UNITED STATES: Bush's economic blueprint for Cuba


Tim Anderson

Hidden behind the rhetoric of "democracy" in the 458-page report titled "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba", and underlying US President George Bush's regime's plan for a "transition" in the island nation, are all the major features of a US economic blueprint for Cuba.

Bush's approach to the economic blockade that the US enforces against Cuba has been characterised by heightened "human rights" rhetoric, designed to isolate Cuba internationally, and a dangerous escalation of threatening language.

However, his regime also has a more naked corporate agenda, no doubt driven by the same corporations that fund his political machine, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, who are presently enjoying big construction and army supply contracts in war-ravaged Iraq.

Although Bush says he is making an "offer", a "proposal" and a "challenge" to Cuba, there are currently more obstacles than ever to lifting the blockade. As an official at the US Interest Section (SINA) in Havana confirmed to me in mid-October, there are now "more conditions" and there is "no explicit minimum" set out by the US government for the lifting. If Cuba made gestures or "concessions" towards the Bush regime, there is no guarantee at all that the US would respond in kind.

The SINA also talks of a "carrot and stick" approach. The latest "stick" (more restrictions on family visits and money spent from US residents to Cuba) mainly hurts vulnerable Cuban-Americans and their families; while the "carrot" seems to be promises of"aid" to some Miami-based opposition groups if the revolution is overthrown.

However, the SINA official told me that the US may be making promises it cannot deliver. In other words, it could well renege on promises of financial support to Miami, if it achieved its political objectives in Cuba. Such was the case after the Sandinistas lost government in Nicaragua in 1989.

Although, when the economic blockade was established in the 1960s, the US was demanding just reimbursement for nationalised property, economic demands well beyond this are now on the shopping list. In May 2002 Bush added to his demand for US-supervised elections a claim for Cuba to make "significant reforms based on the market .. to change control over private economic activity .. [so that] private employers can negotiate with and pay their employees as they wish .. they must respect the right to property .. workers employed by foreign companies must be paid directly by their employers".

The SINA official revealed that her office had helped edit the 2004 report so that language like "Cuba must/will do" was changed to what the US will do "if Cuba requests". Yet, despite this linguistic device, the same economic themes were repeated.

The US now claims it will help a "free Cuba", but only if "requested": to establish "the core institutions of a free economy"; to "decontrol prices, including energy prices"; to "rejoin the IMF and World Bank ... as quickly as possible"; to encourage private foreign investment; to "design an effective privatization program ... and prepare enterprises for privatization"; to settle outstanding property claims; to establish a new finance ministry; to "promote ownership of private property"; and to establish "free and efficient labour markets". The US also suggests a range of short-term aid and says it may help in "modernising infrastructure" and "addressing environmental degradation".

What this really means is that the Bush plan aims at:

* establishing financial control of industry and resources through crippling debt caused by paying the 1960s compensation claims and funding private contracts for infrastructure;

* establishing the optimal conditions for private corporate entry into Cuba — minimal regulation, deregulated prices, the ability to hire and fire workers and to set wages;

* reestablishing US private control of key Cuban strategic industries;

* dismantling a large number of "inefficient" industries, sacking workers and reduction of all new investment into the key resource industries;

* "marketising" all basic services, with just a "safety net" of state-backed primary education and some emergency health services.

This sort of financial discipline is already well established throughout much of Latin America and Africa, principally through World Bank monitored systems. It has led to unpopular privatisations of water supply, roads and health, and to disastrous collapses in social well-being in countries as diverse as Uganda, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Argentina and Bolivia.

"Modernising infrastructure" and "addressing environmental degradation" are certainly needed in cash-starved Cuba. But this plan would make investment in the construction of new roads, water supply and waste treatment conditional on large contracts being awarded to private giant companies, with the main capital being paid for from an increase in public debt. Furthermore, there would only be new investment in infrastructure linked to private export industries, and environmental standards would be under heavy attack from the newly privileged private resource industries.

The general impact of the Bush Regime's economic plan for Cuba is not hard to assess because it has been seen many times before. There would be massive dislocation and unemployment, a collapse of social security and health guarantees, the privatisation and privileging of key export industries, and the fixing of low wages and high prices by large private companies. Labour unions would be heavily restricted, with organised actions banned. Several thousand Cubans would benefit from their links with the newly privatised companies and commercial spin offs, but several million Cubans would be marginalised and driven into real poverty. Such is the case in Haiti, in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Peru and Argentina.

Even Cuba's world-famous health system would not be spared. In its 2004 report, the World Bank recognised Cuba's extraordinary health achievements. However the bank suggests that such a comprehensive, publicly funded system in a cash-poor country is just too expensive, and questions whether the system can survive the pressures for a "more open and free society", including the pressure of "competition from an economy that relies more on the dollar."

However, Bush is not the last word in US politics. There are strong pressures within the US Congress and the US business community to resume trade with Cuba.

From Green Left Weekly, November 24, 2004.
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