Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba has been interpreted in many varied ways. Here, I give a different take on it, which has been largely absent from the debate.
The visit of Obama must be put in the context of the ongoing process of “normalisation” of relations between Cuba and the US. As we know, the Presidents of both countries opened, on 17 December 2014 a process of “thawing” of bilateral relations. The White House announced various packages of measures to partially ease its embargo policy. Havana has been criticised for not responding in kind, regardless of the fact that it had not implemented any policy similar to that of the US embargo in the first place!
The Cuban government has, however, responded with policy changes in other areas.
Obama’s visit was a media spectacle, not only political but also with ideological, cultural and even sporting dimensions. Many consciously participated in this spectacle, which had an impact throughout society from the top echelons, to those on the streets who were shown in the international press.
To understand fully what is happening, it is necessary to understand an element of said embargo which many do not recognise. That is that the US embargo policy, in a sense, was “anti-capitalist”! It served as a certain barrier to capitalist expansion.
In the era of the Soviet Union, when in Cuba it was said that foreign invasión and the dollar were bad, this element of the blockade did not make itself felt. With the fall of the USSR, many things changed. For example, the European and Chinese capitalists began to buy up spaces which Havana suddenly became anxious to sell.
With the successive economic crises of the last decades, more and more US capitalists began to look hungily at the market on their doorstep. 11 million inhabitants, a qualified workforce, natural resources and a geographical position to be envied, were all elements which attracted expanding capital. Pragmatically, even people like Donald Trump and Jorge Mas Santos, want to invest in Cuba. Ideological differences, underlined by the blockade, began to seem like obstacles to good business.
The existence of a one party regime doesn’t make US investors lose any sleep. Their experience with China shows that this couold even be an advantage. It makes social control easier and therefore profits more secure, with a population which remembers little of its insubordinate and democratic traditions and struggles.
In Washington, the biggest opponents of the embargo have much to gain, such as agricultural exporters. Groups such as Cuban-Americans for Engagement (café), exploited these sentiments, struggling to demonstrate all the opportunities that were being lost.
In Cuba, a part of the foreign capitalists were no longer “bad guys” following the fall of the Soviet support. “Reforms” were rapidly advancing, with ebbs and flows, but the general impulse towards liberalisation was unstoppable. Contracts of 100-year durations were being negotiated, with access to natural resources, tax exemptions, and rights to exploit workers with limited rights. These deals went on and on, and the only capitalists who couldn’t benefit were those from the US – because of their own government’s policy!
Of course, policy of 50 years is not easily changed, when it has benefitted many materially and electorally over the years. The current Washington administration had to work slowly and steadily towards changing it. the steps it has taken are totally in line with the logic of the capitalist market, and are easily accompanied by a rhetoric of change, modernity and democracy in Cuba.
Agricultural exporters were the first to get permission to trade, even before the Obama presidency.
The airlines also want to expand, so visits to facilitate “contact among the peoples” and licences were issued for many flights. Other transport and tourism wanted to participate, so ferry permits were given, and hotel contracts slowly grow in number.
However, all this is difficult to realise if there are restrictions coming from the US on the dollar in Cuba, and tarriffs in Cuba. Therefore, the restrictions from both North and South are removed almost simultaneously.
Cuban infrastructure also leaves a lot to be desired, such as in telecommunications. Therefore, Google and others were soon given licenses to operate. Havana applied a little resistance initially. The monomopy of Etecsa gave big profits as well as control over information. In the end, they understood that they would have to sacrifice something to allow capital to flow.
In the case of sports, the Big Leagues also got rid of some of its more restrictive rules. The authorities announced a total opening of this sector to the market, previously closed, which rhetoric against “enslaved footballs, and commodified athletes” was applied.
There is no ultra-left paranoia or hidden conspiracy in this analysis. We are dealing with essentially, the dismantling of an “anticapitalist” policy of embargo, by the very capitalists that were effected by it. If there is any metaphorical Trojan horse involved, it is made of transparent chrystal and has been welcomed enthusiastically from without and within the city. The mayor of the city (in this case, the Cuban regime” did everything possible to help it enter, all the while maintaining the normal rhetoric of dignity, sovereignty etc.
By now, the US capitalists who have already been given the green light from Cuba are on their way to getting it in the US too. A green light to exploit our natual resources, labour force, etc. To have US agriculture overrun our own, to have Chevron and co consider fracking which Sherrit has not already occupied, to have Cuban millionaires like Alfonso Fanjul, reincorporate our sugar deposits into his empire throughout the Carribean and Central America.
Of course, the relations of the Cuban people with any other people of the world can only benefit from fraternity and friendship. This must be celebrated and promoted reolutely. Naturally we also must have trade relations with the outside, capitalist, world. The only socialist position is that this trade, both into and out of the country, must remain in the custody of the sovereign and democratic power of our people. At the same time we must re-discover and promote the near-forgotten practice of solidarity between our working people with the working classes of these countries, with their proletarians and peasants.