With its response to the popular protests on 11 July, the Cuban regime has once again shown its true face, ratcheting up repression after seeking to distort the demonstrations to spin them not as a confrontation between the people and the dictatorship, but as part of Cuba's dispute with the United States. As part of this scheme, it has striven to spread the narrative that J11 was a criminal ploy concocted by the CIA.
A decrepit Castroism, unable to evolve, is seeking Band-Aid solutions to the most direct causes of the public’s discontent.
The regime’s top priority is to end the blackouts, as, since the 1990s it has been well known that they are the last straw for Cubans. Thus, the official news is rife with stories of repairs, investments, successes, and the state pulling out all the stops to guarantee electricity.
In fact, the blackouts haven practically solved, but at the cost of diverting resources to energy production that will eventually have to be retracted. It seems that the price of oil will remain high and, although today most energy is generated in Cuba with domestic crude, consumption peaks are covered by imported refined fuels, which Venezuela no longer produces.
In the summer, which is just beginning, consumption hits its highest levels. It is no coincidence that the two biggest protests that have taken place in Cuba - the recent events on 11-J and the one in August 1994, known as the Maleconazo - broke out in the hottest months. We will see where the government turns to defuse the next one.
Another temporary solution is permission for passengers on commercial flights to import food, medicine and hygiene products, free of charge.
This measure was conceived a long time ago, and Castroism was just waiting for the right time to implement it. Of course, the Government knows that making Customs more flexible is a balm for a hungry people lacking medicines, but, with its characteristic callousness, it waited for Cuba to convulse before administering this cure.
Furthermore, this measure accords with the regime's veiled purpose of establishing the Freely Convertible Currency (MLC) as a second currency in circulation. The mules will buy abroad using foreign currency and sell in Cuba in MLC, thus avoiding passing cash through Customs or looking for dollars one the island, while emigrants will not have to worry about how to send cash to Cuba, nor will they have to change it to Euros or deposit it in Castro state bank accounts, something that irks many.
The most efficient way, and the tendency, will be for emigrants, in their places of residence, to give mules their dollars or rubles (many Cubans go shopping in Russia) in exchange for MLC transfers to their relatives on the island.
In short, making Customs terms more flexible alleviates the situation, but not much, or for most. This mode of importation is very expensive compared to allowing private Cuban companies to import in bulk, which they could do even from the United States.
Special rationing book
Perhaps the measure that most exposes the government's cynicism and its contempt for Cubans is what officials call the "special rationing book," a temporary authorization for Cubans living illegally within their own country - internal immigration, returnees, illegal neighborhoods - to buy what the authorities call "basic groceries" at their nearest bodega.
Due to the lack of investment in the east of the country (as it is concentrated in the tourist enclaves of Havana, Varadero and the keys) and discriminatory policies, the differences between regions in Cuba have become more pronounced, engendering the kind of internal migration characteristic of war zones, mainly from the east to the rest of the country.
For reference, between 1985 and 2015 the Colombian armed conflict displaced 14.3% of the population, the second highest proportion of internally displaced persons in the world. During a similar period, in "peaceful" Cuba, 11.2% of the population emigrated internally, mainly from the East.
To stop this hemorrhaging the Government resorted to a vile measure: rendering Cubans illegal in their own country and, on top of this, denying them social benefits such as the rationed "basic grocery basket", or higher education, and also left them exposed to being arrested and deported.
After almost a year and a half of pandemic, only after June 11 did the Government grant this respite from misery to those "illegal" Cubans in their homeland, who can now buy the few supplies that the State sells them close to where they reside.
Is this related to the fact that the demonstrations became more violent in the poorest neighborhoods, such as La Güinera, where the Police murdered a protester; and La Palma, in Arroyo Naranjo, from where the protests reached the municipality of 10 de Octubre? The population illegalized and marginalized by the Government is concentrated in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The perverse charity of granting this "special book" to thousands of "illegal" Cubans will help them to cope with this period of acute crisis, but it will not rescue them from the marginalization to which the authorities have condemned them.
Of greater economic significance is the new change - the fourth or fifth in less than a year - in the salaries of employees at state-owned companies.
As part of its ongoing commitment to the widespread distribution of poverty, rather than the creation of wealth, the "Ordering Task" doubles down on this mistake by trying to revive the economy through monetarist and business organization measures while ignoring the only thing that is proven to boost labor productivity, the people's wealth, and the amount of capital invested per worker: capitalism.
The regime refuses to take the path of China or Vietnam - to speak only of dictatorships - by liberalizing the domestic market, requiring state companies to compete or perish, and accepting direct foreign investment. It refuses to do so because it knows that its power is based on keeping the people dependent on the state; that is, poor.
But the trick of paying more in money that is constantly devaluing is wearing thin. People want to eat more, dress better, and go on vacation, not have more paper in their wallets.
The coming tidal wave
In the short term, these measures may yield the fruits expected by the regime, but since the origin of the evils that plague Cuba is the system itself, these results will be unsustainable. And the regime's cynical opportunism is, increasingly, seen for what it is by a population that views more than state television's daily newscast.
The 11J is a wave that has subsided. After a big swell there is always an ebb, and Castroism is taking advantage of this one to boast of its mean and short-sighted measures. But, given recent events, Cuba must prepare for the tidal wave that is coming.