[Marxism] Paolo Spadoni: Reality in Cuba belies U.S. goals

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 14 07:42:15 MDT 2006

(The author of this article is one of the few commentators on Cuba
in the United States who isn't hindered by ideological blinders in
either blind hatred for the Cuban Revolution nor by the uncritical
attitudes of a few who don't admit there are any contradictions or
problems in Cuban life as it actually exists on the island today.

(He very wisely concludes and recommends:

("Rethinking the overall policy approach toward its communist 
neighbor could be a good idea for the United States, as a post-
Fidel Cuba might not look too different from the current one.")


Reality in Cuba belies U.S. goals
Paolo Spadoni
Special to the Orlando Sentinel

August 14, 2006

It is too easy to criticize U.S. policy toward Cuba on the ground
that Fidel Castro has outlasted nine U.S. presidents and withstood
more than 40 years of economic sanctions against his government.

Castro's resilience is even more astonishing if we consider that U.S.
sanctions were significantly tightened after the end of the Cold War,
at a time in which Cuba was coping with a deep economic recession
following the demise of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union.

But let's move beyond this rather simplistic argument to analyze the
actual accomplishments (or lack thereof) of Washington's policy
toward Havana in the post-Cold War era. This is all the more
important now that Castro has temporarily relinquished power to his
brother Raul due to illness and Cuba's future is clouded with great

Since the early 1990s, Washington's stated goal with respect to Cuba
has been to hasten a democratic transition on the island, which
eventually would lead to the abandonment of the current
state-controlled communist system in favor of a multiparty democracy
with free and fair elections, freedom of speech, press and
association, and a market-based economy.

To achieve this goal, U.S. policymakers have devised a series of
restrictive measures aimed to deny hard-currency revenues to the
Castro government that would be used by the latter to resist domestic
and international pressure for change.

However, in recent years Cuba has been moving in the direction
exactly opposite to the one envisioned by the United States. Havana's
authorities have reverted some of the capitalist-style economic
reforms they had implemented between 1993 and 1994 to ensure the
survival of a system on the verge of collapse. They have also stepped
up government control on the overall economy and exhibited greater
intolerance of political dissent.

Thus, from a U.S. standpoint, Cuba is farther from democracy today
than it was a decade ago.

This is not surprising.

When the Torricelli law of 1992 restricted trade with Cuba through
U.S. subsidiaries located overseas, Castro opened the island to
foreign investment in search of badly needed external financing. When
the Helms-Burton law of 1996 added secondary sanctions against
third-country investors "trafficking" in U.S. expropriated properties
in Cuba, the Castro government had already developed a scheme to
attract and capture remittances from abroad by legalizing the use of
U.S. dollars and opening state-run hard-currency stores. Money from
abroad, mainly sent from or personally delivered by Cuban-Americans
to their relatives in Cuba, was a crucial factor in reactivating the
Cuban economy in the second half of the 1990s.

And when the Bush administration, in June 2004, finally decided to
implement more stringent restrictions on Cuban-American travel and
money transfers to Cuba, the island's economy was no longer as
dependent on remittances as it was a few years earlier. Venezuela was
becoming the main economic lifeline for the cash-strapped Castro

Since October 2000, Cuba has been paying for vital imports of
cut-rate Venezuelan oil with medical and educational services.
Moreover, the Cuban economy has greatly benefited from the launch in
late 2004 of the program Operation Miracle, financed by Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, under which Cuban doctors are providing free
eye surgery to patients from several Latin American countries.
Exports of professional services, mostly medical ones, generated
almost 40 percent of Cuba's total hard-currency revenues in 2005,
replacing international tourism as the island's most important source
of foreign exchange.

In short, the Castro government has been able not only to minimize
the economic pressure of U.S. sanctions, but also to skillfully
introduce liberalizing measures and regain almost complete control at
a later time. Such an outcome has important implications for both
U.S. policy and Cuba's future, especially in light of the most recent

Imagine if Castro had fallen ill 10 to 12 years ago, in the middle of
a profound crisis and substantial economic changes. It would have
been extremely difficult for the Cuban authorities to prevent further
liberalization. Now, with the economy in better shape and a process
of re-centralization well on its way, it will be easier for them to
stay the course.

While an ailing Castro turned 80 on Sunday, Washington's
long-standing goal of hastening a democratic transition on the island
remains a chimera. Rethinking the overall policy approach toward its
communist neighbor could be a good idea for the United States, as a
post-Fidel Cuba might not look too different from the current one.

Paolo Spadoni is a visiting assistant professor in the department of
political science at Rollins College in Winter Park.

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