Juan Triana: “Cuba must take advantage of Biden’s victory”

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The professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy analyzes the implications that the result of the last elections in the United States will have on the island

Juan Triana (Havana, 1954) is a doctor in Economic Sciences and a professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Like almost everyone on the island, he has followed the elections in the United States very closely and keeps his fingers crossed that Biden finally reaches the presidency. If that happens, he thinks that relations between the two countries will improve, something that could help the process of economic reforms currently underway in his country, although, he assures, the important thing is played at home. Opening the economy and encouraging the private sector is an imperative need, and Cuba must do so regardless of who is in the White House.

Question. What is more important for Cuba, that Trump leaves the White House or the arrival of Biden?

Reply. It is almost more important for Trump to leave, remember the more than 132 measures he adopted during his term in order to surrender Cuba out of hunger. Now, that between Biden it is important, because he could continue to share the political vision towards Cuba that he supported when he was Obama’s vice president. But do not be naive. Biden will have his own priorities. He must first repair the disaster left by his predecessor and I do not believe that Cuba will be among his priorities in the immediate future, nor that he is willing to spend too much political capital on it. He has come to the government in the last train car of his life, and he has before him much to rebuild on issues of international relations, where it is clear that the United States lost leadership. You also have to understand that Cuba has its own ways of thinking. Our country has always been considered by American politicians as a domestic affair [asunto doméstico, en inglés]. We will probably continue to be, as in the last sixty years, on the negotiating table of the different American political interests, like a wild card in a card game. We Cubans can be satisfied with the victory of the Biden-Kamala duo, but any US government is always a challenge for Cuba, even if that government was “socialist”, a ghost that Trump used to fish Cuban votes. It is, to reduce it to the most superficial, a simple problem of size. We have an example with the Obama Administration: just a year after their approach, North American travelers became decisive for the dynamics of tourism in Cuba and even in the projection of the growth of the hotel plant.

P. With his narrow victory and the Senate dancing, what can Biden do that depends on him to improve relations between the two countries?

R. There is a difference between what you want to do and what you can do. They are different things. However, he can, if he wants and is part of his party’s strategy, to dismantle those 132 measures that Trump instrumentalized, and especially to nullify Title 3 of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed against foreign investors that allegedly They “traffic” with expropriated goods. It is more difficult to dismantle the Law, made to recolonize Cuba, since two thirds of the Senate is needed. In addition to resuming the relationship “model” that the Obama administration adopted, Biden can do several things. It can give greater facilities for North Americans to travel to Cuba, even remove all restrictions. It can foster scientific cooperation on issues of interest to both countries, such as biotechnology and agriculture, and it would have the support of many very important North American institutions. It can loosen the financial pressure on Cuba without removing the embargo. It can substantially cut the funds that OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) dedicates to pursuing business with Cuba. It can promote and encourage forms of productive cooperation with Cuba and allow investments under specific licenses. You can take the “people to people” exchange to a higher plane, there you have a lot of space. But it all starts with “can.” It will depend on the balance of power in the US, and we must not forget the lobby Cuban, which has several congressmen and senators from both parties. There is a lot of political capital at stake. Without a doubt, it is Biden-Kamala’s decision, but not only theirs: Cuba is no more important to Democrats than the goal of securing the presidency for four more years. In any case, as long as the relationship between Cuba and the United States depends on the will, the desires, the addition and subtraction of the political interests of a North American president and the party in power, Cuba should not “risk the future” with excessive weight Relationship with the US Just happened to us with the “Trump nightmare” after Obama’s midsummer night’s dream, and it shouldn’t happen again.

P. Is there a chance that Biden is the president who lifts the embargo?

R. The answer is closer to no than yes. The blockade was codified in Helms-Burton, it takes two thirds of the Senate for it and the House of Representatives ratifies it. But since Cuba has always been used to negotiate other interests, because although the possibility is remote, it is not entirely impossible. I don’t think the establishment Democrat be ready to play that card right away, if, of course, they’re thinking about staying after Biden. Kamala can be strategic in that endeavor. She is somehow an earthquake in the North American political system, woman, black, daughter of immigrants and also intelligent, capable and trained in the political game in the US Biden is the past-present, Kamala is the present-future. Many planets have to be aligned to lift the blockade, but nothing is impossible. It will also depend on how the rapprochement between the two governments advances, although it would be naive to think that Miami will have no weight in that decision as long as Florida continues to be decisive in the North American elections.

P. Cuba could also help a little in that matter, right?

R. I have always wondered why the Cuban authorities do not appoint an Honorary Consul in Miami with the capacity to issue visas. That would open spaces, without a doubt. Reduce passport costs, extend its validity for ten years, eliminate extensions. Look how many things can be done only on the immigration issue and I am sure it would have a positive impact on Cubans residing in the United States. Also, transparently allow investment in the country by Cuban emigrants, something that is in the spirit of the Investment Law, but not in the minds of some who decide in Cuba in this regard. This would not only operate as an economic resource, but also a political one. It is true that it would generate internal discrepancies, but I believe that the price of not doing so is higher. The blockade is a great wall that can be destroyed brick by brick. We must take advantage of and do now on both sides.

P. Cuba is immersed in a complex process of reforms that will give more space to private initiative, SMEs, etc … How can change in the White House influence this process?

R. Having a less aggressive environment is always better than living under Trump’s aggression. However, I believe that in Cuba there is a structured government program, thought out before Trump, even before Obama. It is true that it has been “frozen” and that it has had delays, from my point of view excessive. But I see much more solidity now, consensus has been reached that previously could not be reached, it has been learned, sometimes in a painful process. This program responds to problems that we Cubans must solve, beyond the color of the US presidency. It would be a tragic mistake to make our development strategy based on North American policy and what happens in the US In the same way, it would be a tragic mistake to conceive it with our backs to what is happening in that country, since geography exists.

P. Some fear that the oxygen that easing pressure will give the economy may tempt the government to once again slow down reforms

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