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Cuba’s Transition to a Kleptocracy

Cuba, El American

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Politics is never static. Transitions can go in democracy’s way or head in the opposite direction, to other variations of dictatorial rule. Castro-Communism is undergoing a fraudulent change. It is moving in the latter case. A spurious “civil society” is being concocted by the Castro regime. A false “opposition”, loyal in nature, is also colonizing the West. The emergence of a groomed “entrepreneurial” class, structurally conjoined to Castroism, is more visible every day. This is to accommodate the fake “privatization” and “liberalization” schemes designed to fool Americans. A Cuban kleptocracy, in sync with Putinism as a model but retaining its totalitarian base, is unfolding before our eyes. 

Civil Society Defined

Postmodernism and cultural Marxists have made the muddling of language and concepts, an industry. Sometimes, even well-intentioned people fall prey to the confusion. Defining pivotal terms becomes necessary. Civil society is the sum of all institutions, organizations, and associations whose essence and functions are independent of all political power and public entities. 

Totalitarian regimes eradicate civil society. Therefore, all societal activities are dependent, in one form or another, on the fused dictatorial State/Party apparatus. In communist Cuba, there are the opposition, dissident, discontented, and non-conforming sectors of society. This does not constitute, however, a civil society. Dictatorships, strictly of the authoritarian model, do contain a civil society. These non-democratic, but non-totalitarian variants, control only the political sphere and not the economic or social. 

It is vital that Castro regime tagged “entrepreneurs”, not be misleadingly categorized as “civil society”. This brutal manipulation of settled terms, serve the intended purpose of falsifying reality through distorted image projections. This strategy underlies political objectives. In the case of Cuban communism, it is geared to facilitate regime survivorship.   

Designing the Economic System to Sustain Political Power    

The Soviet Union bore the cost of maintaining Castro-Communism for thirty-two years. A parasitic regime innately, for the last thirty-one years, the sources of hard currency revenue have varied, as the circumstances have shifted. Highly pragmatic, yet consistent and timely on the repressive fortifications, the ever-present urgency of capital seeking has been a continuity. Joint ventures with foreign businesses, subsidized tourism, loans from Western banks, remittances from the exiled nation, drug trafficking, Venezuelan oil, leasing of medical slave labor, intelligence data trafficking, and the mammoth exercise of state capitalism directed by military-run mega enterprises, like GAESA, have all been means to acquire money. 

It has not been just about bearing the staggering cost of state terror to keep Cubans in chains. An elite group in the high echelon of power have built an oligarchic empire by plundering Cuba’s wealth. Most of their offspring have adopted foreign citizenship and residences, to potentially circumvent justice in a free Cuba. Communism, on the island, has followed a familiar pattern of other former socialist countries in this regard. Those in power talk like communists, but live like capitalists. 

The Castro regime has correctly sensed a constant challenge to its tyrannical hold. Both, internally and externally, Cubans have never accepted idly Marxist-Leninist rule. This explains Castroism’s concern with implementing the Chinese or Vietnamese model (Leninist state with a hybrid economy). It has resorted to tactically targeted economic modifications, designed to entice the U.S. into believing it is a liberalized economy. The end game is the transfer of American wealth via taxpayer-subsidized credit for imports and a market for its state capitalist operations. Additionally, the consolidation of a U.S.-based commercial lobbying army that peddles Castroism’s interests would prove most beneficial in Havana’s survivorship plans.      

Castro-Communism’s Micro, Small and Medium-Size Businesses Ploy

Since the 1990s, the island’s communist dictatorship has made overtures for a conditional rapprochement with its northern neighbor. Lax application of the American embargo against the Castro regime and loopholes in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, eased access to certain U.S. products. This witnessed the initiation of an aggressive public relations campaign, by Castroism, geared toward American producers, political actors, and commercial lobbying associations that continue until now.   

Dictator Raúl Castro doubled down on the economic revisions after 2006. Referred to as “Raulism” to denote differing approaches to power compared with his brother, Fidel, the measures mimicked liberalization in the abstract. In the details, Raulism was nothing more than a choreographed sham contoured to depend on dollars from the external Cuban nation. As Cubans flooded across America’s southern border, the recent arrivals were expected to provide a steady stream of capital. The Raulist economic maneuvers were conceived to deceive America into believing that change had come to Cuba. Obama bought the Castro bait.

The Castro-Obama reconcilement did nothing for human rights or civil rights spaces. Finally, a U.S. was suckered into believing that Marxist Cuba had turned a page. Obama rationalized his nonsensical policy of tropical détente, articulating that the nonexistent “civil society” would benefit. Castroism’s state capitalist monsters exponentially blossomed, and the non-state self-employed (“cuentapropistas”) were crushed. Trump returned rationality to U.S. policy and revered most of his predecessor’s giveaways. Biden, the overseer of Obama’s third presidential term, had promised to reactivate America’s dissension with Cuban communism. Between May 10-16, 2022, he began that process. The secret meeting with the Cuban dictatorship’s delegation, weeks before in Washington, paid off for Havana. Premier among the goodies the U.S. president gave the Castro regime was the license granted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control for the operation of an American foreign direct investment fund to “invest” in a Cuban company. This has not happened since 1960. The Castro-Communist junta set the trap, and Biden fell for it.

Reacting to the 11th of July Cuban Uprising, the Castro regime enacted Decree-Law 46 the following month. This put in motion the “legalization” (meaningless in socialist legalism) of micro, small, and medium-sized businesses (MSMES). Putting aside the enormous shortcomings, when compared to Western companies and the absence of property rights protection, the “civil society” lie which suited Cuban communism’s narrative and the “liberalization” fallacy, had a rationalization mechanism to dupe the U.S. 

A comprehensive report by Gelet Martínez Fragela of ADN America has unmasked key Castro regime players and family members as prime beneficiaries and paramount agents of the MSMES initiative. This is crucial in understanding Cuban communism’s subterfuge for survival. The privileged employment of State/Party power by way of “private” businesses in the MSMES scheme serves five major tasks: (1) it camouflages crony state capitalism (potentially from ill-gotten sources) as economic liberalization; (2) state-directed individuals are erroneously deemed to be civil society; (3) economic windfalls for the Cuban dictatorship could result; (4) false impressions about change in Cuba could impact American public opinion; (5) social domestication and repression could deepen.  

The U.S. and the West erred with Russia in 1991. They confused “privatization” with kleptocratic machination. The Castro regime is headed that way. Communist Cuba’s new “entrepreneurs” are zealous cadres. They are Fidel’s Red Guards. The U.S. must not be a party to this. Being hoodwinked by the world’s third-longest lasting totalitarian dictatorship would be tragic.

Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.

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