Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Obama in Cuba - Three Months Later

Obama in Cuba: Three Months Later
06/27/2016 12:57 pm ET
Miriam Leiva
Havana-based independent journalist

In Cuba, time goes by slowly. Raul Castro proudly declares he moves
without rush. Cubans have been waiting 57 years, so in three month
nothing usually happens apart from queues, boring meetings, soap operas,
propaganda, spinning out the ridiculous salaries and pensions, and
selling in the black market. But the three months elapsed since Obama's
almost three-days' visit have run full of unusual events. His respectful
and near tone, life on TV, elaborating on democracy and Cubans'
capabilities to devise their future revealed a new perception of a
president and opportunities, in contrast to Raul Castro's worn out
aggressive speech while tolerating the challenging ideas expressed by
the enemy. The impact on the population has neutralized the political
battle waged under the flag of a revolution, whose permanent failure
diminishes life quality and hopes.

It's not only about trade and investments. In fact, the turn in United
States' Cuban approach was about fulfilling the same goals by other
means: the people-to-people policy. When Raul Castro accepted Obama's
terms leading to D17-2014, he was impelled by the need of an auspicious
environment for huge investments, writing of the unpaid international
debts since 1986 and increasing tourism to cope with the economic
crisis, known as the Special Period, commenced in the early 1990s.
Venezuela's petrodollars were declining and at stake in the short run.
He had to face the challenge of opening the entrenched archipelago to
the world, especially to Fidel Castro's most feared influence: the
United States.

The economic hardships are coped and self-employment flourishes with the
remittances of money by relatives living in the U.S., and the services
offered to the Americans and Cuban-Americans visiting. Remittances
amounted $3.35 million dollars in 2015 with a steady growth since 2009,
when Obama lifted the limits imposed by George W. Bush in 2004. Then
Cuban parents and siblings could only travel to the island every three
years and very limited the other way around. Since restrictions ended,
visits increased from 163,019 in 2009 to more than 300,000 in 2015. In
2009, 52,455 Americans under 12 categories were authorized to travel,
and since January 2015 individuals meeting the conditions laid out in
the regulations do not need to apply for a license, which has
facilitated increasing visitors to 161,233 in 2015, and 94,000 in the
first semester of 2016. When all Americans may travel freely to Cuba,
tourism is expected by the millions. Airlines are getting ready. June
6th, American Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and
Sun Country received permission to resume scheduled commercial-air
service for the first time in more than five decades. In recent years,
only charter flights had been operating. The Department of
Transportation authorized round-trips from five cities in the United
States to nine cities in Cuba other than Havana. The capital will be
decided soon. Service is expected to begin this fall.

Cubans think that wifi in parks in Havana and some towns is a move of
the government impelled by Obama's efforts to facilitate Internet
access, although it is controlled and expensive. They consider that much
more could be achieved, if only the Cuban authorities allow the
implementation of the changes announced by the president on D-17 and
further, such as certain micro-financing projects, and entrepreneurial
and business training and commercial imports for self-employed
(cuentapropistas) and private farmers.

Government surveillance is the same, but Cubans are aware that Americans
are creating a more relaxed environment. Exhibitions and performances by
American musicians, chorus, dancers and actors have huge audiences all
over the country; sportsmen, writers, scientists and academics exchange
expertise on the island and Cubans are also traveling to the United
States. Concerts with thousands of people enjoying the music banned for
decades, Hollywood shooting in Havana, American celebrities in the
streets, cruisers and boats friendly welcomed, are making a difference.

Meanwhile, the embargo is still in place, and Obama's executive orders
advance slowly due to American legislation and Cuban government's fears
and bureaucracy. In the United States, there is a feverish mood among
senators, congressmen, governors, entrepreneurs, traders and lobbyists
for or against lifting the travel band and the embargo, and academics
lecture on how to figure out the intricate Cuban webs. On the island, it
is quite simpler: all decisions are taken by the leaders of the
Communist Party, and the Councils of State and Government: Raul Castro,
with the influence or acceptance of Fidel Castro and their closest
circles. The slow pace might be a sign of their belief that the next
Administration will continue the current path, adjusted to the new
president's characteristics. Nevertheless, the authorities have been
wasting opportunities while trying to keep on herding the population
with ideological campaigns aimed at restraining divergent opinions and
trying to offset American influence.

Miriam Leiva
Independent journalist
Havana, June 25st, 2016

Source: Obama in Cuba: Three Months Later -

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