Obama’s Victory Shores Up The Cuban Regime
Obama's Victory Shores Up The Cuban Regime / Ivan Garcia
Ivan Garcia, Translator: Unstated
It was not only Barack Obama's supporters in Chicago's Democratic party
circles who celebrated the close victory over his Republican challenger,
Mitt Romney,with champagne. Though without as much rejoicing, the club
of Communist businessmen, who together control 80% of Cuba's feeble
national economy, probably also spent midnight on November 6 calmly
celebrating the Obama victory with a toast.
In the last four years the measures approved by the Democratic
administration have caused the cash registers in Cuba to ring out
joyfully. Since January 2008, when the "Hawaiian hurricane" captured the
attention of half the world with his restrained conversational style and
promises of change, the issue of Cuba has never been among his political
Obama came to the U.S. presidency buffeted by a terrible crisis which
shook the foundations of the world's largest economy, two ongoing wars
and a trail of international condemnation for the aggressive and
unilateral policies of his cowboy predecessor, George Jr.
In his first term he rescued Detroit's automotive industry which,
alongside Coca Cola, Apple and McDonald's, is a symbol of American
greatness. Against all odds he got Congress to approve "Obamacare" and
brought American troops stationed in Iraq home. Obama is perhaps the
best president the United States could have had in these times.
According to a poll by the Elcano Institute 70% of Europeans approve of
his administration. In Africa, Asia and Latin America the numbers are
similar. Only in Israel is Romney favored over Obama. His list of
unfulfilled promises is short. Within the first two years of his
presidency a Republican-majority Congress became a formidable opponent,
blocking all his legislative initiatives.
Because of China's economic expansion, the Arab Spring, the Iranian
nuclear threat and the euro zone crisis, the diplomatic squabble with
Washington, which the regime in Havana often stages as a publicity
stunt, is not high on the Obama agenda.
In terms of Cuba the first black president has fulfilled his election
promises. He re-instituted family-related trips to the island as well as
cultural and academic exchanges, and increased the amount of money that
could be sent to Cuba to $10,000. But the Castro brothers wanted more.
They wanted Obama to rescind the economic embargo and grant political
pardons to five Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States.
The White House's spokesmen were emphatic. The ball was in Cuba's court.
It was Raúl Castro's turn at bat. Pressured by the death of the
dissident Orlando Zapata after an 82-day hunger strike, the government
negotiated the release and exile of almost a hundred political prisoners.
Castro II was also committed to a pallid economic reform plan and to
getting rid of absurd restrictions that prohibited Cubans from having
mobile phones, buying and selling cars, and renting hotel rooms. And
although officials in the White House saw the reforms in Cuba as a step
forward, the bar was not raised with new liberalizing initiatives. They
demanded democracy, respect for human rights and the political
opposition, and that the general remove the padlock from the internet.
The official press, the voice of party that had controlled the destiny
of Cuba for 53 years, called off the brief honeymoon with Obama. Fidel
Castro cast the first stone with a barrage of attacks on the American
leader and on "Yankee imperialism."
But behind the curtains, where real politics take place, the mandarins
can feel satisfied. In the last four years, thanks to family
reunification measures adopted by Obama, remittances have doubled from
one billion dollars to a little more than two billion in 2011. The value
of commercial goods brought in by agencies and "mules" hovers at around
three billion. After Canadians, Cuban-Americans make up the second
largest group of visitors to the island.
The autumn of 2012 was critical for General Castro. If Hugo Chávez and
Barack Obama had lost their elections, regime officials in the Palace of
the Revolution would have been forced to dust off emergency contingency
plans, which would have quickly led to changes more serious and profound
than the current ones.
The victories by Chavez and Obama are a dose of oxygen for the Cuban
autocrats. The purchase of one hundred million barrels a day of
Venezuelan petroleum at wholesale prices, combined with the deep pockets
of the Bolivian comandante and the continuation of Obama's policy of
family re-unification, will allow fresh funds to flow into government
coffers, and the Castros will be able to sleep soundly.
It is not that inside Cuba everything is rosy. Far from it. But Obama's
re-election has given Castro II significant room to maneuver.
More importantly, it buys time, especially if we remember that Fidel is
86 and Raúl is 81. At their ages, having four more years to steer the
ship through calm waters in a country that survives on charitable
donations and remittances from overseas is good news. It warrants
opening a bottle of champagne.
Photo by Pete Souza, official White House photographer. Born in the
United States in 1954, Sousa is of Portuguese background.
November 8 2012