Cuban entrepreneurs

During his visit to Cuba in 2014, Barack Obama popularized the term “entrepreneurs” to refer to private businesses that had just been approved by the government and placed them among the system change agents that characterized his new strategy towards the Island.

It wasn’t something that new. Although the most aggressive plans have prevailed, the encouragement of currents that advocate dismantling the system from within and promoting a “gradual and peaceful change” of the Cuban model has never been ruled out by US policy. Nor has assigning a supposedly subversive character to private enterprise been the exclusive property of the “enemy’s thinking,” nor alien to the construction of socialism from its origins. The example of the USSR serves the same purpose to demonstrate that it is a path towards disaster, as do those of China and Vietnam to argue the opposite.

Cuba has not been on the margins of this discussion. On the contrary, for a long time, a very restrictive policy was imposed in this sense, governed by the refusal to admit the possibility that socialism could coexist with private enterprise without altering its essence and compromising the future.

Only in the context of the so-called “updating of the economic model” in 2011, a lengthy process of opening up private companies was initiated, with the express objective of energizing the national economy. The reform began with the approval of the so-called “self-employment” (TPC), individual activities with little salaried labor, until the creation of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in 2021, which in just two years have reached the figure of 10,000 businesses.

Such a decision enjoyed social consensus in the understanding that it was required by the conditions of a blocked country without access to international sources of financing or large exportable resources in need of offering employment alternatives and personal expectations to a human capital that the state could not fully assimilate. However, it has not been a process that has advanced without resistance from sectors, inside and outside the government, who consider it a distortion of the socialist system.

As a result, Cuban private companies have had to advance against the grain of a vision that, both in Cuba and in the United States, assigns them a counterrevolutionary function, supposedly intrinsic to their nature. The paradoxical thing is that this vision is not shared by the most intransigent of the enemies of the Cuban government: the Cuban-American extreme right, who conceive them as a threat to their aspirations in Cuba.

In recent months, we have seen an offensive by these sectors to avoid any gesture by the US government in favor of the development of Cuban MSMEs. They managed to paralyze the authorization of some procedures until now prohibited by the blockade; they infiltrated known terrorists into an event for Cuban businessmen in Miami intending to create problems for them with the Cuban government; and even organized a congressional hearing to demonstrate that MSMEs were a “myth” invented by Cuba to evade the blockade. 

Finally, Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, taking advantage of the urgency for the approval of an omnibus bill that would unblock the financing of government activities, introduced a provision prohibiting the use of funds that had been approved for subversion in Cuba to be used for the support of new Cuban enterprises.

Why is it that the Cuban-American extreme right, following a tradition that goes back to the origins of this political force, rejects the option of “peaceful transition” in Cuba, often encouraged by the US government itself? The reason is that if this type of transition occurs, as the US government has managed to implement in other countries, it would be led by endogenous forces, which would assume political power in Cuba and this would leave many of the current “exile leaders” out of the picture.

The objective of the United States is regime change in Cuba. The way to achieve this goal does not matter, since any alternative that arises would be subordinated to its interests. But for the Cuban-American extreme right, the method determines their destiny in the Cuban future, as well as the prominence acquired in the policy towards Cuba, the basis of their political careers, and the lucrative advantages that move around it. The intent of these sectors has always been to promote social chaos that justifies North American military intervention and to fill the governance vacuum that would occur if this were the case.

That is literally what the Helms-Burton law says, which today regulates US policy towards Cuba, created at the time when Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), had his suitcases ready in Miami to assume the presidency of Cuba as soon as the American troops had finished the task. “Cuba after Iraq” became the slogan.

For this reason, Cuban “entrepreneurs” will never have the Cuban-American extreme right as allies. Even in a hypothetical reestablishment of capitalism in Cuba, they would be its enemies since potential representatives of large US companies would come to monopolize the national market, as has happened in other Latin American countries.

However, this antagonism does not hold for the vast majority of the Cuban community residing in the United States, and this constitutes one of the most important gaps between the extreme right and its alleged support base. Many of the new companies created in Cuba have received capital and advice from Cubans living abroad and this explains why the offensive against Cuban private companies is also oriented against this possibility.

Obama was wrong to assign small private businesses an inexorable role in opposition to socialism in Cuba. The Cuban government indeed has much work to do to eradicate prejudices, expand opportunities, provide security, and integrate these companies into the national economy, but there are no objective factors that prevent it if the approved policy breaks the existing barriers and adjusts these companies to the needs of the country.

Perhaps the Cuban-American extreme right serves to bring together apparent antipodes and even facilitates the process, wanting to hinder it.