The New Cuba Policy: Fallacies and Implications

Monday, December 7, 2015
By Dr. Jose Azel in The World Affairs Journal:

The New Cuba Policy: Fallacies and Implications

Following President Obama’s announcement of a rapprochement with the Cuban regime, US government officials have offered three basic avenues to the economic reforms they say will ultimately result in greater personal freedom for the island’s citizens: fostering the small-enterprise sector in Cuba, encouraging US investments, and boosting US tourism to the island. These efforts to produce prosperity, together with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, they believe, will advance US security and democratic governance in Cuba. Critics of the initiative, however, believe that this new policy is, as Samuel Johnson said of second marriages, a triumph of hope over experience, and that in the long run it will harm US national interests almost as much as it disappoints the Cuban people.

The architects of the new policy rationalize that unconditionally ending economic sanctions will strengthen Cuba’s self-employed sector and, thus, foster a civil society more independent of the government. Eventually, they explain, this more autonomous civil society will undergo a revolution of rising expectations that will pressure the regime for democratic governance.

In theory, a good idea. In reality, however, more easily theorized than implemented. In a totalitarian system such as that which has afflicted Cuba for more than half a century, those in self-employed activities remain bound to the government for the very existence of their businesses, which will be subject to the licenses, sanctions, etc. by which the system asserts its power. Rather than conferring independence from the government, self-employment in a totalitarian context makes the newly minted entrepreneurs more beholden to government and governmental controls in myriad bureaucratic ways and not likely to challenge those who have power over them.

Under totalitarian rule, there is nothing intrinsically liberating about having a business. During the student protest in Tiananmen Square, China’s business community did not come out in support of the students. Nor, more recently, were the business communities in Hong Kong willing to jeopardize their status—something dependent on the sufferance of the government—by supporting students promoting democratic change. What makes administration officials think that a Cuban business community bound to an all-powerful state for its very existence would act differently?

Supporters of the new policy believe that a critical mass of self-employment will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the regime to resist the social pressures for change. The vision is of thousands of new micro-firms operating as an unstoppable force for change. But in addition to being tainted by economic determinism, it is also a vision that fails to account for the nature of the Cuban regime or the lessons of Cuban history.

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