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Cuba: Not Yet Ready For Change

The evidence keeps piling up that neither the election of Barack Obama or the semi-retirement of Fidel Castro has changed the basic pattern of US-Cuba relations.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is the latest pawn in America and Cuba’s long-running chess match. The Cuban government invited Richardson to Havana discuss the fate of Alan Gross – only to backtrack once he arrived. The snub suggests a high-level split regarding rapprochement with America. The Washington Post reports:

Richardson, who has long supported improved relations with Cuba, said he was “flabbergasted” by his treatment. He was invited to Havana by the Cuban government to discuss the Gross case, he said, leading to hopes of a breakthrough. Cuban parliament leader Ricardo Alarcon last week described Richardson’s trip as “noble.”

But Richardson said there appeared to be disagreements within the Cuban government on what to do with Gross.

“My sense is, there are some elements in their government that don’t want to improve relations with the U.S.,” Richardson said.

Meanwhile back in Washington DC, President Obama today attacked Cuba’s reforms as insufficient and charged that it isn’t doing enough to allow the private sector into the economy or to free political prisoners.  From the BBC:

President Obama said the Cuban authorities had indicated they wanted to make changes to allow businesses to operate more freely.

But, he said, there was no evidence that they had been sufficiently aggressive in doing this.

“And they certainly have not been aggressive enough when it comes to liberating political prisoners and giving people the opportunity to speak their minds”, Mr Obama said.

Having spent a great deal of time in Cuba some years ago, and having discussed these issues at length with many people in Havana, Miami and Washington, my view is that the Cuban government does not want normal economic relations with the US.  That is partly because communist dinosaurs fear anything that loosens their control over the serfs and partly because a larger group of Cubans fear that Cuban Americans will simply descend en masse and repurchase the island end to end.

The result fairly reliably is that whenever US presidents try to improve relations, Cuba does something to block the way.  When the Clinton administration was engaged in seriously attempting a change in the relationship, the Cubans shot down a “Brothers to the Rescue” plane.  Under President Obama, the Cubans locked up Alan Gross.

A significant number of people in Cuba’s leadership think the time for this policy has passed, but from Governor Richardson’s experience, it seems that they don’t yet have enough weight to swing Cuba in the direction of real change. The balance could shift, and one day it probably will, but as Governor Richardson has learned, it hasn’t happened yet.

Communism is fading as a force on the island, but the desire to make sure that the current Cuban elite continues to control the country is as strong as ever.

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  • David H Dennis

    … partly because a larger group of Cubans fear that Cuban Americans will simply descend en masse and repurchase the island end to end.

    I have absolutely no doubt this will happen, if real estate is privatized and foreign investment reopened.

    Not necessarily just former Cubans, either; I would love to own a building on the Malecon … I wonder how much those ruined, but picturesque buildings would sell for. Oceanfront property on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach is valued in the low millions even after the current real estate recession …

    A free economy would rip all those old relics down and replace them with 40 story high rise buildings faster than you can blink (see Miami for examples). But that would ruin the deep character that makes Cuba so attractive as a place to visit.

    It will definitely be interesting to see how a (hopefully) freer government and people will handle this.


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