Cuba, fingers crossed for Biden to win

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Trump means more pressure and difficulties at delicate times for the island. The democrat, who together with Obama defended a policy of openness towards Havana, could immediately resume the previous policy

The phone rings, and after the usual complaints about “how bad things are”, the lack of detergent, the chicken tail, etc., the interlocutor asks anxiously: “And what do you think will happen on the 3rd of November?”. The scene has been invariably repeated in Cuba for weeks, but as the date of the elections in the United States approaches, the tone of the question contains more and more anguish. It does not matter whether the person is the owner of a private business, a foreign hotelier, a state official or a regular Cuban trapped by life; everyone is restless and concerned, because, given the seriousness of the economic situation, it is understood that these elections are key to the future of Cuba.

“For obvious reasons, elections in the US have always been something important to us. But this time, I would tell you that they are more so than ever due to the extreme vulnerability in which we are caught, ”says Cuban economist Omar Everleny.

The researcher summarizes the very difficult situation in which the island finds itself: with the semi-paralyzed economy due to the coronavirus epidemic, without tourism -one of the main sources of foreign exchange income-, with an inefficient and stagnant state production system, pending the implementation of reforms a thousand times delayed, and without liquidity to pay debts or import, which has caused an unprecedented shortage of basic products – with the consequent increase in social conflict. To this must be added the crisis in Venezuela, the main supplier of oil at preferential prices, and the tightening of the embargo by the Trump Administration, which has adopted more than 150 measures and sanctions during its mandate with the aim of suffocating the economy -the last a few days ago against the financial system-, putting Cuba on the ropes.

“The outlook is tremendous,” agrees with Everleny, a foreign businessman with contacts in the heights. He says that every time you visit an official office, and more so if it is that of a vice minister or “more pa up “, it’s the same:” Everyone looking to the US with crossed fingers for Biden to win.

It is not for less. Trump’s four-year outcome has been very damaging. The current US president ended Obama’s policy of rapprochement, attacked the remittances that exiles can send to their families, banned cruises and travel by Americans – with Obama, the US became the second largest source of tourism to the island-, and ended with direct flights to 15 provinces of the country (except Havana). In addition, Everleny recalls, he increased the persecution against the banks that operate with Cuba, against the ships that transport oil to the island, put into force the Helms-Burton law to discourage foreign investment and attacked Cuban medical collaboration programs – which they provided juicy benefits. “Anyway, it dealt a very hard blow to an economy already in crisis due to its own ills.”

According to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, “the North American blockade caused losses of more than 5,000 million dollars [unos 4.300 millones de euros] only last year ”. That in a country that has to perform miracles every year to get the 2,000 million dollars it needs to import food and basic products, and where tourism, marching at full speed, contributes to the economy 3,000 million dollars.

“Four more years of [Donald] Trump would be fatal, while a triumph of [Joe] Biden would give oxygen ”, assures ex-Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray. This is the general thought, but there is also consensus on an idea pointed out by the academic and expert on Cuba-US relations Rafael Hernández, director of the magazine Topics. “Whatever happens on November 3, Cuba depends on itself and the success of the reforms it has to carry out, since the country needs to do them regardless of who wins.”

The announced reforms – which were approved long ago but never implemented due to internal resistance and various circumstances – will give a considerable boost to private initiative, stimulate the creation of SMEs and cooperatives, create wholesale markets for the self-employed (self-employed), and allow new Importing and exporting private actors will grant a greater margin of autonomy to state companies and will face once and for all the problem of monetary unification, which has caused so many macroeconomic distortions. They are important reforms in the Cuban context, but of course, they must be done for real, it would be fatal if the thing were to remain in words or half done again.

Obviously, in this context, for Cuba the result of these elections is very important. Trump means more pressure and hardship at very sensitive times. Biden, who together with Obama defended a policy of commitment and openness towards Havana, could immediately resume the previous policy -cruises, trips, remittances, etc.- which would mean considerable relief, short-term air, and not only for the Government but also for the self-employed and owners of private restaurants and hotels, whom Trump’s policy crushed. It is estimated that the damage to tourism and the private sector by Trump’s measures prior to covid-19, could be between 20 and 30%, or more.

A Biden victory, in addition to oxygen, would give Cuba peace of mind to undertake the changes that it is preparing to make and that it has postponed so many times. But how far will Biden go with the island if he wins the election? Will the president lift the embargo, which has lasted 60 years? These are the big questions. Both Hernández and Alzugaray think that Biden will not complicate himself and will limit himself to putting into practice Obama’s policy, which he himself defended as vice president, and whose scope will depend on several factors, including “how he wins the elections, if he wins them” . A resounding victory, dominated by Congress and the Senate, could open a new scenario between the two countries, especially if this coincides with a process of open-ended reforms underway on the island, which has always been one of Washington’s demands.

Let no one be wrong. On November 3, the decision-making offices of Cuba will follow the US electoral night with great interest and fingers crossed. A broad victory for Biden would be the best news, but what is really important, all analysts say, is that Cuba finally do what it has to do in its own interest.

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