Juan Triana (Havana, 1954) is a doctor in Economic Sciences and professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Like almost everyone on the island, he has followed the elections in the United States very closely and is keeping his fingers crossed that Biden finally becomes president. If that happens, he thinks that relations between the two countries will improve, something that could help the process of economic reforms currently underway in his country, although, he assures, the important thing is played at home. Opening the economy and encouraging the private sector is an imperative need, and Cuba must do so regardless of who is in the White House.
Question. What is more important for Cuba, that Trump leaves the White House or the arrival of Biden?
Reply. It is almost more important for Trump to leave, remember the more than 132 measures he adopted during his term in order to surrender Cuba out of hunger. Now, that between Biden is important, because he could continue to share the political vision towards Cuba that he supported when he was Obama’s vice president. But do not be naive. Biden will have his own priorities. He first has to repair the disaster left by his predecessor and I do not believe that Cuba will be among his priorities in the immediate future, nor that he is willing to spend too much political capital on it. He has arrived at the government in the last car of the train of his life, and he has before him much to rebuild on issues of international relations, where it is clear that the United States lost leadership. You also have to understand that Cuba has its own ways of thinking. Our country has always been considered by American politicians as a domestic affair [asunto doméstico, en inglés]. We will probably continue to be, as in the last sixty years, on the negotiating table of the different American political interests, like a wild card in a card game. We Cubans can be satisfied with the victory of the Biden-Kamala duo, but any US government is always a challenge for Cuba, even if that government was “socialist”, a ghost that Trump used to fish Cuban votes. It is, to reduce it to the most superficial, a simple problem of size. We have an example with the Obama Administration: just a year after their approach, North American travelers became decisive for the dynamics of tourism in Cuba and even in the projection of the growth of the hotel plant.
P. With his narrow victory and the Senate dancing, what can Biden do that depends on him to improve relations between the two countries?
R. There is a difference between what you want to do and what you can do. They are different things. However, he can, if he wants and is part of his party’s strategy, to dismantle those 132 measures that Trump instrumentalized, and especially to nullify Title 3 of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed against foreign investors who supposedly They “traffic” with expropriated goods. It is more difficult to dismantle the Law, made to recolonize Cuba, since two thirds of the Senate are needed. In addition to resuming the relationship “model” that the Obama administration adopted, Biden can do several things. It can give greater facilities for North Americans to travel to Cuba, even remove all restrictions. It can foster scientific cooperation on issues of interest to both countries, such as biotechnology and agriculture, and it would have the support of many very important North American institutions. It can loosen the financial pressure on Cuba without removing the embargo. It can substantially cut the funds that OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) dedicates to pursuing business with Cuba. It can promote and encourage forms of productive cooperation with Cuba and allow investments under specific licenses. You can take the “people to people” exchange to a higher plane, there you have plenty of space. But it all starts with “can.” It will depend on the balance of power in the US, and we must not forget the lobby Cuban, which has several congressmen and senators from both parties. There is a lot of political capital at stake. Undoubtedly, it is Biden-Kamala’s decision, but not only theirs: Cuba is no more important to the Democrats than the goal of securing the presidency for four more years. In any case, as long as the relationship between Cuba and the United States depends on the will, the desires, the addition and subtraction of the political interests of a North American president and the party in power, Cuba should not “risk the future” with excessive weight Relationship with the US The “Trump nightmare” just happened to us after Obama’s midsummer night’s dream, and it shouldn’t happen again.
P. Is there a chance that Biden is the president who lifts the embargo?
R. The answer is closer to no than yes. The blockade was codified in the Helms-Burton, it takes two thirds of the Senate for it and that the House of Representatives ratify it. But since Cuba has always been used to negotiate other interests, because although the possibility is remote, it is not entirely impossible. I don’t think the establishment Democrat be ready to play that card immediately, if, of course, they are thinking about permanence after Biden. Kamala can be strategic in that endeavor. She is in some way an earthquake in the North American political system, woman, black, daughter of immigrants and also intelligent, capable and trained in the political game in the US Biden is the past-present, Kamala is the present-future. Many planets have to be aligned to lift the blockade, but nothing is impossible. It will also depend on how the rapprochement between the two governments advances, although it would be naive to think that Miami will have no weight in that decision as long as Florida continues to be decisive in the North American elections.
P. Cuba could also help a little in that matter, right?
R. I have always wondered why the Cuban authorities do not appoint an Honorary Consul in Miami with the capacity to issue visas. That would open spaces, without a doubt. Reduce passport costs, extend its validity for ten years, eliminate extensions. Look at how many things can be done only on the immigration issue and I am sure it would have a positive impact on Cubans residing in the United States. Also, transparently allow investment in the country by Cuban emigrants, something that is in the spirit of the Investment Law, but not in the minds of some who decide in Cuba in this regard. This would not only operate as an economic resource, but also a political one. It is true that it would generate internal discrepancies, but I believe that the price of not doing so is higher. The blockade is a large wall that can be destroyed brick by brick. We must take advantage of and do now on both sides.
P. Cuba is immersed in a complex process of reforms that will give more space to private initiative, SMEs, etc … How can change in the White House influence this process?
R. Having a less aggressive environment is always better than living under Trump’s aggression. However, I believe that in Cuba there is a structured government program, designed since before Trump, even before Obama. It is true that it has been “frozen” and that it has had delays, from my point of view excessive. But I see much more solidity now, consensus has been reached that previously could not be reached, it has been learned, sometimes in a painful process. This program responds to problems that we Cubans must solve, beyond the color of the North American presidency. It would be a tragic mistake to make our development strategy based on US policy and what happens in the US In the same way, it would be a tragic mistake to conceive it with our back to what is happening in that country, since geography exists.
P. Some fear that the oxygen that easing pressure will give the economy may tempt the government to once again slow down reforms
R. The fears of some people in Cuba that a “softening” with the United States could have a delay effect on the pace and speed of reforms is legitimate. It is not the first time in our economic history that a favorable external environment leads to the slowing down of agreed transformations, and even to the abandonment of them. However, I believe that this is a very different moment, we have walked a long way, there are expectations raised among Cubans here and there and, above all, there is a reality that shows that we must move forward and put our foot in the ground. accelerator, without running out of control. The transformation agenda that the Government has announced is not a function of the US administrations’ plans for Cuba. This agenda responds to facts and consensus reached and above all to deficits that have not been able to be settled for years and sometimes decades. It is our problem, it is our challenge and it is our task to solve it. Without a doubt, in a friendlier environment it is less difficult.
P. Beyond the US factor, there is unanimity among analysts that Cuba will succeed only if it makes the reforms it needs. Do you see the Government aware of this situation?
R. I am part of that unanimity, although the term itself causes me a certain sting. More than conscious, I have seen the Government “pushing” in recent months in the direction of reform. There is little that has been done, perhaps pressing for the deficits accumulated and increased by the pandemic, but if we make a list there are dozens of measures, hundreds of decisions, intense work. The transformation that is taking place in Cuba can no longer be stopped, the leaders of this process themselves have recognized it and demanded greater speed. It would be economic and political suicide to try to reverse this process of transformation.
P. The rates of economic reform are important. What must be done urgently?
R. I think that achieving a greater openness of the economy is decisive and urgent; Finding the best ways to foster relationships between state and non-state organizations is decisive, something that does not depend on the US However, time is not an easy variable to manage. What things must be done? Virtually all that have been announced. From those that advocate greater independence for the socialist state enterprise, something repeated ad nauseam in recent times, to others that seem minor and much more specific, for example, legalize and regulate the slaughter of larger cattle to their owners. [que ahora es delito] and its direct sale in places with adequate conditions for it. There is the exchange and monetary reform, an essential part of the so-called “Ordering Task” that covers not only the strictly monetary; the long-awaited law of small and medium enterprises; the firm commitment to expanding self-employment, eliminating the current restrictive list of authorized jobs; strategic issues for development such as achieving synergy between our scientific institutions and companies, all of them, state and non-state; advance much more in opening up to foreign investment; end the prejudice on investment by Cubans who live abroad and have enough capital to do so; empower local authorities on the latter matter, etc. All are urgent and most are also strategic. Many, if not all, of them were identified before Biden and some from before Obama’s first term. But it has taken too long and the cost has been high. Today I think it is a lesson learned, and we have facts to prove it. In any case, the pace of a reform depends not only on internal factors, but also on other external ones, which are not always manageable. We must not rethink the country because Biden has won the elections, we must continue thinking as a country and doing for the country, and take advantage of the victory of Biden and Kamala for the good of Cuba.