Cuban Caudillo Raul Castro visits Mexico, again talks trade

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By Allan Wall,

Cuban dictator Raul Castro, the “President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers,” has just paid a visit to Mexico.

On Nov. 6, Raul arrived to the city of Merida on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Raul met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, with both leaders wearing white guayabera shirts, and Castro left on the 7th.

Raul Castro, left, with Mexico's President Peña Nieto.
Raul Castro, left, with Mexico’s President Peña Nieto.

Cuba and Mexico have a history that goes back for centuries.

Cuba was the staging ground of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes when he sailed for Mexico back in 1519.

More recently, Fidel and Raul Castro, along with others, were in exile in Mexico before returning to Cuba to eventually overthrow the government in 1959.

Mexico was the only Latin American country to never break diplomatic relations with Cuba from 1959 to the present.

That relationship served the interests of both governments.

For the Castro regime, Mexico was a valuable ally.

For Mexico, continuing to have diplomatic relations with Cuba, and making a big show of it, was a very public way of demonstrating independence from the United States.

Now the U.S.-Cuban relationship is changing. The U.S. and Cuba have full diplomatic relations, and the U.S. Interests section in Havana has been upgraded to an embassy.

Yet, despite all the hype, the U.S. has not lifted its economic embargo. And the Castro brothers, in power since Dwight Eisenhower was U.S. president (1953-61), are still running Cuba.

My family and I visited Cuba in 2014, the summer before last. That was before President Barack Obama announced his change of direction in Cuban policy.

Americans are still forbidden to visit Cuba as tourists. However, they are permitted to visit for religious, scientific and cultural reasons. We visited on a church mission trip, as our church in the U.S. supports a congregation in Cuba, and we went to visit them.

The trip was fascinating. The island is beautiful and the people were friendly. It’s still a communist country, with communist propaganda placed along the highways. And the people are poor, with an acute shortage of consumer goods.

For a summary of our trip, see a previous article here.

One result of the 1959 communist takeover was that massive importation of U.S. automobiles to Cuba came to an end. Yet somehow, Cubans have kept many classic 1950s-era American automobiles running to this day.

The classic cars were great to see, and on our last evening in Havana we took a ride in a ’57 Ford Fairlane (with a Mercedes engine). Here is a photo of my family and me in the automobile. I didn’t actually drive it, I was just posing in this photo, but we did ride in it.

The American economic embargo is widely criticized, and in Cuba I saw a sign declaring it “the longest genocide of history.”

Ironically, before the Revolution, the U.S. was criticized for having too much investment in Cuba, now the blockade is criticized for not having enough.

But it’s not really the fault of the embargo that Cuba is a poor country.

After all, the U.S. embargo has not prevented most other countries from investing in or trading with Cuba. European, British, Canadian, Israel and Latin American countries (including Mexico) are free to trade with Cuba, and some do. So why is Cuba still poor?

Cuba’s economy is still communist, with all the major Cuban enterprises connected to the state.

So even if the economic blockade by the U.S. is lifted, that doesn’t mean Cuba will suddenly turn its economy around.

As for Mexico, you’d think that, after all these years of trading with Cuba, that there would be more Mexican products on sale there.

Admittedly, I didn’t see everything, but the only Mexican product I saw on sale in Cuba was Mexican Coca-Cola. And that doesn’t even appear to be the most common soft drink. There is a regime-connected enterprise that makes Cuban soft drinks. And I didn’t find the Cuban Coca-Cola equivalent to be very good.

Nor did I find any Mexican snack products, of which there are many good ones, for sale in Cuba.

Now however, there is interest in the Mexican business community for more opportunities in Cuba.

In Merida, Raul Castro appealed to such hopes by declaring, “We also welcome the interest of Mexican companies to do business and invest in Cuba, particularly in the special development zone of Mariel and in sectors such as agriculture and tourism.”

That’s what Raul says, but it still remains to be seen.

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