Cuba-Russia Relations: Much Ado about Nothing

HAVANA, Cuba. – There’s a phrase frequently used in English: “not to see the big picture.” It means not seeing the forest for the trees, to get stuck on the small details and not see the whole picture and its reach. The opposite is true in Cuba: people here get dizzy over literal statements, without reading between the lines, or identifying the fine print, the trap.

That is what has happened with the announcement that Cuba and Russia will return to a level of relations similar to the one Cuba had when the Soviet udder was ready to feed on demand its handicapped offspring of the Caribbean then ruled by Fidel Castro. While the official and independent media elaborate about this new phase of dependency, people have begun to incorporate this subject matter in their daily debates.

To learn about what Cubans think about being supported once again by Russia, CubaNet started a survey – a vox populi – which, but for a couple of exceptions, showed that the new partnership between the Cuban Communist Party and the Kremlin is raising few expectations among the people. At this stage of the game, thinking Cubans expect nothing to be for their benefit. Russia today is not the USSR, nor is Díaz-Canel Fidel Castro, and neither is this the era of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).

In Bayamo, an MIPYME (small business) manages the Plaza Roja Restaurant, where waitresses tend to their business dressed in typical Russian garb. The Cuban government has just extended the license period to fourteen Russian companies that make or process food products to export them to the island, and not a day goes by without some talk about projects to be implemented in common, or about this or that, while Hard-currency stores remain deserted, stocked with the same green peas cans from last year and plenty of mediocre-quality beer.

The Cuban woman who opined in the vox populi that nothing positive will come from this rapprochement, as are those who say that the Cuban government is blowing up this lie so people believe there is hope, especially those people who remember the 1980s as a referent of “prosperity thanks to the Russians”. Those folks, lost in the announcement, do not know that in May 2022 it was said that Russia would export food products to the island, among them shellfish, processed meats and dairy products. More than a year has passed and those products are nowhere to be found, while hunger in Cuba is rampant and children seven years and older have Zuco sodas for breakfast, which is junk-food for one’s health.

The government inflates the data so that Cubans can think that things will improve. There are always those enthusiasts who believe that solutions should come from abroad, like the individual in the vox populi who says he admires and holds Putin in great esteem, as if the two were life-long bosom buddies. The dictatorship wants to replicate this citizen archetype who talks nonsense, who doesn’t think or puts up any resistance. That’s the reason there is rum in bulk in every state joint, and hunger multiplies to the point of desensitizing people, thus reducing Cubans to a bundle of nerves, confused, passive, and half out of his mind.

That is Cuba’s reality, where every project with foreign capital is just that: a project that is postponed indefinitely because something doesn’t click right, the bureaucracy is still in the way made worse by fuel shortages that are not solved in spite of all the sweet-talking with Putin’s regime.

The one thing that has occurred is the unexpected impudence of Josep Borrell – the European Union’s High Representative – who affirmed that Cuba could be the Mallorca of the Caribbean, an absurdity that could only be spoken by someone under pressure from European capital, which is worried for sure about Russia’s advance in the island and the Cuban government’s concessions to other countries.

While the Russians are granted territory to exploit for the next three decades, tax-free, and Cuba gives Canada the management rights for Cayo Largo del Sur, Spain only has the hotels from the Meliá and Iberostar chains, which are filthy, almost destroyed and lacking in attractive deals.

With so much pump and circumstance in favor of Russia, Cuba is pressing Europe to get with it or be left out of the game. So Borrell crawled his way to Cuba to celebrate the MSMEs and to make it crystal clear that no orders would be imposed on the regime regarding the Political Dialogue Agreement; that the subject of political prisoners was secondary – even tertiary – for the European Union, and that the priority was to talk about business.

As things stand, the Cuban regime gloats with its impunity and approves the Expropriation Law for public interest reasons, which will allow the government to confiscate anyone’s home or business. At the same time, the Minister of the Economy has stated that Mipymes owners are getting rich, and that this cannot be tolerated, which means that a raid against the “evil” they themselves created –and which has not improved the unbearable situation of Cubans – is quickly approaching.

For public opinion, plans with Russia are like a vanishing point on the horizon, because too many things would have to be changed in Cuba, and it will take more than money.

Cuba’s catastrophic infrastructure is too great a burden for the Russians to assume. Russia might impress the citizens of an extremely poor country like Cuba, but in comparison to other powers, Russia’s economy is relatively small and is now compromised by a war that has lasted much longer than was expected.

The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the person who issues them and do not necessarily represent the opinion of CubaNet.

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