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Eyes on Cuba

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A lot of things were supposed to have happened once Fidel Castro vacated his position as head of state; the country was to have gone into a serious crisis and the Bush boys and the Miami brigade were to have moved in and rescued the country. Then the story line changed. It was only supposed to have happened with the death of Castro, not with his departure from Office. Younger brother Raul was to have meekly continued the policies that his older brother had put in place.{{more}} Over the past week or so, the news around the world was about reforms in Cuba. The reaction by the so-called Cuban watchers was that the changes were just cosmetic ones. George Bush, in the meantime, stands by waiting on the fulfilment of the preconditions he has arrogantly set out before he is able to consider changing his primitive policies on Cuba. Of course, we cannot make a mountain out of a mole hill, and the changes announced in Cuba are not fundamental ones but are meaningful, nonetheless. One Cuban, overseas, in responding to the news that Cubans are no longer debarred from staying at hotels reserved for foreigners stated that “…while it is true that most Cubans cannot afford the price of a room at a tourist hotel, let it be because of price”. He is prepared to applaud any reform that takes place in Cuba.

My column of February 29 was captioned ‘Cuba in transition?’ I stated then “…This post Fidel period will undoubtedly be one of transition. The question is transition to what. It depends ultimately on the process and climate of engagement with the rest of the world. If America rids itself of its arrogance, it can help to guide not control the process.” The changes have begun. You can call them cosmetic if you want, or too little, but the process has started. We have to realise that changes did not only start with Raul. Cuba had begun a process of engaging with those who respected its sovereignty and its right to look after its own affairs. America is a super-power but it is not the centre of the world. Cuba has been attracting thousands of tourists, especially from Europe. Foreign investment, particularly from Europe, had been flowing into Cuba. The American dollar had been accepted. The foolish and wicked American- imposed embargo has prevented further engagement. The rest of the world, minus America, Israel and a few minions has recognised the need to move on and to create the space for greater involvement and engagement. Raul Castro has begun to lighten the burden on his fellow citizens. Reforms have started in the farming sector with some reorganising/restructuring of agricultural production. Efforts have started to put unused lands into production, facilitating a measure of decentralisation that gives more scope to private farmers and cooperatives to decide on use of land and matters related to the planting of crops. This will lessen the dependence on imports and the huge costs involved. In fact, the need to implement measures to encourage greater food production is an issue that is being hotly debated in the rest of the Caribbean.

Restrictions are being removed on the renting of cars and hotel rooms and the purchasing of consumer items such as pressure cookers, DVDs and mobile phones. The critics call some of these measures meaningless, since they argue that Cubans do not own enough to be able to afford the prices. The indications, however, are that there have been long lines of people hoping to purchase some of these items. Despite the American policy that resulted in restrictions on travel to Cuba, even by Cuban Americans with relatives in their motherland in an effort to restrict money going into Cuba, Cubans have been receiving remittances. Some of them work in the tourist industry and with foreign firms. Could you imagine what the impact would be if some of the American restrictions were removed and remittances were able to flow more easily into Cuba? And what is really wrong with this, since many of the so-called democracies in the CARICOM region depend heavily on these remittances? The real point that has to be made is that once changes, even of a minor nature, are made, if the climate is right and adequate space is provided, these will continue. The demands from the people will also grow and the government will have to respond. Once Cuba wants to become part of the global village, it will have to make accommodation for participation. Once they are allowed to go about this in a way that does not attempt to control how they go about their business, then more and deeper changes will come. They must, however, be directed by Cuba, not by the Bush regime or which ever follows him or by the Cuban-Americans who are waiting to pounce on the flesh of Cuba.

The nature and process of change will determine what happens in Cuba and how quickly. I was quite taken in by an article in the Bradenton Herald. It was captioned ‘A pastor’s plea to change Cuba policy.’ The pastor, Anne Barber, had been to Cuba ten times since 2003. She wrote passionately: “There is an old-world charm about Cuba that would be utterly destroyed by the invasion of American big business, which would quickly obliterate the pristine shoreline with high rises-for starters. Nor do Cubans on the island look forward to the anticipated flood of pre-revolution-era homeowners rushing back to reclaim land and homes that have long ago been divided and redistributed to those who remained. The people who now live on that land dread the day when wealthy Cuban Americans will return, waving desperately needed money, enticing many to relinquish their tiny homes and land for next to nothing.” I have a problem with Barber’s talk of old-world charm, although I might be reading into it more than she really means. It depends on what she means by old-world charm, for there are those who have a fascination with what they consider quaint and untouched and remote from the glamour of modern life, who would like to see some countries remain trapped in the past. She probably is not thinking of anything like this, but her fear is a real one and a lot would depend on the climate which prevails and the pace with which change comes. Once the process has started there is no turning back. There will be demands for the conveniences that come with the technological revolution. There is no going back in this regard. In today’s world, communication is critical, and the computer and mobile phones are central components.

Cuba has started quietly expanding the freedoms of its citizens. It should be encouraged. We must denounce the stupidity and arrogance of the approach of the American government. In fact, Barber makes a telling point about this. She wrote, “Demanding that Cuba change its form of government before the United States will remove the embargo, or before we will talk to their leaders, is a foolish policy. What sovereign nation would cede to those demands? What nation’s leaders would willingly be stripped of their dignity in exchange for Bush’s ‘financial incentives’?” Really, if the embargo is removed, we will see a far different country, a Cuba that might become a model for the Caribbean and for small developing countries. Something has started and there is no turning back. It is Cuba’s thing. Let them do it their way.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a historian and social commentator.

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