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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Despite High Hopes, the Communist Island’s Revolutionary Past Suggests Change Will Come Slowly

From The Wall Street Journal:

Despite high hopes around a new chapter in Cuba’s economic and diplomatic links with the U.S. following the announcement last week by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to thaw relations frozen for 54 years, the communist island’s revolutionary past suggests change will come slowly here.

It isn’t easy changing minds in Cuba, which in many ways appears to be stuck in another era. Rundown buildings crowd this capital city, which remains little changed since the guerrilla forces led by Fidel Castro ousted Gen. Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Vintage American sedans, called “almendrones”—or big almonds—because of their bulky rounded exterior, still ply the streets.

The détente calls for the ideological foes to establish formal relations, including embassies. The U.S. will also let American residents quadruple the amount of remittances they can send to the island. The new rules also allow U.S. exports of telecommunications and agricultural gear, as well as construction materials.

What it doesn’t signal, at least not yet, is a Chinese-styled sudden shift toward freer markets or more political freedom, analysts say.

“It’s not realistic to expect Cuba to transform overnight,” said Emily Parker, author of “Now I Know Who My Comrades Are,” a book on underground Internet use in Cuba, Russia and China. “The Cuban government...recognizes that a free Internet would pose a threat to its control over information.”

Only a fraction of Cubans have access to the Internet, and many of those are party or army officials.

Mr. Castro took over for his ailing elder brother, Fidel, in 2006 but it wasn’t until 2010 that the leftist leader began implementing subtle changes to the centralized economy, allowing scores of small-scale private businesses like hotels and restaurants to capitalize on the vital tourism trade. More recently, the government has allowed locals to buy mobile phones and sell their homes and cars.

But those timid reforms have been tough going because average Cubans had no experience in managing businesses, said Pedro Freyre, chair of law firm Akerman LLP, who advises clients looking to do business in Cuba.

“Cubans have forgotten how to be capitalists and some folks are being trained by NGOs to do exactly that,” said Mr. Freyre. “The other thing is that in their heart of hearts, the rulers of Cuba are still Marxists, socialists, and they believe in social planning.”

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