Yesterday’s news of the death of Hugo Chavez makes me wonder is this good for Cuba, or does it signal a disaster about to happen. In her Cuba Libre blog in the Spanish newspaper, El País, Yoani Sanchez writes about how Chavez’s final illness was held secret from the people of both Cuba and Venezuela by the Castro-controlled Venezuelan government, and states that maintaining secrets nowadays is like holding water between your fingers—it will inevitably leak out.
On its surface, Chavez’s death threatens an end to the generous subsidies that have kept Cuba’s economy functioning in the wake of the demise of the USSR. Cuba has received Venezuelan oil at a fraction of the world price. In return, Cuba has sent thousands of doctors to Venezuela to enable it to provide medical services for Venezuelans at little cost. The oil has been the heart-lung machine to Cuba’s terminally ill economy. If the plug is pulled, one of two things will happen. Either the Cuban economy will founder, and the hopes, which have been generated by the recent liberalization of private ownership of small businesses and real estate, will be dashed by a widespread depression, or, the government will accelerate the changes that have started to stimulate the economy through relaxed emigration and foreign investment in the travel sector of the economy. The new first Vice-President is particularly experienced with the development of foreign tourism investment outside of Havana. Perhaps he will be permitted to accelerate that important source of foreign exchange.
But much more than a few hotels and golf courses are needed to bring stability to the economy. The old guard is giving up its control and its adherence to a state-owned means of production very grudgingly. Even during Raúl’s swearing in for the final five-year term, Fidel was quoted as saying that the change that was the most important was the revolution, not the changes that Raúl has been advocating. This does not bode well.