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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cuba is in trouble

Cuba is in trouble
Economic reforms have stalled — and Cubans are running out of patience
Jonathan Manthorpe
Foreign Policy

Under the Castro brothers' brand of feudal Marxism, Cuba has always
needed a sugar daddy.

It hasn't helped the island's economic well-being, of course, that since
Fidel and Raul Castro captured the island in 1959 the United States has
imposed comprehensive travel and trade sanctions. The Soviet Union
stepped in early on to support the Caribbean orphan and for 30 years was
responsible for 80 per cent of the island's imports and exports.

That subsidy came to an abrupt end with the collapse of the Soviet Union
in 1989. Cuba then entered what is euphemistically called the "Special
Period in Time of Peace" — when the country's production dropped by 34
per cent, there was total dislocation of the transportation system and
power outages were common. Mass starvation was avoided, but the average
Cuban lost nine kilograms in weight during this period.

In 1999, that strutting rooster Hugo Chavez came to the rescue. From
then until his death in March, 2013, the Venezuelan president supplied
Cuba with tens of billions of dollars in loans and a steady stream of
heavily subsidized oil at around 200,000 barrels a day. That has all but
dried up as Venezuela's economy and society continues its tailspin under
Nicolas Maduro.

Fortunately for the Castro brothers, a new sugar daddy appeared on the
horizon almost immediately — in the unlikely shape of Uncle Sam.

U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement in 2014 of renewed ties to
Cuba opened the door to American tourism and investment. This prospect
seemed close when Obama visited Cuba in March, the first U.S. president
to do so for nearly a century. However, the Castro brothers are nothing
if not pigheaded — especially Fidel, who only waited until Air Force One
had lifted off before launching another of his classic diatribes against
Obama and all things Washington.

Promises by Raul Castro of economic reforms to enhance a revived,
business-friendly relationship with the U.S. have turned out to be less
than meets the eye. Old Commies find it hard to let go of the simple
doctrines of their youth, even when they've brought them nothing but
failure for half a century.

The result is that with the Venezuelans gone — and the Yankee saviours
having not yet arrived — the Cuban economy is experiencing a sharp decline.

The number of tourists visiting Cuba increased by 17 per cent last year
over 2014, generating gross revenues of $US2.8 billion. But it's a drop
in the bucket. Tourists visit only limited areas of the island and the
bulk of the country gets little benefit. That may change when direct
U.S. commercial flights resume later this month. But for the moment
there's a big hole in the Castro brothers' wallet.

Many Cubans who can are voting with their feet. There's been a
remarkable increase in the number of Cubans making the arduous and
sometimes perilous journey to claim political asylum in the U.S.
It doesn't help that their natural instinct at these moments of economic
stress is to impose price controls and rationing. These act as a major
discouragement to Cuba's already semi-dysfunctional agricultural sector.

Fuel and energy consumption is being cut by 25 per cent. Public lighting
is being reduced and government offices are closing early to save power.
Price controls are being imposed to placate public discontent over
inflation. Imports are being cut by 17 per cent, a severe measure for an
import-dependent economy.

Raul Castro, who now runs the show (unless Fidel feels a rant coming
on), is portraying these moves as pre-emptive action to prevent a return
of the "Special Period." They also amount to another blow to market
reforms — without which the country will continue to flounder.

Many Cubans who can are voting with their feet. There's been a
remarkable increase in the number of Cubans making the arduous and
sometimes perilous journey to claim political asylum in the U.S.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 46,635 Cubans have
entered the U.S. so far this year, up from 43,159 in 2015. And the 2015
total was up 78 per cent on the 24,278 Cubans who made it to the U.S. in
2014, when the Castro regime made it easier for Cubans to travel abroad.
In 2011, only 7,759 Cubans made it to the U.S.

The economic recession at home and uncertainty about when things may
improve are driving this exodus, but there's also the strong magnetic
pull from the U.S. In 1966, as Washington ratcheted up its sanctions
against the Castro regime, it also enacted the Cuban Adjustment Act,
aimed at aiding refugees from the island. The act is sometimes called
the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy; it allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S.
through a regular port of entry, and who pass criminal and immigration
checks, to apply for permanent residence after only a year in the country.

But with relations between the U.S. and Cuba returning to normal,
there's a growing mood in Washington to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Which explains the rush among Cubans who want to get to the U.S. (and
can do so) to make the trip before the fast-track to citizenship is
closed off.

The Havana government has railed against the "wet-foot, dry-foot"
policy, saying it turns Cubans into "victims of human traffickers and
delinquent bands operating in the region. These citizens are victims of
the politicization of the migration theme on the part of the United
States government, which stimulates illegal and unsafe migration."

The most popular route for Cubans is to fly to Ecuador, where entry is
usually easy, and then travel north through Central America and Mexico.
Most of these Cubans — 64 per cent of the total — enter the U.S. through
Laredo, though many also go through El Paso.
But Ecuador has started demanding visas of Cubans and other routes
through the Caribbean rim have become more difficult. Early this month,
Colombia deported 1,350 of about 1,800 Cubans stranded in the town of
Turbo near the border with Panama. This followed Panama's closing of its
border with Colombia in May. In April, Costa Rica closed its border with
Panama, and last November, Nicaragua closed its border with Costa Rica
to Cuban migrants.

The time-honoured alternative is the 145-kilometre sea crossing from
Cuba to Florida. Last year the number of Cuban migrants who registered
with the U.S. border authorities in Miami more than doubled to almost
10,000 from just under 5,000 in 2014.

But since October of last year, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted
5,786 Cubans at sea — taking them home to a not very warm welcome from
the Castro brothers' regime.

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Source: Cuba is in trouble -
https://ipolitics.ca/2016/08/10/cuba-is-in-trouble/
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