Cuba: Time for change?

Political complications between Cuba and the USA date back to the late 19th century. Over one hundred years is a long time to hold a grudge, so why?

Trinidad

Photo credit: Josie Ruddick

Political complications between Cuba and the USA date back to the late 19th century. Over one hundred years is a long time to hold a grudge, so why? Having travelled around a good part of Cuba this summer, the ramifications of it’s communist one party political system became apparent when talking to locals and homeowners. I offer an insight to what was an incredible month away.

For those of you who don’t know the full extent of Cuba’s history here is a brief run through. Due to ideological differences, Cuba being communist and the USA supporting a Capitalist regime, conflict arose during the Cold War. The Cuban revolution of 1950’s saw Fidel Castro rise to power and enforce a communist regime, leading to the end of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The US imposed a full trade embargo on the island and attempted to win back power with the “Bay of Pigs” invasion, whilst a communist Cuba continued to strengthen its ties with the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, relations between the two neighbouring countries continued to remain cold as ever. Only now have negotiations begun between the leaders leading to many hoping that the trade embargo will now be lifted.

The general consensus among the Cubans about its economy and political system was one, I felt, of a gloomy nature. Speaking to one Cuban, he believed that Castro was pocketing all profits. I felt a feeling of tiredness and exasperation from him, who on a state wage earned 466 Cuban pesos a month, the equivalent to £11.60. The economic isolation has led to the inability to technologically evolve, something that is reflected in the old (cool) but tired, battered cars, a lot of which I went in, had broken speedometers and windows that wouldn’t wind up. Speaking to an owner of one of the “casas particulares” (Cubans can rent their rooms out) we stayed in and she said that she was exasperated with her drains constantly overflowing with sewage in the centre of Havana and complained that nothing ever got fixed. Finding an internet connection involved queuing for two hours at the government internet café, for which they have one in each town. The crumbling buildings of Havana reflect the time it’s stuck in, and it’s clear to see the Cubans are hungry for change.

Havana

Photo credit: Josie Ruddick

Havana

Photo credit: Josie Ruddick

Experiencing and noticing the emphasis on Cuban culture over there was incredibly refreshing in comparison to a technology driven world we live in, where everyone around you has their phone glued to them. Revolutionary slogans and statues of Che Guevara are a breath of fresh air opposed to the indulgent consumerist advertisements we sport here in the UK. And whilst the country offers an incredible range of cultural livelihood, a population that couldn’t be friendlier, one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.8% and a world class health system, the trade embargo is stopping Cuba from being part of the global market and the impact that has had on the country shows.

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…Lifting the embargo would mean Cuba would be able to modernise and use US investment to invest into growth of businesses. Castro has begun opening marketisation, by privatising small businesses such as restaurants and taxis but currently the embargo means that can’t receive US investment. It is debatable whether capital investment from the USA will bring about a good change or a bad one, perhaps it will ruin the charm of the unique country; that’s a different discussion. The implications on Cuba’s one party political system would be profound and the future of it’s communist regime will undoubtedly to come into question.

So what happens next?

With Obama administration promising to strengthen diplomatic ties with Cuba, a stumbling block was reached, demonstrating a key weakness of the American government. With things looking up and an American embassy opening in Havana for the first time in May, a lift on the trade embargo looked promising. Yet only a few weeks ago, the US voted against a United Nations resolution from Cuba to lift the embargo. The resolution from Cuba that asked for the trade embargo to be lifted received an astounding 191 votes in favour, with the only two countries opposing it being the USA and Israel. The outcome shows an overwhelming response from the international community, but without the support from the republicans in US congress; little can be done about lifting the embargo. Furthermore, with the upcoming election, it is perhaps unlikely that it will be revoked in the immediate future due to other agendas being prioritized in the candidates manifestos. But that’s one step closer to the strengthening of diplomatic ties between the two countries and the progress made in the last 12 months is more progress than Cuba’s seen in a hundred years.

Che Guevara

Photo credit: Josie Ruddick

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