Between Havana and Buenos Aires: The reasons for Obama’s trip to Cuba

By Miguel Sorans

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Many wonder why Obama is traveling to Argentina on 24 March on the 40th anniversary of the genocidal coup backed by the US. Obama is not interested in having demonstrations or rejections of his visit to Argentina. He is not interested because his visit is part of a political operation in Latin America that has two legs: Cuba and Argentina. The reasons for traveling to Buenos Aires are obvious. Obama wants to support the new reactionary and pro-Yankee government of Mauricio Macri. It is a trip to ratify they will be allies, to continue paying the debt and to favour the multinationals and financial capital against the working people.

This is clear and requires no further explanation. But what are the reasons for the trip to Cuba? Answering this question does require a longer explanation. It is not explained with just two sentences. Because, unfortunately, the background of this historic journey is the ratification that Cuba continues to make progress in the process of restoration of capitalism under the leadership of Raul Castro. Obama travels to support this “Cuban” capitalism and to advance US investments in the island.

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This concept may impact or clash with many anti-imperialist and left workers and youth who have always had Cuba as a benchmark of struggle for socialism. The reality is that for more than 20 years the Cuban Communist Party (CPC) and its leaders Fidel and Raul Castro have been opening the economy to foreign investments and installing a system of joint ventures. Thus they have followed the path of capitalism restoration opened by China. Of course, the Cuban leadership has been hiding this reality, arguing that they are “updating socialism” to make it “prosperous and sustainable”. The communist leaders of the Chinese dictatorship say the same, while exploiting their people for the multinationals. This is not socialism.

Cuban reality refutes the lies of Raul Castro and the CPC. For years Canadian and European multinationals and investors from other countries have been established in Cuba. In the hotel business, for example, there are already the foreign groups Melia, Barcelo, Iberostar, Accor, among others. In nickel mining is the Canadian multinational Sherritt, operating since 1992. In tobacco, formed in 1994, there is Habanos SA, a joint venture with the Spanish Altadis, which is owned by an English group. Havana Club rum is associated with the French Pernod Richard (owners of Chivas Regal whiskey).

On the other side are the Cuban workers who receive a monthly wage of between 15 and 20 dollars, one of the lowest in the world. This in a country where strikes and protests are banned, unions are official and there is a single-party regime.

Obama’s agreement with Raul Castro seeks to end the lack of US entrepreneurs and investments. This is why Obama is betting on this agreement and he intends to bring an end to the remains of the blockade. Part of the agreement is the new investment law passed in Cuba in April 2014, authorizing the establishment of 100 percent foreign capital companies and that Cuban emigration can do business on the island as legal entities or individuals.

As a result, for the first time since the 1959 revolution, an American tractor factory will be established in Cuba without partnering with the state, i.e., without being a joint venture. It will be located in the port of Mariel, which is a free zone they have prepared for the direct installation of private companies (see more data in Clarin, Argentina, 16 February, 2016). The other opening is the 30 daily flights that will take place between the US and Cuba. These will be by US airlines only, with 20 flights to Havana and 10 to other cities. The US telephone company AT&T and the Starwood and Marriott hotel chains will soon announce agreements to do business in Cuba, as reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal. “We are optimistic that we will get soon a green light from the US government to have hotels under the Marriott banner in Cuba”, said Tom Marder, a spokesman for Marriott, who confirmed that Arne Sorenson, chairman of the hotel chain, will travel to Cuba from 20 to 22 March”(Pagina 12, Argentina, 12 March, 2016).

Some US companies are already acting. Western Union has had 220 stores open for years; Airbnb offers to rent private apartments and homes to tourists; the telephone company IDT and cellular companies Sprint and Verizon Wireless already offer services on the island. Obama’s visit aims to consolidate this opening of business in Cuba.

Although only remnants exist of the embargo imposed in the 1960s by the US, we continue to support the historical claim of the Cuban people for its total abolition and for the return of the Guantanamo base territory.

As we repudiate Obama’s presence in Argentina we also say that his presence in Cuba will do nothing for the Cuban people. There will be no progress with the multinationals, foreign investment and the restoration of capitalism backed by Raul Castro. In Cuba what is essential is the struggle for decent wages, the right to protest, the end of the single-party regime and the need to recover the gains made with the socialist revolution.


First published in El Socialista (Argentina)

Translated by Daniel; proofread by Cynthia.