Thursday, December 18, 2014


Last Wednesday President Obama announced a change in American policy toward Cuba. The US will open an embassy in Havana, will permit banking transactions, and will liberalize (but not eliminate) travel restrictions. In addition, it will release the remaining three members of the Cuban Five.

In exchange, Cuba will free Alan Gross, an American held prisoner for five years. And we'll get more rum and cigars.

We should have seen it coming, for there have been a number of articles in recent weeks that augured the event.

Let's begin with last week's Socialist Action (SA), oddly entitled Cuba Expands Women's Reproductive Rights. Here's the lede.
Abortion has been legal in Cuba since the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959 and was codified into law as a women’s “sovereign right” in 1968. 
Vilma Espin, a feminist and revolutionary fighter, was made the head of the new Federation of Cuban Women and later created the National Center For Sex Education, now headed by her daughter Mariela Castro Espin. As a result of Espin’s role in the revolution and heading an organization of over three million Cuban women, women’s reproductive rights were always on the agenda. Not only was abortion legalized; all women have access to free contraception.
Cuba is now launching a new campaign to address the low birth rate, which is due to the choices Cuban women have been making for decades.
No kidding about the low birth rate. Cuba's fertility is now 1.45, way below 2.1 required to maintain the population, and even below the United States' 2.01. It's odd that SA should point this out. After all, they're long-time and enthusiastic supporters of abortion rights. It should go without saying that women who use birth control and have abortions are less fecund than those who don't. Champion contraception long enough and extinction is eventually what you'll end up with.

A low birthrate is not Cuba's only problem. In addition people leak out as emigrants. Anybody with any smarts or ambition is leaving the country, not only for the US, but also in favor of Mexico and other Latin American countries. Folks remaining in Cuba are disproportionately lazy and stupid.

Note also that SA inadvertently reveals the corruption and nepotism of the regime. Chief bureaucrat Vilma Espin consorted with the high and mighty and passed her sinecure on to her daughter, who inherited the position partly by spreading her legs. She's married to a Castro. Who needs revolutionaries like that?

The Militant remarks on a Nov. 3rd editorial in the NYTimes (apparently not available on-line) in which the Times explicitly recommended today's strategy. Author John Studer invents a distinction between the Times and the Washington Post.
In decades past the Times was a major voice of the U.S. ruling families, but today it represents a narrower section of bourgeois public opinion. Instead, it has come to more reflect the prevailing views among meritocratic professionals centered in academia, the media, “think tanks,” “nonprofit” institutions and the like.
Speaking for the great bulk of the U.S. propertied rulers, the Post responded Oct. 20 to theTimes’ campaign for a shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in an editorial titled, “Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Denying Freedom to Its People.”
Mr. Studer appears to claim that the US rulers wouldn't take the Times' advice. If so, then Mr. Studer is wrong.

So why is this deal happening now? The Cuban government had many opportunities to normalize relations going all the way back to the Nixon administration. Walter Russell Mead offers some insight here, but the basic reason is simple: the Cubans are desperate.

Cuba has never had a self-sustaining economy. Prior to to 1991 it was a vassal of the Soviet Union, subsidized as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. The bankruptcy of the Soviet bloc plunged Cuba into its own bankruptcy, known today as the special period. As Michael Totten describes it,
...the country experienced unprecedented pain and deprivation when Moscow cut off its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalist and longtime Cuba resident Mark Frank writes vividly about this period in his book Cuban Revelations. “The lights were off more than they were on, and so too was the water. . . . Food was scarce and other consumer goods almost nonexistent. . . . Doctors set broken bones without anesthesia. . . . Worm dung was the only fertilizer.” He quotes a nurse who tells him that Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter orange and used the black powder in batteries for hair dye and makeup.” “It was a haunting time,” Frank wrote, “that still sends shivers down Cubans’ collective spines.”
While Castro made some halfhearted attempts to juice up foreign investment and revive tourism, the special period didn't end until another sugar daddy came along, in the form of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. That country has been giving Cuba 100,000 barrels of oil per day in return for medical services. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan economy is imploding and the price of oil is down by 40%. That sugar daddy is about to disappear.

Apart from Venezuelan oil, Cuba's largest foreign exchange earner is likely prostitution. The trade drives much of the tourism traffic. That's hardly the hallmark of a healthy society.

So Cuba is forced into the arms of the Yanqui imperialists. That's not good for the regime--more American money, tourists, and influence will make running a police state even harder. So they're doing their best to keep us at arm's length, as Walter Russell Mead describes. Still, the regime can't let life get any worse than what it is. Michael Totten describes.
Even employees inside the quasi-capitalist bubble don’t get paid more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance. 
The maximum wage is just the beginning. Not only are most Cubans not allowed to have money; they’re hardly allowed to have things. The police expend extraordinary manpower ensuring that everyone required to live miserably at the bottom actually does live miserably at the bottom. Dissident blogger and author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment sarcastically in her book Havana Real: “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”
Cuba is a country where even potatoes are considered contraband. That's hardly a beacon of hope for those of us who oppose poverty.

I support Mr. Obama's opening toward Cuba. It probably won't work, but then what we've been doing for the past 50 years definitely doesn't work. If it improves the lives of even a few people, it's probably worth it.

Down with poverty!

Viva Cuba Libre!

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