Miami, December 19, 2014—President Obama pulled the trigger on opening relations with Cuba and everyone is wondering what it means.
There’s general agreement that it means business.
And there’s general agreement that this act finally suggests an Obama Doctrine: he is trying to sweep away the spider webs of America’s past and leave a relatively clean slate for his successors. That means no more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, though in both cases that is not working out very well. He is trying to end the 35 year old Cold War with Iran. Remains to be seen if the negotiations, now in overtime, will succeed. He tried to “re-set” relations with Russia, but that failed. Efforts at renewing Palestinian Israeli peace talks have so far been a bust.
As far as what relations with Cuba will mean to the Cubans is the subject of dispute. Obama sold his decision on the basis that opening relations, and the floodgates of contact and commerce, will result in less repression ihn Cuba. He may want to see it that way, but clearly the Cuban government does not. Raul Castro, the still-walking appendage of the Castro brothers who have ruled the island since 1959, thanked Obama for his gesture, but said the Communist Party will continue to hold power no matter what the failures of decades of Communist rule. Hasta la Victoria Siempre, so to speak.
To me that means we’re about to enter into a period of intense corruption on the island. Communist party apparatchiks and cronies of Raul from his days as Defense Minister under brother Fidel, are in charge of all parts of the economy. The state owns the land. The state runs tourism. The state owns the mines. It controls what’s left of Cuban industry.
If China and Viet Nam are any guide, or for that matter, Russia, that means Commissar Capitalism will reign. In the open economy, the deals must be made with the party hacks. Indeed businessmen join the party to gain the authority of being linked to power.
In China, this has engendered official corruption on a massive scale. The current regime says it is cracking down due to the intense revulsion against cronyism and nepotism. In Russia, Putin embraced the so-called Moscow Consensus in which the state has the lead role in managing the economy. It was an answer to the wild free market liberal economics of the so-called Washington Consensus. Putin has strengthened the hold of the state in key enterprises, notably oil and gas, and in all economic ministries. Bribery is rampant.
Cuba’s Communist leaders who have preached the need for sacrifice to Cubans for more than a half-century will now benefit from the coming wave of commerce and investment. The children of apparatchiks will be educated abroad. The bank accounts of officialdom will find a home offshore. The leaders will keep the mansions taken from wealthy Cubans in the 1960s. And all the while, they will insist that the Party must rule to protect the Revolution.
In short, they will be the big winners in the new relations with the US.
Anyway, Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post heaps scorn on Obama’s policy toward dictatorships generally.