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Posted March 14, 2005 by Cubana in Castro's Cuba

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Castro hurts Bush Latin trade efforts
Published March 13, 2005

Myriam Marquez, Orlando Sentinel

For International Women’s Day, Cuban women were treated to a new revolutionary objective: A pressure cooker in every home, Fidel Castro proclaimed, and a rice cooker, too!

Such is “progress” in Cuba. After a five-hour-plus speech, Castro got a standing ovation.

Hey, Americans had their chicken in every pot, or so went the Herbert Hoover hype. Those who survived the Great Depression know how that turned out.

Some Cuba watchers believe Castro’s promise to unleash cookers (and gaskets and overpressure plugs) in April, at subsidized bargain rates, is really meant to quash the private initiative of Cubans who’ve been hammering their own cookers from aluminum and selling them for about $5.50. That’s almost five times less than the $25 imported cookers available at what used to be called “dollar stores” before the regime turned to its own “convertible peso” last year and banned the dollar in stores.

The peso strategy was meant to ease the Bush administration restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island. The regime now charges a 10 percent fee to exchange the U.S. dollar for the Cuban convertible currency.

Castro always said he hated allowing the dollar as legal Cuban tender, and he particularly despises having allowed, since the 1990s, Cubans to shop at the dollar stores. The dollar stores did create a new class of people. You didn’t have to be a Communist Party member to get perks. You just had to have relatives in the United States send you U.S. dollars. Or, if you have connections with the party, you might land a job in tourism, like Elian Gonzalez’s dad, and get tips in dollars.

Every time the regime has faced tough times, Castro has loosened economic rules and allowed some private enterprise, only to tighten the rules a while later to remind everyone that he’s in charge.

The cookers—along with 100,000 new units of housing Castro is promising in a society that hasn’t seen new housing ventures for decades—stand as a victorious symbol of communism’s glory. Or so Castro believes. He’s still in charge after 46 years, despite decades of a U.S. embargo and the “special period” that faced Cuba since its major benefactor, the Soviet Union, fell apart.

A typical Cuban earns about $11 a month, so Castro is offering the $5.50 cookers on a payment plan.

Cuban women have come a long way, all right—right back to the kitchen.

Whether the cookers will make a real difference in a society that still scrambles to put food on the table—or if the housing will ever get built—doesn’t matter. Castro believes his top-down management of Cuba’s economy is on a roll, and for good reason: One by one, Latin American leaders have turned against Washington and cozied up to Havana. And smiling in the background are Chinese officials.

President Bush’s hopes for a hemispheric free-trade agreement have stalled. Some Latin American nations, like Brazil, want all U.S. agricultural subsidies to stop, and workers’ groups are organizing against a trade deal they believe will only enrich the multinational companies and keep workers earning pay dirt.

Bush’s war on terrorism hasn’t helped the trade talks either. Many Latin Americans view Bush’s “pre-emptive war” strategy in Iraq as a reminder of U.S. bullying in the hemisphere in centuries past.

The emergence of democratically elected left-leaning presidents and outright leftists from Argentina to Venezuela has knee-jerked even moderates like Mexico’s President Vicente Fox into anti-U.S. positions to appease public outcry.

Meanwhile, China has been wheeling and dealing throughout Latin America—everything from operating ports at either end of the Panama Canal to flying reconnaissance satellites in partnership with Brazil.

Trade and monetary policies that seek to have Latin American countries deal as if they have a thriving middle class—when most still have vast and deep inequities—simply don’t sell to the masses. That’s why Castro remains popular among Latin America’s poor.

Without real investments in education and subsidies for home ownership in poor countries, it’ll be tough to tout free trade as a panacea. Bush needs to hand over a chicken for every Latin American pot if he’s to counter Castro’s strategy. For years, Cuba has exported its doctors and teachers throughout Latin America, selling socialism to the poor. It seems to be working.

After noting that Cuba’s trade relations with China (cheap cookers for the Cuban masses) and Venezuela (credit deals for cheap oil) are improving life for average Cubans, Castro boasted, “Our country does not depend on anyone else but itself.”

Of course, that’s not true. Castro not only depends on China and Venezuela to bail out Cuba from decades of heavy-handed top-down mismanagement. U.S. businesses contribute handsomely, too.

Just last week, as Castro promised women a cooker in every kitchen, Cuba agreed to buy $15 million in food and other goods from Louisiana. It’s all perfectly legal under the U.S. embargo—as long as Cuba pays cash. Most of the food will wind up in Cuban restaurants catering to European or Canadian tourists and, soon, to Chinese visitors.

Still waiting in line for their food rations will be the Cubans, after almost a half-century of promises unfulfilled.

Myriam Marquez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 407-420-5399.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 14, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    “For years, Cuba has exported its doctors and teachers throughout Latin America, selling socialism to the poor”
    And what has the U.S. been exporting? CIA backed plots to overthrow regimes not seen friendly to U.S. interests and backing brutal right wing dictatorships.
    Need more be said?


  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 17, 2005 by PABLOPUEBLO with 86 total posts


    Rice electric cooker,pressure cooker,two-plates electric cooker
    are welcome for my people, little bit more coffee and chocolate
    is also welcomed,but there is something embarrassing for many cubans and that every year comes about and the cuban government
    had said nothing,the issue is the Forbes Magazine Publication
    of the richest people in this World and Castro appears this
    year with a personal fortune of $550!My goodness me!!!.-


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