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Is Now the Right Time?

Is Now the Right Time?
PABLO DÍAZ ESPÍ | Madrid | 6 Oct 2015 – 2:37 am.

Will a lifting of the US embargo be beneficial with the Castros still in

The most recent and vocal proponents of the lifting of the American
embargo on Cuba wield as their main argument that this measure will
benefit the Cuban people, improving their quality of life and, in the
mid term, facilitating the spread of democracy to the island. It is
worth analyzing how valid and accurate these arguments really are.

A few days ago the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo provided a glimpse
of what could happen in a Cuba free of commercial restrictions but still
under the Castros’ control. During a visit to the island by former
president Lula da Silva, in 2011, the Odebrecht Group, a construction
giant responsible for the work in the area of Mariel —featuring a new
container terminal covering 465 km2 for free trade, located to the west
of Havana— allegedly lavished gifts on Raúl Castro.

This incident constitutes part of several judicial “megaproceedings”
shaking the South American country’s foundations, already having taken
down several important figures related to Cuba.

Marcelo Odebrecht —president of the Group and with personal ties to da
Silva— accused of heading a bribery scheme worth 2.1 billion dollars
involving Petrobras, which he purportedly overcharged, transferring the
financial surplus to executives and politicians. Odebrecht was
also sentenced for subjecting employees at sugar and ethanol plants
being built in Angola to slave-like conditions.

Former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010), meanwhile, is being
investigated for “influence peddling,” particularly in Cuba and the
Dominican Republic. Brazil’s Public Ministry suspects that between 2011
and 2014, drawing upon the political capital he acquired during his time
as Chief of State, Lula “secured economic advantages, direct or
indirectly, from Odebrecht in exchange for influencing acts carried out
by foreign public agents, paid for directly or indirectly by the
National Development Bank (BNDES).”

In September Jorge Dirceu, the former treasurer of the Workers Party,
educated and trained in Cuba, was sentenced to 15 years of prison for
committing (“with sophistication”) the crimes of corruption, money
laundering and criminal association.

In light of these facts, and from a Cuban perspective, it is worth
looking into the gifts received by Raúl Castro and his
son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Callejas – president of the
all-powerful GAESA, the conglomerate that controls the revenue from
tourism, telecommunications and currency exchange in Cuba, among other
things, in addition to being the Cuban partner on the Mariel project,
tied to the corrupt plot in Brazil. Did they receive money? If so, how much?

In a country with an independent judicial authority, one might expect an
investigation of this now. But in Cuba, of course, nobody will do so —or
even take an interest in the matter.

The Castros’ business

According to The Washington Post, in 2013 alone American travelers took
assets worth 3.5 billion dollars to the island, while Cuban-Americans
sent 3.1 billion dollars to the country in money wires. And this is in
spite of the embargo, which already allows Havana to buy foods and
medicines directly from American companies. What this makes evident is
that when they talk about the end of restrictions what the Castros are
really interested in is access to international credit and,
particularly, to American banks. In other words, the Castros want to
exploit the U.S.A. like they did the USSR and Venezuela under Chavez: a
source of funding that allows them to retain their power line their
coffers, until they known they are out of danger.

In return, they offer what any capitalist would find a tantalizing
offer: an unexploited market, devoid of competition, as we Cubans cannot
invest in our own country; 10 million potential consumers; a workforce
that is relatively well-educated, very cheap, and without any rights
(including, of course, the right to strike and to organize in
independent unions); a centralized economic interlocutor; zero criticism
by the press; and a banned opposition and repressed civil society that
cannot question business practices.

In the 90s, after the fall of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, the
lifting of the embargo would have been a good option. It was what some
of us called for then, but we were, frankly, outnumbered. The regime,
with its heavy-handed, inefficient structures and its intransigent
ideological discourse still intact, would not have been able to handle
such a shift in the ground rules. But now, having taken note —after
looking to Russia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the former Soviet
Republics— that a totalitarian state is not required to subjugate and
control a society; now that the Castros have assimilated the
transformation to state capitalism (breaking their own laws and
Constitution, but nobody cares); now that totalitarianism has been but
partially overturned, but still poised to suck all investment into a
quagmire of corruption and absurd laws… is the lifting of the embargo
really a positive option for Cubans?

The argument that a lifting of the embargo would be a blessing for the
island’s people warrants very careful reflection. Let us suppose that
all the economic and commercial restrictions are actually lifted, and
that the regime acquires access to loans and the green light to
negotiate with any and all capitalists dropping by the gardens of the
Hotel Nacional. Who will oversee those loans for Cuba? What
institutions? Who will decide what to buy, and at what price? General
Rodríguez Callejas? The state that has striven to stymie a system of
dual currency?

The immense debt and the corruption generated by a state without
institutions or freedoms would be another heavy weight to be borne by
all Cubans —above all by the poorest: the black population, residents in
rural areas, those without access to the hard currency or the
information society; those who the Castro regime keeps marginalized.

In this regard, though it may seem counter-productive, the current
embargo in its present configuration —with Havana free to acquire
medicine and foods, the increase in permitted money wires, the ease with
which one can travel, and Washington’s offer to develop
telecommunications on the island— just might be a better deal for the
Cuban people than its elimination. In the long run, maintaining it may
help to reinforce an institutional framework that is necessary for the
country’s future. To lift it would open the door to more corruption,
more opportunism, and more wrongdoing.

If the embargo is lifted now, who shall ensure justice, fairness and
reason when it comes to contracting debts and investing, and defend the
true interests of the Cuban people? Who will decide what course to
follow as a nation? Capitalist partners, companies like Odebrecht, or
the state which has squandered billions of dollars on a demented “Battle
of Ideas” and dispatched thousands of agents and troops to infiltrate
half the world?

This is not to deny the advantages of an end to the embargo, but rather
to endorse a careful selection of the right moment for it. In the midst
of the current clamor to lift it, it is essential to weigh the risks.
Wouldn’t it be better for Cuba, before lifting the embargo, if
Washington and the European Union, as well as other countries in Latin
America, headed up by Brazil, insisted upon a true change in the
country’s laws, guarantees, and that the Castros give up their
monopolistic and repressive control of the country? Given the current
decrepitude of the regime’s leadership, and the cracking of its
ideological control mechanisms, this would be more feasible than ever.

It is worth asking whether the lifting of the embargo with the Castros
still in power will facilitate a transition to democracy, as its
proponents argue, or, on the contrary, give rise to Cubans’ worst
nightmare: a failed and exclusive state, corrupt to its core, controlled
by a post-Communist cadre of ideological transvestites, propped up in
power by new capitalist partners; a genuine feast for wheelers and
dealers, unprincipled businesspeople and lobbyists of every stripe,
disguised as benefactors and democratic agents.

Source: Is Now the Right Time? | Diario de Cuba –

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