HAVANA, January 19. Small Cuban businessmen are “lifesavers” that keep the people “afloat” in a desperate economic situation,stated a senior American official in Congress, without managing to convince the Republicans, fearful that they will be “connected” to the “Castro regime.”
More than 10,000 private companies operate in various fields on the island, from food distribution to construction and automobile repair, since the Cuban government legalized the creation of small and medium-sized businesses in 2021.
“Cuba’s private sector is now responsible for almost a third of all employment on the island,” Deputy Undersecretary of State for Latin America and the Caribbean, Eric Jacobstein, assured congressmen this Thursday.
“A class of independent business leaders is emerging,” he added.
How does the government of Democratic President Joe Biden know that it is not “a facade”? Republican Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar asked him during a session of the subcommittee for Latin America and the Caribbean of the House of Representatives on “the myth” of the new Cuban entrepreneurs.
“We assess that there are a variety of actors working in the Cuban economy (…). We do not believe that these are absolutes: whether the Cuban economy is completely free and independent or is 100% dominated by the Cuban government and his cronies,” Jacobstein responded.
Based on the talks that he claims to have had with many small businessmen, he defines them as “people who are as far away as possible from the Cuban regime”, who “suffer from poor economic management” and make “very difficult” decisions.
Because it is “more agile and efficient than the government, the private sector currently acts as a lifeline for the Cuban people, without which they could not stay afloat,” he added.
“Oppressors” and their children
But Salazar claims to have information from Cuba, according to which “those who have had the easy way to open a business (…) are the children of the oppressors or the oppressors themselves” and the “plugged in.”
He is concerned about “the rumors” that Washington will open the banking system to these businessmen because he believes it is impossible to empower the people without benefiting the government in a country where Gaesa, a conglomerate controlled by the military, controls the most lucrative economic sectors.
Jacobstein denied being aware of “specific regulatory changes at this time,” but assured that in any case they would adhere to United States legislation, which imposed an embargo on the island in 1962.
In the last 60 years, isolationism “has weakened Cuba and has taken it directly into the arms of Russia and China,” protested Democratic congressman Joaquín Castro.
Both he and his colleague Sydney Kamlager-Dove accused Biden of being too timid for keeping the Island on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, which hinders foreign investment.
Cuba is going through a serious crisis, with a recurring shortage of fuel, electricity and even food, which pushed some 500,000 Cubans to emigrate to the United States in the last two years, both irregularly and legally, according to official data.
“It is clear that the communist experiment in Cuba has failed,” said the Biden administration official, who in 2022 reversed some measures adopted by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
Republican Mark Green is not in favor of reaching out to Havana.
“Opening the United States to Cuba will not enrich the country. The corrupt government will not spontaneously eradicate corruption or redistribute wealth among the people. It will not free thousands of political prisoners,” he estimated.
The session in Congress has gone down quite badly in Havana.
For Oniel Díaz, founder of a private consultancy, it is “the most recent effort by the Cuban-American group in Congress to politically exploit the issue.”
“It is striking that the same people who today promote a hearing to call us ‘frauds’ or ‘connected’ were the same ones who years ago criticized the Cuban government for not allowing us to be autonomous and become entrepreneurs,” he told AFP.
On the social network X, an official from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Johana Tablada, described Salazar’s appearance as a “farce hearing.”
And the congresswoman of Cuban origin had harsh words for the Cuban government, which she called “Hamas of the hemisphere”, about the Palestinian Islamist movement at war with Israel.