Questions, but no answers yet
Posted on Friday, 10.22.10
Questions, but no answers yet
BY PAUL WEBSTER HARE
Cubans are hearing about big changes in their country but not from their leaders — the revolution has gone silent. Why is Raúl Castro not explaining the changes? Why is Fidel Castro not talking about Cuba at all?
Here are 10 major issues that Cubans are learning about through statements of trade unions and in the government media — and the questions that go unanswered.
1. Cuban workers have been told that a million of them — the same number as the entire Cuban Communist Party — are surplus to requirements. They can now run licensed private businesses in 178 activities, employ nonfamily members and earn profits if they pay taxes. Fidel Castro’s eldest son, touring Japan this month, is saying Cubans should learn from Japanese entrepreneurs.
Q1. What will be the limits of the Cuban public sector where more than 80 percent will still work? Will these licenses be revoked in the future, as has happened in the past? Will the businesses be able to finance their equipment and their vehicles? What buildings will they use?
2. Cuba hopes to discover new oil reserves offshore. The government says there is vast potential for Cuba.
Q2. What is the plan for using these resources? Will Cuban private businesses be able to win business in the oil sector?
3. Foreigners are now allowed to buy and sell property in Cuba. Leases of up to 99 years have been authorized. Foreigners will play golf on new courses to enjoy along with their condos.
Q3. When will Cubans be given the same rights to invest as foreigners? And will Cubans be able to benefit from the market value of their homes?
4. The Cuban revolution is releasing and sending into exile dozens of political prisoners. The government has long claimed they were justly convicted for crimes against the state.
Q4. Is exile now the only route for Cubans with different opinions? What will happen to discussion within Cuba on ideas about political and economic openness — the new entrepreneurs? Will the jails be the ultimate deterrent again, when even Raúl Castro now favors some of the economic ideas of the opposition?
5. The Cuban government continues to pay the millions who work for the state in one currency — the old peso — but many products are only available in CUCs (Cuban currency tied to the U.S. dollar).
Q5. How will Cubans survive long term, when an average salary is worth 15 CUCs a month and a bottle of cooking oil is only available at 3 CUCs?
6. Raúl Castro is not antagonizing the United Sates, saying little at all. Meanwhile, Fidel Castro is calling President Obama “the little gentleman who’s there in the presidency” and thinks former President Harry Truman “must be in some place in hell.”
Q6. What is the Castros’ policy toward the United States, where more that one million Cubans live and which is one of its major food suppliers?
7. After 51 years of revolution, with their leaders all well over 70 years old, Cubans see their country is dependent on Venezuela with more than $5 billion of annual subsidies. Yet in the September 2010 elections, the opposition to President Hugo Chávez won a majority of votes.
Q7. What is Plan B if Chávez loses power in 2012? Will Cubans suffer again, just like after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
8. The Castros welcome political contacts with China. But they say nothing about the implications of following China’s economic policies.
Q8. Is Cuba still communist? Does Raúl Castro believe now that “to get rich is glorious”? Does he believe, like the Chinese, that prosperity for all is the aim of government? And if the cat catches the mouse, who cares about its color?
9. The Cuban national institute of statistics reports that less than 3 percent of Cubans access the Internet.
Q9. Is there really a bandwidth-technology issue, or is the government determined to hide something?
10. The president of Cuba is not explaining the country’s future to the people. Cuba’s youth are apathetic. Raúl Castro did not even speak at the sacred Moncada festival on July 26.
Q10. What plans does Raúl Castro have for the future of Cuba?
Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba, teaches at Boston University.