Thursday, July 1, 1999
In Havana on March 29, the Baltimore Orioles edged out the Cuban All-Star team by 3 to 2 in the 11th inning. In the rematch, on May 3 in Baltimore, Cuba struck back with a decisive 12 to 6 win. But was it just a game? Cuba''s economic transition and pressure on the United States for a policy overhaul left more riding on these games than a baseball score.
Cubans continue to attribute most of their hardships to the 37-year-old U.S. embargo. But the embargo is a vestige of the past, a trap for Washington as much as for Havana. With or without the embargo, Cuba must come to terms with a world order hostile not only to socialism, but also to European-style social welfare systems.
Cuba''s range of options is narrow. The country has no choice but to integrate the global economy; it has choices only with respect to the pace and price of integration.
The threat posed by a globalized dual economy is that those who work with foreigners and have access to dollars become a new elite. A story making the rounds in Havana in early 1999 featured a man boasting about being a doorman at a tourist hotel. "He has delusions of grandeur," friends explained. "He''s only a surgeon."
The main concern of Cuban planners has been preserving a social welfare system unique in the Third World and in many ways comparable to European systems. Their preferred outcome of transition is clearly the European model. But such an outcome would be a real economic miracle. No other "emerging market" has been able to move in that direction.
A second possibility is the Russian model. A successor to Fidel Castro might simply cave in to the demands of creditors and investors. Inequities of the dual economy would be exacerbated as social services were sacrificed to the scramble for dollars. A third option is the Chinese model: open markets and closed politics. In the absence of Castro and with the outbreak of social conflict, the heir apparent, Fidel''s younger brother, Raul, might take over and rule through his command of the military.
The Chinese model seems the most likely outcome, given the rigidity of U.S. policy. Political opening is unlikely so long as resistance to it can be justified by U.S. hostility. In fact, the mixed message put out by President Clinton in January was read by Cubans as a threat, and it resulted in a crackdown on dissidents. A new law passed in February established criminal penalties for collaboration with the United States.
Limitations on U.S. options were illustrated by another story making the rounds in Havana. Castro asks of Clinton, "When will the U.S. return Guantanamo?" Clinton replies, "When Cuba returns Miami."
U.S. policy now has nothing to do with "national interest." Humanness aside, simple greed ought to dictate policy change, as some 40 countries have already moved into the investment breach left by the U.S. embargo.
But U.S. policymakers find themselves trapped--held hostage to Cuban interests--by the weight of Florida in the U.S. electoral college. To regain policy autonomy, the U.S. must cease trying to isolate Castro in Cuba and focus instead on isolating the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami. Can baseball diplomacy succeed where the more traditional kind has failed in sliding past political barriers? Perhaps not, but you may be sure there are heavy bets riding on it.
Jan Black, professor of International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, took 26 MIIS students to Cuba in January, with the help of San Francisco''s Global Exchange.