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Gap between winners, losers in Cuba to tell if era of apertura sticks


Hope and reality on Cuba crossed paths last Monday.

A former anti-Castro hardliner on U.S.-Cuba policy explained why he was all in on the thaw with Havana just as a South Florida airline explained why it was no longer all in, or even in, on Cuba.

“Cuba is changing and we should change with it, and start thinking of a future of collaboration,” former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez told the crowd at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches.

Just to the south in Fort Lauderdale, however, Silver Airways announced it was no longer collaborating on service to Cuba. The airline said competition in the formerly forbidden Caribbean island from larger airline rivals had made the routes unprofitable.

There was no discussion of Silver’s decision at the Forum Club address by Gutierrez, who spoke more to the “emotions”deeply woven into the Cuba debate and his own path from Cuba hawk to Cuba dove.

He told the crowd he had not been to Cuba in the 55-year span from the moment he left the island as an exile to the moment he returned — with some trepidation and anxiety — to see the U.S. embassy re-open and the American flag officially raised in Cuba at a ceremony in August 2015.

His leeriness, he said, was extinguished on that trip.

“I felt joy. I felt happy to be back,” he said, before revealing he’s visited Cuba 14 times since.

Each of those visits, he added, confirmed his belief there is sufficient change in Cuba to continue the opening. He points out that 25 percent of the population is now economically sustained by private industry or self-employment. And it’s more than change — there’s a 10-year track record of reform that gives this attempt at change on the island traction and stability.

“This time it is different,” he said. “They are allowing people to do what 10 years ago was illegal.”

By contrast, Gutierrez offered, a hardline policy is now counterproductive.

“Our sanctions hurt the Cuban people,” he said. “They don’t help the Cuban people. They are the ones saying, ‘Hey, c’mon, give us a chance.”

Ross Thompson managing director at Classified Worldwide said the embargo also helps the Cuban government by making the U.S. the scapegoat. The Castro regime can blame the U.S. embargo for the lack of adequate housing, better consumer goods — you name it, he said.

But he said business enthusiasm for Cuba has been postponed. First, the Trump administration hasn’t signaled its intentions. Second, everyone is waiting for February 2018.

“That’s the date when Raul Castro says he will step down,” said Thompson. “Everyone is waiting to see if he does. And does that mean more change in Cuba?”

Good point, but I keep thinking about that Silver Airways announcement. Not that Silver is a major player. Or that it’s pullback speaks to a larger loss of interest on the island.

No, it’s that Silver’s announcement speaks to the very reason there was a communist revolution in Cuba, and a Cold War with the United States for more than half a century.

In short, it’s that Silver’s retreat is the fact of life in capitalism. There are winners and there are losers. There will be those that profit, and those who will walk away empty-handed.

The very nature of a communist system is to reject that truth. No winners, no losers and everyone gets a participatory medal. And if you don’t like it, go to Miami.

My take: When the gap widens between the new era’s capitalist winners and those who miss out, that’s when we truly find out if “this time” is really that different.



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