According to the Global Protest Index, there have recently been 230 cases of anti-government protests in the world that have affected 110 countries, of which 78% were authoritarian regimes. Not a single one of the Latin American countries has escaped from them. But Cuba has done it again: the cries of freedom, the crude images that showed the exhaustion of a people in the face of the lack of food and medicine, and the unusual harangue on television by the Cuban president – ”the order of combat is given . To the streets the revolutionaries ”- have swept away the rest of the conflicts. The culture wars are over. Cuba is once again the preferred exporter of myths, stories and nostalgia, both for the world right and left.
The stories are not going to improve the life of the Cuban people. Cubans know better than anyone what it has cost them that dominoes have been locked for 70 years. They have sacrificed too many dreams, opportunities, and freedoms to trust someone to save them. Out of patriotism and knowledge of their history, they know that if there is a solution for Cuba, they will have to find it.
Cuba’s problems are many, but they all have the same origin: the social contract of the Revolution is economically broken, the leadership is amortized and its legitimacy evaporated. The experiment of organizing a diverse society around the ideas of a minority has led to authoritarianism, hierarchization and the suppression of dissenters. Simultaneously, its development model based on planning, state ownership and immaterial incentives has been unable for decades not to improve its life, but simply to maintain itself without external subsidies, first from the USSR and then from Venezuela.
Cuba’s economic problems are not produced by the embargo. Cuba trades with more than 70 countries, including the United States, which is its sixth supplier of goods and the first of food. The problem with Cuba is that the low diversification, complexity and productivity mean that it exports very few goods – in 2019, 1,210 million dollars, which places it in position 152 among the 225 countries – and that with the countries that do so it has trade deficits. To maintain a minimum level of imports, Cuba depends on tourism, remittances from its emigrants, and subsidies from its partners. When these fail, Cuba faces not an ideological war, but a very traditional balance of payments crisis. The last one it had was in 1990, after the collapse of the USSR, and its immediate consequence was the Special Period. The wages and standard of living of Cubans have never recovered from that shock.
That opportunity to get rid of myths and face reality was wasted. Not out of ignorance, but because it was preferred to save the inefficient structure of public companies – in short, power – to preserve the egalitarian ideal. The patches were chosen over the reforms. The instrument chosen was a dual monetary system, in which the Cuban peso coexisted with a convertible peso with a fixed parity against the dollar. The surreal complication of the system allowed public companies to be accounting sustainable, the most dynamic sectors endured paralyzing tax rates and Cubans verified that there were two types of citizens: those who, legally or illegally, accessed dollars, and those who could not. .
Everyone knew that this monetary system was unsustainable politically, socially and economically. But they did not dare to reform it until they found the worst possible moment: in the middle of a pandemic, without Venezuelan oil and with the world prices of food and medicines on the rise. The monetary unification —the reordering— and the accompanying measures, as was foreseeable, led the Cubans to exchange their pesos for dollars, reducing the import capacity of basic goods and setting in motion a phenomenal inflationary process. With this, the blackouts and the worsening of the hardships arrived again. The protesters are not saboteurs or mercenaries, but citizens who defend themselves from supreme incompetence.
The only way out of this chaos is for Cubans to take up the initiative and be what they are: a complex, diverse society, with initiative and fed up with stuck dominoes. They have forgotten about the treasure, because they know that those who run them have lost the map. They need what they ask for: freedom and democracy to choose their homeland and life. Also humanitarian aid, and that the end of the blockade eliminates the last surviving story among those who insist on justifying the unjustifiable. Because, finally, the story, the myths and the nostalgia have collided with reality. This is how it is.