Wednesday, August 20, 2014

U.S. living in the past over Cuba

U.S. living in the past over Cuba
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By Global Public Square staff

Remember last December when President Barack Obama shook hands with
Cuban President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, and
got a lot of criticism for it? In truth it didn't signal any sort of a
real rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban
rapprochement of note is a different one – with Vladimir Putin, who
recently made the long trip to Havana.
While there, Putin forgave about $32 billion worth of debt that Cuba had
accrued from the former Soviet Union decades ago and that Russia had
inherited – that's 90 percent of Cuba's outstanding debt to Moscow.
In addition, Russian officials recently confirmed that Cuba has also
provisionally agreed to reopen a spy post. This eavesdropping facility,
150 miles off the coast of Florida, allowed Russia to spy on the United
States until it closed in 2001. (Putin denied claims that he's reopening
the listening post in Cuba, but many experts doubt his denial).
What in the world is going on?
Remember that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Havana lost
billions in aid and subsidies from Moscow. The Cuban economy plunged,
contracting by about a third.
Then Cuba found another oil-rich regime to prop it up: Venezuela. Trade
with Venezuela accounted for about 20 percent of Cuba's GDP in 2012. But
plunging oil production and political instability in Venezuela means
that Cuba needs to build new ties.
Enter Vladimir Putin, who is in his latest incarnation trying to show
the world that he doesn't need the West and that Russia can forge its
own global ties. The Moscow-Havana alliance is a sad setback because
Cuba was actually on the road to reform. Since Raúl Castro replaced his
brother Fidel as president in 2008, he'd begun a series of changes that
point to liberalization.
In the past three years, parts of the economy were transferred from the
state to the private sector, as Cuba slowly edged toward capitalism. For
the first time in 50 years, Cubans were allowed to openly buy and sell
homes and to set up restaurants. They could even purchase modern,
foreign cars! Farmers can now work on land that is not state-owned. Cuba
seemed to also be gaining traction in other areas. Remittances and
travel have increased. Cuba had even renewed stalled relations with the
European Union.
These are all positive steps, even if many of the reforms have been
half-hearted and tepid. Of course, Raúl Castro is trying to do what so
many autocrats do – reform fast enough to fix the sluggish economy, but
slow enough for the Communist Party to maintain control of it.
Well now, Cuba's transition to openness may have suffered a major
setback given the news of its renewed alliance with Russia. But the
United States is guilty as well – of empowering the Stalinists within
Cuba's government, who are making the road to capitalism hard and slow.
What is Washington doing? Maintaining its highly ineffective and
outdated 50-year embargo against Cuba.
Every year for the past 22 years, the United Nations has demanded an end
to the blockade, but to no avail. The embargo and exclusion from
institutions like the World Bank have isolated Cuba from America and its
influences and instead allowed countries like China – Cuba's second
largest trading partner – and now Russia to make deals with Havana.
It's not just Putin who's living in the Cold War past. It's Washington
as well.

Source: U.S. living in the past over Cuba – Global Public Square - Blogs -

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