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Cuba, Waiting for the “Yumas”

Cuba, Waiting for the “Yumas*” / Ivan Garcia
Posted on December 22, 2014

Dreaming does not cost anything. Lisván, a self-employed taxi driver who
spends twelve hours a day behind the wheel of an old American car from
the 1940s surrounded by the piercing smell of gasoline and cigar smoke,
is in theory one of those people counting on the government and
anti-embargo American businessmen to finally improve the perilous
diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

Right now, under a tropical midday sun, the young man is analyzing how
small businesspeople and private-sector workers might benefit from the
new measures President Obama has outlined and a possible lifting of the
economic and trade embargo.

Lisván believes that if the government authorized automobile imports and
provided access to credit from US banks, he could replace his outdated,
run-down car and partner with other drivers to create a freight and taxi
service made up of gleaming General Motors vehicles.

“Just imagine. We would have a fleet of cars and trucks. If the
government allowed it, private-sector workers would raise the quality
and service of urban transport and freight. Of course, they would have
to do away with unfair taxes. For a society to flourish, tax rates
should be as low as possible. I think right now the government is on the
right track,” he says with an optimism that is contagious.

Others are not so optimistic. Abel, a half-blind old man who is the
custodian of a nausea-inducing public bathroom, smiles when asked what
he hopes will result from the new political agreement with the United
States.

“Nothing. You’d have to be a real asshole to believe these guys (from
the regime). How can you believe people who have always demonized
capitalism? If they have agreed to this change, it’s because they are
desperate. It doesn’t matter if it’s socialism, capitalism or feudalism;
an old man who takes care of a bathroom is just that. I don’t believe
any ‘yuma’ would do his business in this filth.”

The news flash that sparked the diplomatic turnaround between the two
countries has been well-received by almost all Cubans. Some with
expectations bordering on science fiction.

“You’d be very naive to believe that overnight streets would be
repaired, buildings would be painted, markets would offer cheap food,
wages and purchasing power would skyrocket, and people would be as happy
as partridges,” says Osniel, the owner of a cafe in a neighborhood west
of Havana. “It’s not the American blockade that is to blame for
everything going downhill; it’s the system. And as far as I can tell,
the ones who created this disaster are still in power. The upside of
having good relations with the Americans is that the government’s
mismanagement of the economy and its failure to generate wealth will be
obvious.”

The military regime has worked the story to its advantage. In the
official media, front page headlines trumpet the return of the three
spies imprisoned in the United States.

At the moment Cuba is talking about nothing but the future.

President Obama — mistaken or not in granting excessive concessions to a
government that still does not respect freedom of expression or
political liberties, that has conned half the world with its lukewarm,
half-baked economic reforms, that refuses to allow Cubans to participate
in the larger economy — presented a well-organized and coherent plan of
what he is proposing. In contrast, General Raul Castro appeared before
television cameras in an outmoded military uniform without any proposals
for a people burdened with shortages, with its cities in ruins and with
few prospects.

The opening of an embassy and the reestablishment of diplomatic
relations with the former enemy is not enough. At least that is what
Julia, the owner of a small hotel business, believes.

“Raul should have provided more details,” she says. “Are they now going
to do away with those ridiculous customs duties that hinder private
business. He didn’t say anything about that or a lot of other things.
After the excitement over the release of the ‘five heroes’ (three spies)
dies down, life will go on and people who own businesses will want to
see their taxes reduced.”

The military regime should be pleased with itself. Apparently, it got
the better deal in negotiations. As usual, all it had to offer in
exchange was prisoners.

It is a strategy adopted by Fidel Castro: to always keep the jail cells
filled with prisoners to be used as bargaining chips. The owners of
private restaurants and cafes, people who rent out rooms and others have
their doubts about a bonanza of gringo tourists on the island.

“The competition for tourists in the Caribbean is fierce but some money
will stick,” says Armando, a clandestine tobacco salesman. “It’s common
knowledge that American tourists are the biggest spenders but it’s yet
to be seen if they will visit a country that has lost its charms. Maybe
they will come out of curiosity to see an old bastion of communism
ninety miles from their shores,” says Armando, black market seller of
cigars.

Olivia, a sales representative for a five-star hotel in Havana, thinks
the new measures will have a positive impact on the nation’s economy.
“In 2012 there were 58,000 hotel rooms and 25,000 more were being
projected,” she notes. “That won’t be enough to house an influx of
American tourists which calculations indicate could soon top two million
visitors.”

In a Council of Ministers meeting, Marino Murillo, the island’s portly
economic czar, predicted that the country’s GDP would grow 4%.

To Reinier, an economist, such statistics seem ludicrous. “I now realize
that the projected GDP was calculated based on diplomatic relations with
the United States being restored in 2015,” he notes. “Even so, I have my
doubts there will be a huge influx of tourists or that we will see
multi-million dollar US investments. There is more to tourism than
hotels. There is also additional hotel and roadway infrastructure, and
those areas are off-limits. As far as significant investments in
strategic sectors go, if there is no independent judiciary, Yankee
capital will not come to Cuba.”

There is a common thread among those Cubans interviewed: The pretext of
an imperialist enemy is now gone. If things go as expected and the
embargo is lifted, only the regime’s “blockade” on private business,
family imports and freedom of expression will remain in place.

The most optimistic believe Raul Castro’s moment has finally arrived,
that he will implement changes that will lead us towards democracy.
Others believe it is more likely that pigs will fly.

Iván García

*Translator’s note: “Yuma” is a term similar to “gringo” but with more
friendly connotations.

Source: Cuba, Waiting for the “Yumas*” / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-waiting-for-the-yumas-ivan-garcia/

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