In late 2014, President Obama announced something or other about Cuba. The concrete gist of it was an intent to open diplomatic relations with the Communist regime there. No conditions were mentioned. I am underwhelmed by Pres. Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Yet, it may yet turn out to be somewhat important, in a diffuse sense.
Mr Obama acted true to form. He managed to obscure a little the fact that he received a spanking in the last elections. He did what he could to influence the way his disastrous administration will be viewed historically. Shaking hands with the Cuban Communists was a good move in this respect because the relevant books will no doubt be written by the usual left-wing academics who retain a soft spot in their hearts because Fidel was always more interesting than the gray Soviet bureaucrats, because he always seemed to offer an alternative, smiling brand of communism. The fact that he never did, not at all, did not alter the look of admiration they the left-wing academics cast upon him because there never was any credible imaginary communist alternative alternative. The fact that the Castrists used to imprison homosexuals just for being what they were did not make much of an impression either, for the same reason. The Sandinistas in Guatemala lost and eventually learned their lesson. The fat rebel wannabe soldier from Venezuela always gave them an uneasy feeling. Bolivia is too far and the leftist Bolivian parliament finally made child labor legal. (This happened only recently but they had premonitions.) The North Korean prison-country? God forbid! It has nothing nothing at all to do with communism And then, the professors think, Fidel has a beard like us. He would fit right well in the faculty club. (Not an expression of prejudice against facial hair – in men at least. I have myself worn a beard ever since I could.)
Mr Obama made friends with another tyrant on that occasion, the way he seldom fails to do. (Remember the “reset” with the gangster Putin?) I suspect it’s because deep down, he is very afraid of tyrants. Although he attended an expensive prep-high school in Honolulu, he probably did not feel safe in the streets of that city. A slight Negro boy who was the son of a hippie haole would have been viewed as spoils of war to feed on by the big Native Hawaiian bullies. (Yes, I am an expert on Hawaii too. I lived in Hilo for five months a long time ago overlapping with Mr Obama’s mother stay in Oahu, I think. That was enough time to learn about the common revenge bullying the local press keeps carefully under wraps to to avoid scaring the tourists.)
Mr Obama also gave some of the world – but not ordinary Cubans themselves – the impression that the US embargo was lifted or was about to be. (See my previous posting about Cuba: https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/cuba-ignorance-and-dishonesty/)
In fact, not much has happened beyond the symbolic. Mr Obama gave the Castro brothers a renewed legitimacy they had stopped hoping for. Also, from now on, it will be easier for the categories of Americans who are already allowed to travel to Cuba to do so. They will do it more frequently. Cuban-Americans will also be allowed to send considerably more money to their hungry relatives in Cuba than they have been. I think that’s good although it gives the tyrants a new small economic lease on life. Then, with greater frequency of visitors from the US, and more dollars, Cuba’s main industry, sex, will immediately see even better days. It would not been amazing if American baseball also benefited because the Castros would allow a handful of Cuba’s crack players to do what they have always want to do: move here. Overall, not much, as I said.
What much of the rest of the world does not understand clearly is that the power to lift the embargo belongs with Congress, a Republican Congress beginning in 2015. Much of the world does not seem to understand this either: The new Congress is not going to be friendly to Mr Obama. Many people overseas seem to think – wrongly – that the lifting of the embargo is kind of automatic following diplomatic recognition. It’s not, far from it. Congress will have to take positive action for it to happen. Whether it does or not will rest on the merits of the case, I think. Cuban-Americans will exercise disproportionate influence, as I believe they should.
Pres. Obama’s speech justifying his small move was strange: The embargo has not shaken the Castro dictatorship in fifty years; why bother to continue?
Same thing: Arresting murderers and putting them away has not stopped murder in centuries; why bother to continue? Let them be.
Now, it’s possible to make a rational argument in favor of lifting the embargo but it’s not straightforward. I will try but let me begin by saying that I don’t give a damn whether a handful of American farmers get to sell thousands of chickens to eleven million impoverished Cubans when the embargo is lifted. Why don’t they try instead to sell the same number of additional chickens to residents of Detroit and of Cleveland, or in black ghettos in general where people are much richer on the average than Cubans?
I am enamored of the notion that American rock-and-roll and an intense desire for Levis jeans brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. I am enamored but I don’t believe it. Intense continued economic pressure by the US and allies did, plus the courageous resistance of thousands of Soviet citizens with a conscience. Yet, there is a related scenario that just might work with Cuba.
Cuba is a tropical vacation destination that will remain inexpensive for a few years to come. Budget American tourists will flock there when they are allowed. I don’t see how any significant lifting of the American embargo can fail to allow mass tourism. The Cuban authorities will try to confine American tourists to beach ghettos as they do now with Europeans and Canadians. I am betting this won’t work with Americans. We are an undisciplined, self-indulgent lot; we go wherever we want unless you threaten us with death (and even then). All tourists will carry electronic devices that are useful to obtain information and to disseminate it. Which of them will not given away his obsolete Smart Phone as a tip? The tourists will also quickly learn that you can barter such devices for almost anything, rum, fresh lobster, beach access, guyaberas, oro del monte, and sex, of course. We are also a greedy and pragmatic people always looking for a deal.
There will be two consequences to the mass presence of ordinary Americans and to the dissemination of their electronic devices.
First, the Cubans will learn from multiple media sources as well as from personal contacts with Americans that it’s really true, not just Yanqui propaganda, that even the long term unemployed Americans live much better than do hard-working residents of the Communist paradise. Repetition works. (As a former teacher, I am tempted to affirm that only repetition works.) The Cuban Communist mafia will lose much of whatever legitimacy it still has. When almost all citizens drag their feet about obeying orders, it’s difficult to rule anything at all. Under such conditions, the rulers are not overthrown, they become gradually irrelevant.
The second consequence is that some American visitors, or many American visitors, will set up little traffics with their new Cuban acquaintances. Cigars and rum come readily to mind but, that’s not all. People who are used to earning less than fifty dollars a month have many services to offer to the even moderately prosperous. Informal medical care, dental care, pedicure, and tutoring in maths and physics and of course, in music are examples. The Cuban economy is so exiguous and so thin that it won’t be long before this new underground Cuban economy dwarfs the official one. This is yet another way in which the Cuban government will become irrelevant.
The top ranks of the Cuban Communist Party – who have blood on their hands- will run. You can bet that bureaucrats in the middle ranks of the Party are already calculating and positioning themselves to become the country’s new economic elite, the way Russian communists did in the nineties
This scenario has one major defect: Rapid economic change for the better will attenuated the chock of the discovery that the American embargo was not really responsible for the deep poverty Cubans suffered for fifty years, as the regime alleges shamelessly. The alternative scenario promoting this discovery is too cruel to contemplate anyway: The embargo is lifted and misery remains the same in Cuba. That’s too high a price to pay to expose the mendacity of a regime that is already discredited, even at home.
By the way, a reminder: Right after the announcement concerning an improvement in diplomatic relations, Cuba did free an American held under trumped-up charges for several years. The world’s terrorists, state and non-state alike, learned anew that kidnapping Americans gets you results.