Friday, April 29, 2016

Despite US overtures, not much has changed in Cuba

Despite US overtures, not much has changed in Cuba
By Ana Radelat - 04/28/16 03:23 PM EDT

A month after President Obama's historic visit to Cuba, the island's
leaders have made clear how they want the new relationship to grow — not
very fast.

Last week's seventh Communist Party Congress was a clear indicator that
Cuba's leaders aren't going to move at the same pace as the Obama

Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney involved in Cuban issues,
said Cuba's leaders have been consistent in their message since Obama
began to normalize relations nearly a year and a half ago.
"It's amazing how people aren't listening to them," he said. "Cuba is
irrevocably a socialist nation."

Supposed to be held every five years, the party plenary is usually
gaveled in when the government feels a need to remind Cubans of the
rules of the island's political game.

The latest party featured a surprise appearance by former Cuban
President Fidel Castro, who had earlier blasted Obama's trip.

It also voted Raúl Castro back as the head of the Cuban Communist Party,
meaning he could hold the party position — at least as powerful as the
presidency — even if he keeps his word and steps down as the official
head of state in 2018.

Raúl Castro reminded the gathering that the United States is still "the

Delegates reappointed Machado Ventura, 85, known as an enforcer of
communist orthodoxy, as party secretary. And the Congress's 1,000
delegates voted for changes in the Cuban constitution that strengthened
the party and barred the island's nascent private sector from the
"concentration of wealth."

Still, Cuba's leaders have to balance their devotion to orthodoxy and
the aspirations of the Cuban people, many of whom treated Obama as a
rock star during his visit.

Some of Cuba's resistance to change has been passive — it simply hasn't
taken advantage of most of the opportunities Obama offered to increase
partnerships and trade, still limited by the U.S. economic embargo that
only Congress can end.

Cuba has agreed to re-establish direct U.S. flights to the island and to
allow American hotelier Starwood to refurbish and run three Havana hotels.

But outside of the tourism sector, which Cuba opened to foreign
companies when the Soviet Union collapsed, not many deals have been made.

"If the Cuban government sees that an opportunity will likely generate
new revenues for its tourism sector, that is likely to be entertained,"
said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Kavulich said if an offer "is not perceived to create revenues or has a
political context to it," like Obama's move to allow Americans to help
Cuban entrepreneurs, "progress is not going to be made."

Kavulich's company website has countdown clocks on how much longer Raúl
Castro and Obama will remain in power in their respective nations. He
said members of Congress, lobbyists and advocates must realize that the
nature of U.S.-Cuba relations will depend less "on the next occupant of
the White House … than what Cuba has accepted or rejected."

Ana Radelat is a contributing writer for LATINO Magazine.

Source: Despite US overtures, not much has changed in Cuba | TheHill -

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