12 months to the day tomorrow (Dec. 17), President Obama announced the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. The Washington Post offers a glimpse of how it’s been going. On the one hand, tourism is up:
A U.S. tourism tsunami still seems to be building. American travel to the island is up more than 50 percent, according to U.S. officials. Overall tourism to Cuba increased nearly 20 percent, bringing in billions of dollars in additional revenue for the government.
On the other, the Castro government is increasing its repression:
The changes of the past year have set Cuban authorities on edge, too, bringing an escalating crackdown on public protest and opposition activity.
Dozens, even hundreds of activists are detained or arrested each Sunday, when the Ladies in White dissident group attempts to march in Havana and another group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, stages its weekly mobilization in Santiago, the island’s second-largest city.[..]
The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation tallied 1,447 political arrests or arbitrary detentions in November, the highest monthly total in years.
On top of that, 70,000 Cubans have fled to the U.S., fearing that full legalization would spell the end of asylum. And business licenses and reconciliation on property issues are still proceeding at a snails pace, if at all.
But something significant is not mentioned in the WaPo article: The big driver of Cuba’s foreign policy moves is the continuing implosion of Venezuela. Venezuela is Havana’s closest ally and main source of funds since the fall of the Soviet Union. And now Caracas is sinking into failure and bankruptcy.
More U.S. tourists will help replace this income, which is probably the main reason the Castro government allowed the limited opening to America. At the same time, American tourism is, from Havana’s point of view, an unsatisfactory replacement for Venezuelan largesse as an economic mainstay. The tourists and their money are harder to control, and the unmistakable contrast between affluent American visitors and miserable, desperate Cubans undercuts everything the regime wants its people to believe.
It is in the U.S. interest for the tourist boom to continue, despite the ugly human rights consequences. The thundercloud over Venezuela is enough of a problem for the Caribbean right now. We don’t need two socialist hellholes simultaneously imploding.