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Remittances Are Democracy

The total application of the Helms-Burton Law, with its provision limiting remittances, has no apparent objective of democracy in Cuba.

La Habana

Before reaching democracy, purgatory. For everybody. Oppressors and the oppressed alike. Making distinctions, which is the mark of good political strategy, is not the signal, as happened with baseball, that the Trump Administration is sending us. The total application of the Helms-Burton Law, with its provision limiting remittances, does not have the apparent object of democracy in Cuba, if we do not confuse narrative with politics. Democracy in Cuba, like remittances, is also an extension of another issue: democracy in Venezuela. Without Guaidó, the remittances would have no ceiling.  

What connects Guaidó to the remittances? Bad politics. A better approach to break the Siamese link between the autocracies of Cuba and Venezuela calls for a strategic surgery at the waist: cutting off the Venezuelan regime and further the opening up to the Cuban people, an effective way to continue unraveling the intricate umbilical knot between the government and society. If Venezuelan society supports Guaidó, it is because, unlike Cuba's, it could not be totally captured, almost reinvented, by el chavismo.    

Remittances liberate citizens, constituting the other route to democracy. There are two ways of reacting to states: a heroic one, which is that of the few; and a broad citizen-based on, which is that of whole peoples. For the latter, economic security is fundamental to dispel the Stockholm syndrome that condemns societies to a vicious cycle of discomfort-grievances-gratitude, despite increasing penury.  We must not forget that sustainable poverty is the model chosen by "socialisms" established on the margins.

A correlation could be established between remittances and citizens' civic empowerment. The constant electoral behavior of a minority since the 1990s, which saw its strongest affirmation in the referendum on 24 February, may be explained, in theory, by the economic independence made possible by the sustained sending of family remittances. In civic terms, the gain has been twofold: the autonomous expression of views, and the perception that there is hope. If the sporadic protests of the poor do not lead to democratic solutions, it is because they cannot turn their suffering into a real option, which can only be achieved with autonomy.

But remittances in Cuba have been the only avenue for the democratization of the economy. Cuba is a market economy only in two senses that democratize it: consumption and unintentional, minimalist investment in the small private enterprise sector.

The data is irrefutable. According to studies by the Havana Consulting Group, remittances sent to Cuba in 2016 came to 3.44 billion dollars, while remittances in products totaled an estimated 3 billion. Combined, they were worth over 6.44 billion dollars.

Compared, always in the same year, this is a figure higher than the sum total of the basic goods and services exported by the Cuban economy: nickel: 464 million; sugar and its byproducts: 360 million; tobacco: 211 million; seafood and fish: 74 million; medical services: 900 million; agricultural products: 24 million and, tourism: 2.9 billion. In total, over 4.95 billion dollars.

If the contrast is considered in broader temporal terms, which is important because it makes it possible to discern trends, remittances are the cornerstone of the Cuban economy. In the last nine years, the joint growth of tourism, plus exports of nickel, sugar and its derivatives, seafood, medicines, agricultural products and tobacco amounted to 258 million dollars, with a low average annual growth of 28.66 million dollars. During the same period, remittances in money grew at a rate of 221.95 million dollars per year, or over 1.99 billion dollars.  

The conclusions should be obvious. The democratic flow of money has a multi-faceted impact: on the dynamics and orientation of the economy: as in the past, the fluidity of the economy depends on its relationship with the US; on its structure: the private sector (the family economy is a private economy) is the engine of the Cuba economy; on the inclusive economy (more citizens benefit from remittances than from the State) and on civic autonomy, without which neither citizenship nor democracy can be developed.   

Faced with a president not elected by the people, a divisive Constitution, a government incapable of building consensus, and an elite without a vision of State, what does Trump give us? An impenitent return of citizens to the empty uterus of the regime.

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