Despite new border policies, as well as efforts made by the Obama Administration to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States in December, Cubans remain dependent on their government for wages and are limited in their ability to own and run businesses.
On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama relaxed the decades-old trade embargo between Cuba. While the embargo cannot be fully lifted without the consent of Congress, many changes have been made, relaxing restrictions on trade and travel.
The United States continues to move toward reform, but ultimately the trade embargo cannot be lifted completely without congressional reform.
“The embargo will be lifted completely over the next five to 10 years and not sooner,” said Dr. Bob Namvar, professor of economics at California Baptist University. “I will not be surprised if we follow the same practice and the same trading model we have implemented since we started the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada.”
Namvar said free trade or lifting the trade embargo will benefit all trading parties in one way or another but will not necessarily have equal benefits.
Carlos Palacios, a resident of Havana, Cuba, has lived in the Playa region for more than 30 years and has seen firsthand the difficulties citizens face with regard to business, trade and general rights.
“Any Cuban can start their own business. The problem is maintaining it and coming up with the capital to start,” Palacios said. “You can argue it’s the same in other places, but in Cuba there isn’t a majority market. You can’t buy things in wholesale and sell them for a greater price.”
Because of the high demand of products with low supply costs of certain products are devastatingly high. Palacios uses the cost of a bottle of olive oil as an example, which costs the equivalent of $100.
Palacios also said the salaries of Cubans are controlled by the government, along with exports and imports, which puts financial strain on its citizens.
New regulations will allow Americans to travel to Cuba for various reasons, including family visits, education and religion, without having to obtain a special license from the U.S. government as they previously were required to do.
While this could mean that both countries will benefit economically to what extent depends largely on the Cuban government.
Robert Gonzalez, who along with his wife opened Molinos coffee shop in Riverside after a café his father owned while living in Cuba, comes from a lineage of businessmen starting with a café in Cuba of the same name.
“If the Cuban regime uses this new opportunity to continue to control the people and continue their socialist views and not pass (benefits) down to their people, then we may be making their situation worse,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that six months after his father left Cuba to come to the U.S., the Cuban government seized the café from Gonzalez’s uncle and claimed the business as government-owned.
U.S. officials made it clear that the move toward restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba does not mean Cuba is now open for business, stressing that while investments in Cuba’s limited array of small businesses are permitted, general investment will still be prohibited.
Dr. Chris McHorney, CBU professor of political science and chair of the Department of History and Government, said that unfortunately the Cuban government has not democratized over the last five decades, making any kind of progress difficult.
McHorney added that Freedom House Rating, an organization that measures freedom on a global basis, gave Cuba a rating of 6.5 the last six years in a row, with one being a most free nation and seven being the least free.
“Changes to the current U.S.-Cuba trade policy may lead to the emergence of a more free-market system in Cuba,” McHorney said. “In addition, the Cuban government has already implemented some very modest economic reforms. However, Cubans still enjoy very little economic freedom.”
The Cuban government still will have control over all imports and exports, and general tourism of the country will still be banned.
“The Cuban government will need to implement much more significant reform before Cuba has a free-market economic system,” McHorney said.