President Barack Obama’s unilateral decision to normalize relations with Cuba and lift the U.S. embargo without the approval of Congress may play well on the international left and help the Castro regime to maintain control of the country, the economy, and all levers of power for years to come, but it will do nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
Most people alive today in Cuba have never known economic freedom. It ranked 177th out of 178 countries in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal—placing Cuba at the very bottom, just above North Korea, among the most repressed nations in the world.
Property rights are severely restricted. Fidel Castro’s 83-year-old brother Raul continues to guide both the government and the Cuban Communist Party. The average worker earns less than $25 a month, agriculture is a shambles, mining is depressed, and tourism revenue is volatile.
A one-party Communist state since the Castros took over more than 50 years ago, Cuba depends on external assistance—chiefly oil subsidies provided by Venezuela and remittances from Cuban émigrés—and a captive labor force to survive.
With the Castro-lite regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on the verge of collapse due to plummeting world oil prices, the Cuban government knows it cannot count on the billions in subsidies from Caracas to keep flowing, so a potential flood of greenbacks from North America suddenly looks very inviting.
No Incentive to Reform
Yet as Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) noted, while President Obama’s appeasement of the brutally repressive Castro regime may help it to survive politically by refloating the socialist Cuban economy on inflows of American aid, corporate investments, expatriate remittances, and tourism receipts, the regime will have no incentive to establish the rule of law or to take any of the many other steps toward democratic capitalism that would improve economic freedom for the Cuban people.