Sixty-four years after the Cuban Revolution traded capitalism for communism, privately owned businesses, not run by the government, are flourishing. At least that’s the line Cuba appears to be selling to the rest of the world. But is it real?
The Cuban government has announced it is encouraging private enterprise and inviting foreign investors to come make money. That spells capitalism to us. It’s an enticing invitation: Cuba is virgin territory to tech bros, entrepreneurs and hedge funds.
But we’ve seen this before on the island. Its citizens are given a taste of economic autonomy, only to see it snuffed out again. Should we believe Cuba has turned an economic corner for good?
A recent, in-depth article by Miami Herald Cuba reporter Nora Gámez Torres, “Capitalism makes a comeback in Cuba,” documents the changes occurring:
“Over the past two years, a new kind of revolution has been quietly taking place in Cuba: Private businesses, banished from the island by Fidel Castro more than 60 years ago, are making a strong comeback, employing more people than state enterprises, gaining trust from foreign creditors and helping put food on Cubans’ tables at a time of widespread scarcity.”
According to the story, Alejandro Gil, Cuba’s economy minister, recently told the National Assembly that, “The private sector is on track to buy over a billion dollars in goods by the end of the year — outpacing the government as the country’s largest importer.
“On the streets, private grocery stores are taking the place of the empty-shelf government supermarkets, and all sorts of businesses are filling the space once monopolized by the state.”
Fidel Castro might be turning in his grave. His hatred of capitalism and all things yanqui was palpable.
But Cuba is like the Matrix. There is one reality presented to the world vs. the day-to-day reality of Cubans, who face food and medicine shortages, and human rights violations, the one thing the Cuban government has consistently enforced for six decades.
After anti-government demonstrations on the island led by the San Ysidro Movement, Cuba has cracked down again on the people. But it also needs to present an illusion to the world that things are peachy on the island. So come on down with money.
Recently eased measures also are allowing relatives in Miami to send remittances to relatives and visitors to the island to bring in more goods in their luggage, which supplement the ration cards and long lines to get their weekly allotment of eggs, chicken and meat.
The economy continues to struggle after the pandemic, which took away tourism money. Cuban needs an influx of money. Enter the Chinese and the Russians.
The Editorial Board asked Latin America expert and Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer what he makes of the new arrival of capitalism in Cuba.
“We need to introduce a little skepticism into these developments inside Cuba. We’ve seen this movie before many times.”
Oppenheimer is right. In fact, there are many stories from past decades in which Cuba hinted it was opening its doors to the outside world and the world economy. And the story usually ends with a sudden crackdown and confiscation of property and land, leaving foreign investors with huge losses, as they operate in conjunction with the Cuban government.
So we must ask: Is this real or a smoke screen from a cagey government that needs a new influx of money?
It’s all about government control, and maintaining it. Without private enterprise, Cubans toil for the good of the country and the revolution, not for personal wealth.
There is always a common factor with talk of Cuba announcing that it’s opening up to the rest of the world, financially or otherwise.
Is what appears to be happening in Cuba now what President Barack Obama envisioned nearly a decade ago when he normalized relations with Cuba in 2014, hoping influences from the rest of the world would overwhelm the authoritarian Cuban government and force it to change? Little did change, however, and Cuba did not keep its end of the deal to ease up on human-rights abuses of its people, making few, if any, concessions. In fact, the photo of an awkward Obama and then-President Raul Castro with arms upraised tells the story of that failed, lopsided attempt at diplomacy.
This talk of capitalism also comes when Cuba is making a series of political moves, allowing the Chinese to open a spy station on the island, 90 miles away from Florida and inviting the Russians back in as business partners. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, where he was warmly greeted.
Cuba is definitely up to something. Just what likely will reveal itself soon enough. It always does.