David Jessop | Florida and Cuba Politics | Company

Just over a week ago, and for the 30th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning Washington for its continued embargo on Cuba.

The vote passed by 185 votes to two, with two abstentions. Those who voted against were the United States and Israel. The two abstentions were the new government of Brazil which had not yet taken office and Ukraine.

Despite this, there are few signs that bilateral relations will improve or that the embargo could be significantly modified.

The decisive victory in Florida of its Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who may well now decide to challenge former President Trump to be the party’s candidate for the 2024 presidential race, recent American opinion polls and the strong presence of Cuban-American candidates in the swing makes it clear that Cuba will remain a politically potent issue in American domestic politics – that is, an issue that limits the ability of Democrats and Republicans to react rationally despite the danger that the effect pressure cooker of the embargo could exacerbate internal economic tensions in Cuba with destabilizing consequences for all in its periphery.

On the island, power outages, food and medicine shortages, transportation difficulties, lack of maintenance of critical infrastructure, price inflation, growing inequalities for those without access to external family finance and friends abroad, migration, bureaucracy, illegalities and alienation from many young people in the country, continue to be exacerbated by the embargo.

Together, they threaten unpredictable social, migration and geopolitical outcomes in a country where conservative and more liberal factions within Cuba’s Communist Party, military and government seem unable to collectively agree on how an economy of more liberal socialist market could be quickly created. .

Despite this, much of the world’s media pays little attention to the details or substance of what is happening or being said in Cuba, trying instead to assess the complexity of one or another point of view politically partisan without ever having been there.

I observe this as someone who since the 1980s has visited, engaged in dialogue in Havana, Washington, London and Brussels on economic and political issues in various professional incarnations and who now edits the weekly publication Briefing on Cuba, which tries to convey in an apolitical and factual way to an international audience the complexity of what is happening inside the country and beyond.

Seen from this unusually long immersive perspective, the Cuban Communist Party and government now seem locked in a race between its limited ability to deliver a modicum of economic recovery this year and next and to deal with genuine social disaffection and the impact of American policy, while trying to respond on its own terms to geopolitical issues in a way that does not infringe on national sovereignty.

The immediate challenge for the Cuban government is literally and metaphorically to prove to the Cuban people that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Post-pandemic, the economy is slowly recovering but has been slowed by constant power cuts affecting both domestic and industrial supply, which is unlikely to be fully resolved until next year.

More positively, by the end of 2023, Cuba should once again receive near 2019 visitor numbers. If this happens, it will both alleviate the country’s currency shortages and see a much needed cash injection into the informal economy. The outlook for nickel is promising, with opportunities potentially arising in relation to biopharmaceutical production in other countries, while gold production and onshore oil recovery are also promising.

Faced with this, agriculture is in a precarious state, with the emphasis now on self-sufficiency. The country embarked on the restructuring of sugar as a lean fully integrated sector in need of laying off workers and saw its high export value tobacco sector badly shaken by Hurricane Ian. More generally, the country is highly indebted and the combined effect of sanctions and currency shortages is driving up the costs of imported inputs for everything from oil to spare parts.

The government’s response to the resulting economic and social crisis has been mixed.

At one level, it sought to activate the country’s natural entrepreneurial talent through limited legislation empowering the private sector, allowing for the creation of self-managed but partially constrained businesses. On the other hand, it delegated aspects of fiscal, regulatory and other authority to provincial and municipal governments in the hope that efficiency and productivity gains could be achieved locally by still largely conservative subsidiary bureaucracies.

But what he has not dared to do so far, apparently for internal political reasons and fear of American manipulation, has been to free up the private sector and foreign investment in a way that Vietnam and China have demonstrated their effectiveness for socialist economies.

On another level, the Communist Party is clearly concerned about its relationship with the country’s young people who, for the most part, think differently from the older generation and are reluctant to respond to political exhortations. In a recently published commentary, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel told a meeting of the Union of Young Communists that a national strategy was needed to ensure that young people feel capable of achieving their ambitions in Cuba. This requires, he said, “rescuing values” with responses “not alien to young people”.

Another indication of the difficulties facing the government is the declared need to do more to restore confidence in relation to what the president recently described as “the illegalities, thefts and price gouging” perpetrated, he said. he says, by a new “caste” operating “an illegal underground economy at prices few can afford”.

Together, these and other national challenges explain the feeling of national fatigue – accurately described by Elizabeth Dore in her recent book H How Things Fall Apart: What Happened to the Cuban Revolution – especially among Cubans who enjoyed the now-defunct economic equality that the country’s revolution brought.

The response to the pent up accumulated frustrations could be seen in the widespread street protests of July 2021, the backlash that followed, the smaller sporadic events that followed, the lawsuits and the pressure on groups seeking change and greater personal and artistic freedoms, and the resurgence of undocumented migrants. migration.

All this while President Diaz-Canel seeks “respectful dialogue” with Washington and “closer relations, regardless of ideological differences”; the island enjoys greater support throughout Latin America; US-Venezuelan relations relax; Russia is studying a Cuban proposal on the supply of regular cargoes of oil and derivatives, fertilizers and wheat, possibly installed in Rubles; and a much closer economic relationship is sought with the Eurasian Economic Union, China and Vietnam.

Unfortunately, no one asks what will happen if American pressure succeeds, if there is a breakdown of internal order in Cuba, if people flee and if their loved ones cross the Florida Strait to help them, triggering instability term and offshore opportunities for drug traffickers or worse, causing even more harm to the Cuban people. Or alternatively, if the United States – or Cuba – really wants the island to become economically dependent on Russia again.

The absence of serious bilateral dialogue, the embargo and the American policy elaborated through the prism of Florida do not bring any answer.

– David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council. Email: david.jessop@caribbean-council.org To access previous columns, visit: www.caribbean-council.org/research-analysis

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