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Orthodoxy ends with a small cold war reprise

Cuba flags Havana
Blowing from a different direction now? (photo via Luiza, Flickr)

It is not the end of Cuban-style Socialism, but it surely is a relief for the country’s people: In the last couple of days, the government of President Raul Castro has announced reforms that aim at ending the orthodox stagnacy that has crippled the Caribean island’s development.

Part of the changes are symbolic: Cubans will have unrestricted access to cellphones, computer hardware and to hotels that had been reserved for tourists. Plans for a fifth TV channel have been revealed, too: It will, unlike the other four, also broadcast foreign content. On an economic level, agricultural liberalization will enable farmers to lease land from the government and private producers to buy fertilizers from the state.

So are these steps paving the way for a new openness? Not likely so: Cubans will continue to have limited access to the internet, and most of the goods available will be unaffordable for average people. As far as the agricultural sector is concerned, it needed fixing to avoid its collapse like the sugar-industry, anyway. Indeed, all parts of Cuban economy are in bad shape – opening it to foreign investors may soon be announced. Bio-pharmaceutical products are one hope to be one of the island’s future opportunities, the exploitation of nickel-reserves is another one. Still, the economic production remains low, its growth largely depends on trade with Venezuela. And another oil-rich country is reaching out for partnership, too: Russia and Cuba are likely to head for a closer relationship.

A new bound with Russia would make sense for Mr. Castro, as it would build up pressure on the West. To confine Russia’s influence, Europe may look to boost trade with Cuba even more; the United States may have to think about ending its embargo. Seen that way, the end of orthodoxy may mark the beginning of Cuba’s new flexibility in international relations. Too bad for Mr. Castro that his country’s value as a precious asset has been in decline ever since the cold war has ended. If economic growth fails to show, he might find himself trapped between a crippling economy and the expectations his reforms raised.

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