U.S.-Cuba: Obama 3, Castro 0 / Ivan Garcia
Ivan Garcia, 7 October 2015 — According to Francisco Valido González, 47, a dissident who works in a transit bus cooperative, his association, in theory, can ask for credit from a U.S. bank in order to acquire new buses.
His cooperative’s buses have more than 200,000 kilometers on them, and 15 years of use. In his narrow apartment, a stone’s throw from Calzada de Güines, in the municipality of San Miguel del Patrón in the southeast of Havana, he keeps the auto parts he bought in the informal market under the bed where he sleeps.
From overuse of the buses, breakdowns are constant. “Almost always, between 10 to 12 days a month, I have to stop because of a breakdown,” he told me in December 2014.
Taking a page from Barack Obama’s book on “empowering small businesses and private workers,” Validio wrote a missive to the Minister of Transport soliciting authorization for his cooperative to obtain credit, which would permit it to buy 50 new microbuses.
Nine months later, he’s received silence for an answer. Since 17 December 2014, when both nations surprised the world with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the opinions of Cubans on the street have gone from exaggerated expectation to lassitude and pessimism.
Hundreds of business owners rubbed their hands in anticipation of the new panorama that was approaching. Noelvis, a mechanic in a bus cooperative on Avenue Santa Catalina, made grandiose plans.
His cooperative had been visited by Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “If the Government approves, our cooperative can request credit from a U.S. bank and buy a couple of car washes and modern tools,” he commented last March.
Six months later, Noelvis isn’t so optimistic. “The game of dominoes is stalled. Up above (the Government), they’re not getting off their high horse. They don’t even answer our questions. Total silence.”
Francisco Valido drives a collective taxi 12 hours a day, and in spite of earning 2,500 Cuban pesos a month (a little more than 100 CUCs — equal to about the same in US dollars), to make ends meet at the end of the month he repairs footwear for the residents of the neighborhood.
In the cooperative, Noelvis earns a salary of 2,000 Cuban pesos (about 80 CUCs). “But it’s not enough. Because of the high cost of living in Cuba, you need at least 400 CUCs a month to be able to have two meals a day and pay the rent, light and telephone.” Outside work hours, he fixes old American and Soviet cars. This extra money allows him to live without big worries.
David, a computer specialist, has been embroiled for the last three months in bureaucratic procedures to open a private cybercafe in Havana.
“My project was to buy 12 computers with credit that my family in Miami was going to arrange with a computer company in the U.S. In the cafe there would be a bar. Everything would be air-conditioned with a space for nightly downloads of jazz and trova music. It would have Wi-Fi, and I’m sure that the people who connected sitting on the sunny sidewalk would appreciate it.”
If you walk around Havana and chat with private entrepreneurs, you will hear more or less the same stories. Even the cooperatives, legal entities that appeared under the mantle of the State and which theoretically can invest with foreign companies, are under the governmental magnifying glass.
Marino Murillo, the obese czar of the island economy, has expressed caution in the approval of new cooperatives. “In fact, the Government put the hand brake on,” says a cooperative member in Havana.
On two occasions, December 17, 2014, and September 18, 2015, Obama released a range of measures to dismantle, brick by brick, the codified financial and commercial embargo toward the government of Havana.
Washington emphasizes the spread of Internet service, telephone calls, construction materials, and sea and air travel. The White House is interested in favoring small businessmen, and in allowing Cubans access to new technologies.
But the Palace of the Revolution is not opening its mouth. The shifty ancients in the Government observe the course of events without opening a door or a window.
The Communist regime is interested only in transactions with State companies, 75 percent of which are administered by the military. After nine and a half months of the new agreement between the two countries, which live their particular Cold War, the harvest is meager.
IDT, a U.S. telecommunications company, negotiates with ETECSA, its Cuban State-owned counterpart; Airbnb allows the rental of houses in Cuba from the U.S., and this has increased the number of flights and American visitors to the Island.
But General Raúl Castro keeps the ramparts fortified. There is no Government strategy for private workers to get credit or buy food and foodstuffs from the neighbor to the north.
On the financial terrain, the field continues clogged with the bizarre double currency system, which complicates any commercial transaction. In an arbitrary manner, the Regime implements an artificial exchange rate with the dollar, which makes it more expensive for travelers from the U.S.
The only move on the chess board that the military Government has is giving bombastic speeches and asking for something without offering anything in return.
Up to now, neither Obama nor Pope Francis has been able to handle it.
PHOTO: Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, during their meeting on Tuesday, September 29, in New York. Photo by Doug Mills, The New York Times.
Translated by Regina Anavy