It is said that one day André Breton said to Luis Buñuel that “In our times, my dear, no one is surprised anymore.” I’m afraid that something similar is happening with the new measures of the Trump administration toward Cuba, those that took effect last November 9 when they were printed in the Federal Register. One step in tune with the words “roll back” and “cold war,” practically key since the new mandarins came to power.
And it’s not surprising, first, because of the times: they took five months instead of the 90 days announced at the beginning, and it wasn’t only because of the “Havana deafness” and all the associated environmental noise, which as is known served as the background for the withdrawal of 60 percent of its personnel in Havana and the expulsion of almost two-thirds of the Cuban embassy in DC. That delay is also a sign of the island’s place among the priorities of this administration, consumed by the Russian uterine fire, intra bureaucratic struggles and the syndrome of multiple dysfunctions.
Second, because of a double pattern: it is reiterated that apparently there are tolerable and intolerable, good and bad communists for the current occupants of the White House, as well as for others who were there before. The fact that the sanctions were precisely announced during Trump’s trip to the Asian continent, and specifically to countries like China and Vietnam, controlled by communist parties and with similar human rights and democracy records – seen from the U.S. viewpoint -, does none other than retake the road of an old anomaly that in its time the Obama administration set out to correct. The only difference with the past, in maintaining relations, is almost done away with by being so purely subtle.
Third, because of amnesia. If the aim is to encourage/pressure the movement toward more political and economic freedoms, according to what OFAC says and which diverse administration spokespersons repeat, that exercise of minimalist engineering, which gets to list 180 entities where Americans cannot spend their money, apparently has no knowledge of the motivations, character and the very psychology of the Cuban political class, which since the 1960s has been consistent in not giving in to pressure even in situations like the Missile Crisis. And it seems to understand less that the changes in Cuba are due to domestic logics, perhaps connected in a rather peripheral way with the U.S. variable. The tourist development plans, in place since the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, have been designed without the presence of the northern neighbors, no matter how welcome they have been and even continue being. Those at the bottom have reason to affirm that they do not impose on the United States how to organize their system, and expect that they do the same with them (the government certainly does not proceed in the same way with the Saudi monarchy, or with the Duterte regime in the Philippines). But the asymmetry has been, and continues being, one of the most thorny problems in bilateral relations.
Fourth – but not less important – because of its image. If one follows the spirit and word of what is read and heard, the military are loose electrons that nourish and finance their own activities based on the incomes of the enterprises under their control, as if they did not hand over to the State what they collect. Naturally, in Cuba, as in any other country, the State decides the budget that it gives to its armed institutes and its security, just like it does with education, sports or construction. Perhaps one of the biggest inconsistencies of this Schindler list consists in this, but the other way around, that is, cutting the access to hotels and tourist entities controlled by the armed forces and not to the State’s hotels – in the end, the Kingdom’s Big Black Beast in this story – as well as those of the Cubanacán and Gran Caribe chains.
To the above a corollary is added: no matter what they say, the groups of U.S. travelers starting now will have to stay in official facilities, a blow to the entrepreneurs linked to Airbnb, who fundamentally benefitted from the people-to-people variant, also known as face-to-face, authorized by the previous administration and suppressed by the present one. If what they have been doing since June until now is revised, the package just comes to complicate life more, for both the Greeks and the Trojans. On the one hand, travelers, agencies and businesspeople; and, on the other, these same entrepreneurs, as well as immigrants and non-immigrants who are being sent to get their visas in third countries. Against bridges, pragmatism and persons, on the fringe of the declarative.
Furthermore, in these prohibitions the gap between reality and the papers is rather big, as Argentine César Fernández Moreno would say. Seen from outer space, they are characterized by a high political-symbolic component, as diverse actors have recognized. Beyond regulating the hotel installation where the groups authorized to travel to the island would stay, the receipts that must be kept for five years and the blockades to possible businesses in the scarce opportunities the embargo allows, in practice it is impossible to prevent a U.S. tourist wearing a straw hat, shorts and abundant sweat on the forehead to abstain from buying in the summer months a bottle of mineral water, a “forbidden beverage,” or a bottle of Varadero rum at a Habaguanex bar, a cafeteria or a restaurant, those that abound down Obispo Street, just because now they are managed by the Armed Forces Business Management Group (GAEFA) or because those beverages are produced by the CIMEX Corporation, identified as one of the incubi of the men and women in olive green. Life doesn’t function that way, much less in U.S. culture, whose bearers since the start have a rather sui generis relationship with the government.
All in all, there always remain spaces for other maximalist aspects. The Cuban-American congresspeople, who added fuel to the fire, found out about the new measures through the press and media, which isn’t the first time that this happens in the story that resembles too much itself. Their messages on the social media could be summed up by an okay but, making the pro-Obama federal bureaucracy responsible for the concessions and torpedoes they perceive – one of them, for example, the persistence of the businesses in the Marriot International’s Four Points Sheraton Hotel, over there on Miramar’s Quinta Avenida, apparently a model of what could be achieved through mutual cooperation. And which is why for the same reason it functions with businesspeople from the Old Continent and Canada, and where, like in China and Vietnam, national entrepreneurs with red cards and transnational capitalists, neoliberal or not, are integrated.
However, the problem is more complicated. The congresspeople know it, but don’t mention it: there are sectors within their own party, voices present even in power agencies like the National Security Council, one of those involved in the move, who are increasingly divided in relation to the Cuban question, who are asking themselves if despite the almost proverbial slowness on the other side when accepting concrete proposals, closing windows of opportunities would not leave more space and a more protagonist role to the Russians, Chinese, Spaniards, Belgians.
In the end, there’s nothing that can be done but to recognize it: the big white snake has again bitten its tail.