February 27, 2013 by Nash Riggins
American companies were left licking their lips over the weekend as Raul Castro formally announced that his upcoming presidential term would be his last, tentatively ending the Castro family’s grip on power in Cuba by 2018 – almost 60 years after it began.
Subsequently, the 81-year-old Raul effectively named his successor to be 52-year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, an electrical engineer and the island’s former Minister of Higher Education. American entrepreneurs are now praying that the impending entrance of a young-ish figure into Cuba’s 54-year drama will open enough doors to spark a proverbial capitalist gold rush. Cubans should pray otherwise.
Similar to the Soviet Union before it, the Cuban government is beginning to prove that modern Communism, in practice, continues to be a failed economic experiment. After coming to power, Fidel Castro’s (slightly) younger brother has publicly stated that the Soviet economic model of centralised control is a sinking ship, and has subsequently done much to loosen the nation’s constraints on private enterprise. He’s also allowed for a limited property market, lifted travel restrictions and provided state enterprises with a substantial level of autonomy. Moreover, Raul has indicated that in the run up to his retirement, he will also outline proposals for a two-term limit for all politicians, as well as an age cap on the nation’s presidency.
Opponents of the Castro family would argue that this isn’t enough – and they’re undeniably right. Raul made that much clear on Sunday, when he told national delegates that he “was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba”, but was actually “elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.” Elected, indeed. Yet whether or not Mr Castro’s reforms are a step in the right direction where his archaic system of government is concerned, the freedom of his people does indeed continue to be stifled by the absence of a representative democracy.
With any luck, Mr Castro’s self-appointed successor could change all that – and regardless of who is spinning the yarn, all accounts say this begins with Havana’s ever-improving ability to appease lobbyists in Washington. Yet on the other hand, Raul’s new number two would also do well to observe Havana as it currently stands and consider whether an open relationship with American enterprise would do enough good in order to validate the ways in which it will deface an otherwise unique cultural heritage.
Indeed, Raul Castro’s announcement on Sunday held little importance where Washington’s current hardline stance against the Cuban regime is concerned. That said, the tentative end of the Castro era in 2018 holds great significance for the nation’s economic future – as America’s trade embargo specifically says that all trade sanctions will remain in place so long as ‘a Castro’ is in charge. Consequently, if the wording of this McCarthy-esque legislature holds true, Raul’s successor will soon be inundated with a series of tantalising offers from American conglomerates that could see the skyline of Havana turned into a local inhabitant’s idea of hell.
Tourism already powers much of the Cuban economy, bringing in around $2 billion per year via an annual 3 million tourists. In fact, around 60,000 Americans even defy travel restrictions by vacationing on the island every year – and while Cuba is inevitably home to a dizzying level of tourist attractions and all-inclusive resorts, it has simultaneously continued to maintain its integrity as a unique, self-contained society. Yet no one can deny that the moment the flood gates are opened for American investors, Havana’s charming, family-run businesses will instantly be replaced by the Hard Rock Café and countless Jimmy Buffett franchises. Meanwhile, the island’s token, pre-embargo antique cars will be replaced by generic Japanese models, and tantalising Cuban cuisine will be all but overtaken by Subways and Pizza Huts.
Yes, the Cuban travel industry would triple in size in a matter of months; however, anyone who cherishes having genuine cultural experiences whilst on holiday should shudder at the thought. Meanwhile, Cubans young and old will be left asking where the hell Cuba went as they fake smiles under the banners of billionaire executives who’re based in the far-off, made-up land of Bentonville, Arkansas.
Luckily for the victims of this dystopian future, the island’s economy can actually afford not to open its doors to new American industries. Raul Castro’s recent loosening of restrictions on Cuban enterprises has allowed the island’s economy to surpass even the United States where growth is concerned, at around 2.7%. More important still, the nation’s health and education are unparalleled within the developing world, and only 1.5% of Cubans are currently living below the poverty level. The percentage of those suffering from poverty in the US is literally ten times that.
This relative economic stability is by no means an argument in the name of Communism – even the Castro family knows that. Moreover, the nation’s ruling party owes it to the Cuban people to offer them a true voice in government. Communism has failed, and it’s time to allow Cubans the freedom to elect their own representatives – yet these vital reforms in the name of freedom cannot be permitted to validate a complete loss in Cuban identity by allowing the nation to sign its soul away to American conglomerates (see the Bahamas).
Long-term trade agreements would effectively tie the Cuban economy’s fate to that of America’s – which has proven to be a volatile quick-fix for countless developing nations since the worldwide economic downturn of 2008. If anything, Cuba’s better off without American enterprise – and democracy or no, the Cuban people had better pray that their first non-Castro leader has the power to reject the numerous offers that will be flooding his inbox in five years’ time. Otherwise, their first taste of Capitalism may seal the fate of an otherwise unique island culture that is undeniably more valuable than a few million dollars in half-hearted foreign investments.