Cuba Turned Upside Down

When Raul told the Cuban people that they “needed to get used to not only receiving good news,” few could have predicted how right he would be. Since Raul’s speech was given on July 26, Cuba has been battered by three powerful hurricanes, the global financial system has entered into the deepest recession since the 1930s and the Cuban economy has gotten decidedly worse. Before the summer, many Cubans were hoping that Raul was on the verge of implementing more systematic reforms, once he managed to deal with the dramatic rise in prices for oil, basic foodstuffs and other commodities. What do they think now?

Cuba has been literally and figuratively turned upside down over the last six months. Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma destroyed tens of thousands of homes, ruined over a third of Cuba’s crops, and forced the regime to accept large amounts of humanitarian aid from around the world after initially refusing to do so. Furthermore, the global financial crisis has been rapidly spreading from the developed world to everywhere else and shows few signs of abating in the near future. Throughout the various crises that have buffeted the island, Raul has worked hard to maintain the image of strength and of being in control, but how much longer will he manage to keep up the façade if things continue to get worse?

The Cuban economy is in shambles and the severe shortages of food and construction materials have become impossible to hide. The Castro regime has refused to accept any aid from the United States, unless it included with an immediate end to the embargo, which is highly unlikely. Meanwhile, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, has promised aid and greater future cooperation, but has little chance of speeding up its delivery. Cubans’ expectations had already been raised by Raul’s earlier reforms and his reputation for being a more business-like, pragmatic organizer than his brother. All of which begs the question – will this series of disasters be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and forces the regime to open up or will it just be another excuse for the Castro regime to crackdown on any and all forms of dissent?

This issue of the Cuba Europe Dialogues examines the various ways in which Cuba has been affected in the short-term and the long-term by the various crises over the recent months. Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Miguel Iturria Savón offer their perspectives on how the hurricanes have devastated the island and whether or not they have affected the regime’s ability to implement future economic reforms. Philip Peters from the Lexington Institute offers his analysis on the various ways in which the recent US elections could affect future political and economic relations between the US and Cuba. And, Estonian Parliamentarian Mart Nutt reports what he found during his recent trip to Cuba. Lastly, People in Need is releasing their most recent semi-annual human rights report.

In essence, Cuba was already hurting before the hurricanes swept over the island and now things are considerably worse. The international community has been willing to offer help to Cuba without conditions, even as the regime has tried to control how it is used in the relief efforts. Authoritarian regimes have no hesitation about putting their own self-preservation about the needs of its own people. Given how difficult it has been to get through to members of Cuba’s independent society over the last few months and how many people articulated that they were too scared to write down anything, it seems like the repression is working. But will the Cuban people and the international community remain neutral if conditions don’t improve for this reason, while Fidel and Raul Castro prepare to celebrate the 50 anniversary of the Revolution that brought them to power. Only time will tell.

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