History Lessons for the Architects of the New U.S.-Cuba Policy
Investigador, Universidad de Miami
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- Following President Obama’s announcement
of a rapprochement with the Cuban regime, U.S. government officials have
offered that fostering the small enterprise sector in Cuba is a
centerpiece of the new policy.
Architects of the new U.S.-Cuba 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
function as agents of change pressuring the regime for democratic
This is an ethnocentric proposition anchored on economic determinism
that overweighs economic variables and fails to understand the Cuban
regime. For example, in a totalitarian system, those in self-employed
activities remain bound to the government for the very existence of
their businesses. Self-employment in a totalitarian setting does not
confer independence from the government. On the contrary, it makes the
newly minted entrepreneurs more beholden to the government in myriad
bureaucratic ways as few are willing to risk their livelihood
antagonizing their all powerful patrons.
History instructs us as to the outcome we can expect. During the student
protest in Tiananmen Square, China’s business community did not come out
in support of the students. More recently we also witnessed a similar
situation in Hong Kong. Sadly, these business communities were not
willing to jeopardize their positions and support the students promoting
democratic change. What makes administration officials think that a
Cuban business community bound to an all powerful State for their 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. That is, thousands of
micro-firms operating in Cuba would be an unstoppable force for change.
From this perspective of economic determinism, governments under such
pressures must change or collapse. Again, this fails to account for the
nature of the Cuban regime. We can look for instruction in Cuban history.
Beginning in the early days of the Revolution and climaxing with Fidel
Castro’s “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, the Cuban regime embarked on
an effort to eliminate all private property. First came the
expropriations of foreign enterprises, followed by the expropriation of
large Cuban owned businesses and finally all economic activity was taken
over in 1968.
According to Cuban governments’ statistics, 55,636 micro enterprises,
mostly of one or two persons were confiscated. Among them, 11,878 food
retailers, 3,130 meat retailers, 3,198 bars, 8,101 food establishments,
6,653 dry cleaners, 3,345 carpentry workshops, 4,544 automobile mechanic
shops, 1,598 artisan shops and, 1,188 shoeshine stands.
Even with this sizable private sector in operation, the regime was able
to exert total control. Moreover, this private sector had fresh memories
of an imperfect, but significantly free pre-Castro Cuba. It was a civil
society still imbued with the political principles of the 1940’s Cuban
Constitution enshrining liberty. And yet, this civil society was unable
to prevent the communization of the Island, or bring about change in the
Not coincidentally, and perhaps correlational, this period was the most
brutally repressive of the Castro era with thousands of executions and
tens of thousands of long-term political prisoners. A strong argument
could be made that self-employment without political freedom requires
intensified repression in order to maintain control. Thus, increased
repression in Cuba could be one of the unintended consequences of the
The self-employment Cuba permits consists of permits to provide services
in 201, subsistence activities such as repairing umbrellas and peeling
fruits. Its participants are mostly individuals born after 1959 with no
living memories of political freedoms. So, on what grounds do supporters
of the new policy formulate change championed by the newly self-employed?
Controlled laboratory experimentation is mostly unavailable to social
scientists. Therefore, our analysis is necessarily based on the use of
analogies, often borrowed from historical experience, as I have done
above. The new U.S.-Cuba policy is one that accommodates the Cuban
regime for the continued denial of political freedoms. It is a
condescending formulation that sets aside expectations of freedom
without offering even an analogical defense for the thesis that freedom
may come some day as a byproduct of economic engagement.
In the United States we believe in the presumption of freedom. And yet,
the new policy abandons the historical U.S. exigency for political
freedom. Therefore, just as the burden of proof is on the accuser and
not on the accused, the burden of demonstration on the efficacy of the
policy is on those yielding on our core principle of freedom. The
advocacy for liberty needs no validation.
Source: History Lessons for the Architects of the New U.S.-Cuba Policy –
Misceláneas de Cuba –