama and Cuba’ s President Raul Castro, famously first shook hands. Could a handshake be considered as a historical? Trump and Mr. Kim, whose nation is governed by the principles of repressive communism, exchanged love letters, shook hands, and may soon threaten another exchange - nuclear. More than half a century ago, Cuba secretly allowed Moscow to station nuclear missiles aimed at the US on its soil, but the Havana regime never possessed, unlike North Korea, nuclear weapons or a mighty military force, threatening its neighbors with invasion. Political prisoners are held in Cuban jails, just like in Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia - All allies of Washington, which these days conducts Foreign Policy tainted by monstrous hypocrisy. The leaders of Cuba are not despots, like Mr. Kim. Cuba’s Catholic church is not without power and influence, particularly among older Cubans, and private business is growing. Cubans can leave the island to travel, as long as the regime is authorizing the necessary exit visa - the infamous “white card,” an exit permit worth over 200 dollars, a year’s salary for the average Cuban. “Money nor a valid passport are enough. We must also meet other, unwritten requirements, ideological and political conditions, that make us eligible or not to board a plane,” explains Yoan Sanchez, who manages the blog “Generacion Y” and the digital newspaper “14ymedio.” Since 2008, the award-winning author received 19 denials but never an explanation of why he was not allowed to leave his country. Since 2015, citizens have access to wireless Wi-Fi hotspots in public parks, and recently Cuba introduced 3G service, which allows people with mobile phones to access the internet, sign up to social media and read foreign news. “The prospect of increased interconnectedness among the public,” believes blogger Sanchez. How do you control tweeting opposition groups? Independent voices have multiplied online in past months as Cubans have tested the limits of free expression.

Trump Would Have Enjoyed the Berlin Wall

Donald Trump has lauded dictator Kim Jong-un as a “friend”, despite the presence of concentration camps in North Korea and the many cyberwar provocations made by his army. Regardless of the threat to attack the US mainland with nuclear missiles, if challenged, Cuba, seems to be listening to Trump or reading his tweets, is almost worse than Kim, despite the suspicion that the “little rocket man” (Trump) is getting ready for another nuclear provocation judged by Trump as “nasty” . Apparently, North Korea has started to re-build launching pads for its missiles. North Korea is excluded, a personal political playground for the Presidents negotiating tactics. Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are, for National Security advisor John Bolton, the “troika of tyranny.” One reason: many Cuban exiles, a majority living in Florida, are voting Republican. However, the leaders in Havana are seen as mortal adversaries, which need to be curtailed and punished. More sanctions are on the way. Don’t forget, in less than two years America votes for a new President, senators, and representatives. Just elected, Trump re-build a mental and economic wall around the island. The US Presidents loves walls. He made his money in construction. Call it a wall obsession. Not really a problem. Some people believe they are Einstein. But those characters are not the commander in chief of the United States of America but are treated in insane asylums. Trump would have loved to live in Berlin a few decades ago. Possibly he would have sympathized with ruler Erich Honecker’s methods - shoot the refugees trying to climb the wall.

Forget Obama and the Rolling Stones, days of joy, a glimpse into normality. Washington returned to a familiar posture of hostility, imposing sanctions, intended to deny financial investment in or assistance to Cuban businesses and institutions, including some tourist hotels and resorts, in which the Cuban military or intelligence services have a stake. “Cuba is neither the demonic tyranny conjured by some conservatives nor the heroic workers’ paradise romanticized by some on the left,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. “It is simply a tired little country; no threat to anyone, with impressive health care and education, but a repressive police state and a dysfunctional economy.” But it is also increasingly clear that the Cuban society is no longer - if it ever was - a homogenous bloc of revolutionary workers willing to simply applaud or fall silent at the decisions of their leaders. Yet, for now, not much remained of the dream, the seeds of hope Obama tried to implant during his emotional, historic visit three years ago - Washington has returned to the cold war posture, trying to destabilize the communist regime through sanctions, Donald Trump and his right-wing advisers pointing towards Havana for the stubborn posture of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela , arguing that Cuba’s advisors, 15 000 in all, are supporting the regime, advising generals, controlling the secret service. Indeed, Maduro is a Cuban-trained revolutionary, who moved in the shadow of his Marxist inspired mentor Hugo Chavez to power. His ally and colleague in Havana, Miguel Diaz - Canel is the first leader of Cuba since 1959, who is not a Castro - a transition. Jon Lee Anderson, staff writer of the “New Yorker” and author of “Che Guevara - a revolutionary life” applauded the fact that this transition was peaceful “which has been handled, without the drama of bloodshed that many other revolutionary states have experienced after the death of their patriarchs - following the death in 2016 of its leader Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, took over and when he was tired of managing the government, age 86, the party promoted a man for years prepared: Diaz-Canel. He hid his ambition, continued to work for the party away from Havana, where the Castro s were the symbols of grandeur. True revolutionaries. “Along with 70 percent of the Cuban population the present President has never known Cuba without a Castro at the helm. He did not fight in the Cuban revolution and therefore,” states Marguerite Jimenez, an expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, he does not have access to “the most basic form of legitimacy” enjoyed by Cuban presidents and other senior officials for the past sixty years-marching with Fidel into Havana, forcing the Washington backed dictator Fulgencio Batista into exile.

Diaz-Canel Is not Coming to Break the China

“Diaz-Canel is not coming to break the China,” predicted the author, not inclined to challenge society or his communist party, which is under control of Raul Castro, age 87, whose job Diaz-Canel took over April 19, 2018, age 58. He is a consummate political insider, served as PCC leader at the provincial level when economic disaster struck Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union, developing a reputation as an efficient manager, pragmatist, and a man of the people. Mrs. Jimenez reported that he was frequently seen riding around the city of Villa Clara on a bicycle, “endearing him to the community he served and demonstrating his commitment to the revolution's ideals.” No chauffeur driven limousine for him--then. The solid communist became the youngest ever member of the Politburo in 2003, at age 43, and was appointed the minister of higher education. Until Diaz-Canel ascended to the role of First Vice president for the most part he stayed out of the limelight. Ted Henken, a Cuba expert at Baruch College of the City University of New York, described the new President as “easily digestible,” his “hip image covering over the same unworkable revolution edifices.” Diaz-Canel faces enormous challenges. The economy is struggling - to put it mildly, says Marguerite Jimenez. There are major differences of opinion within the leadership about the pace and breadth of economic and political reform. The expansion of the private sector - one-third of the labor force - along with the contraction of the Cuba State did create new and worsening inequalities. The reason? Major reductions in subsidies and cheap oil deliveries from Venezuela, and continuing economic restraints from the US embargo, which, under Donald Trump, is not likely to end soon.

Havana is remaining faithful to its one-party regime, designed in the mind of the faithful, to be long lasting, if not eternal. The regime was willing to risk confronting its struggling people with a new constitution. It was not a democracy yet. But hope, the courage of citizens to question the proposals and the regime, the willingness to oppose, challenge. Not freedom of speech yet, at least not officially, but freedom to argue in coffee shops, or with the barber, to question, communicate on the internet with opponents of the referendum, which was promoted by the government on buses, radio stations, T-shirts, in songs and parades, on TV and in political meetings. “Si, Si, Si.” The Si slogan was a sign of patriotism, the no came close to treason. Sure, activists for the No were questioned by police, even arrested, their apartments searched, but mainly those, who were calling for public protests, demonstrations. No reports of brutal police actions as in Paris or elsewhere in France, when the yellow vests, thousands, were asking their government for reforms and were confronted with violence even the UN condemned. The active opposition in Cuba, a couple thousand perhaps, was split between activists calling for voting no and others who were demanding the boycott of the referendum, arguing that voting amounted to legitimizing the government and giving it a chance to manipulate the vote. Opposition leaders in Havana like Antonio Rodiles and the Cuban Resistance Assembly had called for a boycott of what they dismissed as an electoral farce. 20 members of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union were detained.

The communists knew they could rely on February 24 on those who were loyal to the principles of the revolution, and admired Fidel Castro, whose faithful revolutionaries, among them Che Guevara, defeated an army of 40 000, armed by Washington, financed by Washington, encouraged by Washington in the oppression of the revolting citizens of Cuba, those who existed in misery and without rights. They were peasants, exploited, dehumanized creatures. Until Castro took power, bringing dignity, schooling, and health care to his people - New York Times writer Kristof reminded his readers that Cuba’s official infant mortality rate today is lower than America’s. In the end, repression, control and disappointment of a Cuban revolution, which betrayed its values and tainted the reputation of Fidel Castro, living in the shadow of his own greatness, a courageous leader resisting reactionary America. At his final moments, he was seen dressed in pyjamas, age had buried his noble vision.

They Aren’t Taking Communism but the Market Economy in its Wildest Form

The Cuban people voted, almost, as expected - and the constitution was accepted by 86.85 percent of its citizens: socialism on the island was “irrevocable,” meaning forever. Nevertheless, the “display of ballot box dissidents,” wrote the Guardian, was “unprecedented.” 700 000 people voted No to the new founding document; Nine percent of voters opposed ratification and 4.15 percent spoiled or left the ballot blank refusing the message of big brother “Yo voto si.” Once upon a time, the Russians believed in the eternity of Marx and Engels and even Stalin must have been convinced to be eternal. Oxford University scholar Robert Service, author of “Comrades - a history of world communism” is certain that Marx would “hardly recognize his manifesto” and in its “original form it is long dead.” Communism was meant to spread around the world, but “when the Chinese go to Africa, they aren’t taking communism. They are taking the market economy in one of the wildest forms. We are not talking about expansionist communism of the 1920s, 1930s,1940s any longer in the world.” Even in communist Cuba the catholic church and evangelists are thriving, and together they had enough power to force the regime to erase same-sex marriage out of the new constitution. It recognizes private property and foreign investments and gives legal status to Cuba’s opening to the private sector - so much for Communism. Opposition parties are still not welcome, civil and political rights are hardly broadened, but enshrined are the rights to legal representation upon arrest and the market is accepted as a fact of life. The access to health and education are defined in the just voted constitution as a fundamental right for the citizens, all citizens, and are relegating the positions of the Republican Party and Donald Trump on health care, into centuries of the Middle Ages. Humans, the editors of the constitution believe unrestrained, can reach “full dignity” only through socialism and communism - North Korea is not mentioned as a model for the equivocal Cuban thesis. Neither is China.

Private property only has a “complementary” role in the planned struggling economy. The state’s control of the “most important media” is reaffirmed. The party remains, the “superior political power of society and of the state.” Some of the structures of government though have been changed. President and Vice president are limited to two terms in office, in other words, no eternity as known through Fidel Castro, who hang on to power until age 81, his brother retired at 86. The political strength of the President will somehow be diminished, because he now must share power with a prime minister, chosen by him, but approved by the National Assembly. The military will remain under the control of the President. In the months prior to the referendum, the New York Times observed a “growing boldness” on the island, the confirmation of “growing confidence” of diverse groups that have pushed back against official decisions and forced the government to negotiate. Artists demanded the repeal of a decree which imposed a system of prior official approval for cultural performances, and of censorship of art, determined to have “immoral or vulgar” content or which misuses “patriotic symbols.” To regulate the private sector, new rules would have limited Cubans to one business license each, and the number of seats in restaurants to 50. After protests, the government lifted these proposals, since the so-called “cuentapropismo” - self-employed work, which had been encouraged by Raul Castro - accounts for about 600 000 people, ten percent of the Cuban workforce and arguably constitutes the most vibrant, innovative and lucrative part of the nation’s economy.

Looks Like Something from the Early Days of the Cold War

These wrangling underscore the evolving struggle over the nature of the Cuban state, declared author John Lee Anderson the days prior to the vote, some of the concerns about the draft constitution clearly reflect the will of older Cubans, many of whom are socially conservative, have spent most of their lives living under communism, and constitute a growing percentage of the population. Other concerns point to the emerging self-confidence and clout of younger Cubans, increasing numbers of whom are involved in the country’s ‘cuentapropismo’. None of these issues, argues William Leo Grande, professor of Public Affairs at American University in Washington and a specialist in Cuba–United States relations,” threaten the basic structures of the single party system, but when you create a precedent that people can mobilize politically to pursue policy differences with the government, it is not easy to put that genie back into the bottle.” While it is unclear how far these voices of civil society will resonate, argues Elizabeth Malkin in the “New York Times,” they reveal the narrow line that Cuba’s President Diaz-Canel is walking on. Indeed, he is stuck between a conservative old guard and an increasingly pluralistic society. The main concern of the government is how to sustain an economy that had a dismal 1.4 growth rate last year, and how to maintain its free education and free health system as well as its food security, housing, and job programs while balancing the budget and following their Venezuelan allies national survival act.

If Maduro falls, Havana must search for a replacement for their low-cost crude oil provider. Russia has stepped in, the first time since the 1990s, exporting oil to Cuba, apparently not disturbed by Washington. Cuba remains isolated from traditional international institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank-thanks largely to the US-but other bodies, such as the Latin American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration are providing technical and financial assistance to support economic reforms on the island. as criticizes Marguerite Jemeniz, an expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, since other countries are designing their policies to support the process of change in Cuba, the United States foreign policy towards Cuba, looks more and more like something from the early days of the cold war, as criticizes Marguerite Jemeniz.

The Future King at the Wheel

In contrast, China and Russia are heavily investing in the island. At the beginning of last year, China gave 36 million dollars in assistance for Cuban projects in agriculture, water sources, renewable energy and technology. China is currently Cuba’s largest trading partner, accounting for 1.8 billion in exports to the island in 2017. During a visit to Havana at the beginning of 2018, EU officials offered Cuba help for its badly needed currency unification - the country currently has two official currencies - based on the experience introducing the Euro. As the EU’s top diplomat Frederica Mogherini explained in Havana, there are “opportunities for trade investment, and promoting common solutions to global challenges like migration and climate change. We can speak to Cuba on all issues because there is a commitment to dialogue despite the differences between both sides.” The words and promises made to Cuba have been supported by facts – in 2014, Russia forgave 32 billion dollars of Cuba’s debt. A year later Paris Club lenders, including France, Spain and the United Kingdom, signed an agreement with Havana to forgive or renegotiate 11.1 billion dollars of Cuba’s foreign debt, which will help the country more functionally integrate into the world economy - a necessity if its economy is to recover, let alone grow.

The island needs international support, since being isolated by Washington is hindering tourism, an important part of its economic survival strategy. Europe, surprisingly, does not share the US President’s obsession with and desire to oppress the island. Just a few days ago, while Britain’s parliament demonstrated to the world that its democracy was suffering, its institutions were weakened by a constitutional crisis, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla, touched down in Cuba, the first members of the Royal family, ever to visit the island officially, even accepting a dinner invitation by the Cuban President Diaz-Canel, a politician loathed by Washington. Prince Charles demonstrated a different kind of approach - normality. He sat down in a barber’s chair to chat with the coiffeur, unveiled a statue of Shakespeare, visited the dance studio of Carlos Acosta, a former star of the Royal Ballet, watched Cuban boxers train, and even drove a black convertible, a 1953 MG , through the streets of the capital, honoring a British classic car event. No splendid isolation from the Royals, treating the nation as what it is, a beautiful island in the sun, needing to accept political change and an opening to the world. Author John Lee Anderson insists that Cuba, as it did 60 years ago with a “revolution that for better or worse helped reshape the world,” once again chooses its own path and once again be a leader among nations: the Cuban regime can choose to be more democratic. Now that would be truly revolutionary.”


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