Posted July 28, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Business.
By TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News
SANTIAGO, Cuba – Cubans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the start of the revolution Saturday amid growing uncertainty over the island’s future.
They drank 10-cent beers from paper cups and yelled “Long Live Cuba!” And more than a few wept over what a long, painful struggle it’s been.
In a fiery, 70-minute speech Saturday night, President Fidel Castro lashed out at a new enemy, the European Union, calling it “arrogant and calculating.”
European nations are “full of hate” and “don’t deserve the least amount of respect from the Cuban government. Cuba doesn’t need the European Union to survive,” he said.
The European Union in April condemned Cuba after the island nation executed three men who tried to hijack a ferry to Florida. European nations also cut back economic and diplomatic ties.
Ever defiant, Mr. Castro on Saturday said he can do without any economic aid from European nations and said socialism “is 1,000 times fairer” than any political system the Europeans have.
“The people will have the last word!” Mr. Castro said. “Eternal glory! We will win!”
Only diplomats from China, North Korea and Vietnam were invited to Saturday’s event, one Cuban official said. Afterward, Cuban television broadcast a message of support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a Castro protege.
Mr. Castro and his followers attacked the Moncada army barracks on July 26, 1953, launching the revolution. He was jailed and dozens were killed, but the rebels eventually prevailed, taking power in 1959.
Since then, Cuba has endured U.S. aggression, Cold War hostilities and economic turmoil.
Now it’s coping with another threat – time.
The more time that passes without economic and political reforms, some experts say, the less prepared Cuba will be for a future without Fidel Castro, now 76.
No matter, Castro loyalists on Saturday vowed to persevere, dig in and leave the socialist system largely untouched.
“No, no, no. There’s no need for any reforms in this country,” said Humberto del Toro, president of a pro-Castro block committee in Santiago. “And if we do have some internal problem, we’ll fix it ourselves. The only thing we need is that the U.S. embargo be lifted.”
The United States banned most trade with the island four decades ago. And today many Cubans blame the embargo for their economic problems.
“We suffer because of the blockade,” said Horem Pino, 39, a government official in Santiago. “But we’re very happy with the economic system that we have. There’s no need to change that.”
Not everyone agrees.
One problem with socialism is that the government can’t possibly manage all of Cuba’s enterprises, said Jose Quintana, 54, a Santiago construction company worker.
“But if I owned a shop,” he said, “I’d do a better job running it than the government because I would benefit.”
He and a friend, Jose Texidol, 45, sat on a park bench in Santiago. The two said they knew no one who earned more than $7 a month.
“The only way you can survive is to steal a little bit from the place where you work,” Mr. Texidol said. “Cuba’s biggest problem is the economy.”
“We don’t have enough time or energy to think about politics,” added his friend. “For many Cubans, it’s hard to scrap together enough money for even a tube of toothpaste.”
That doesn’t stop Cubans from dreaming, as frustrating as it might be.
“See that freezer? It costs $715,” said Ricardo Camacho, 22, a cafeteria worker, standing outside a state-run store called Siglo XX. “I figure it would take me seven or eight years to save enough money for that – and that’s if I spent nothing else.”
A decade ago, the Cuban government adopted a series of modest economic reforms. It permitted U.S. dollars to circulate freely. It allowed tens of thousands of Cubans to operate small businesses. And it began developing its tourism industry.
In recent years, instead of continuing to open up the economy, authorities have clamped down, shutting down some private businesses and taxing others out of existence.
Economic growth has now stalled. Some experts, both American and Cuban, believe that deep reforms are needed to jump-start the economy.
“What is required is structural change, and I don’t see that happening under Fidel,” said Edward Gonzalez, a consultant at Rand, a California research organization. “To radically alter the economic course would be a repudiation of what Fidel Castro stands for and I don’t think he’ll permit it.”
If anything, the Cuban government this year may further tighten the economy, said Matias Travieso-Diaz of the U.S.-based Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
“They’re making every effort not to show any weakness,” he said, since that might prompt the United States to take a more aggressive stance. “Typically, reforms are seen as a sign of weakness.”
The chances of political reform are even more remote, experts say, and dissent remains taboo.
Pedro Trigo, 75, has no apologies for the opposition, which he says is U.S.-financed. The Americans deny the accusation, but Mr. Trigo is firm.
A half-century ago, he, too, wanted to change the Cuban government, led at the time by Fulgencio Batista, a notorious dictator. So he and his brother, Julio, took part in the Moncada attack.
“We didn’t feel fear at any moment,” he said. “We went to win or die.”
The assault failed, and his brother, Julio, was killed.
Despite the loss, Mr. Trigo said he is proud of what Cuba’s revolutionaries have accomplished. And if the U.S. should ever invade, he said, he’ll be waiting.
“Even if it’s by throwing rocks, I’ll defend the sovereignty, dignity and independence that we have.”
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