Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ah, the good old days ...

Wearing a heavy woollen coat and leather gloves, Raul Castro has landed in Moscow for a much-anticipated week-long official visit to Russia.
It’s the first visit to Moscow by a Cuban leader since 1986, when Fidel Castro joined leaders from other communist satellites (hello, Erich Honecker!), to attend a congress of the Soviet Communist Party.
Those old-fashioned, carefully-choreographed extravaganzas were a chance for leaders such as Castro to dress up and pay public homage to the great Soviet state while at the same time begging his paymasters to provide more and more economic subsidies to keep afloat what passed for the Cuban “socialist” economy.
Back then, of course, Soviet imperialism seemed unshakeable – at least from the outside. Few experts would have predicted then that the whole, shaky structure would collapse spectacularly just three years later, leading to the demise of communism in Eastern Europe and eventually, the demise of the Soviet Union itself.
So, for the record, here are a couple of figures from the days when Havana was the most demanding of all Soviet client states:

· The Soviets accounted for about 80 percent of Cuba's international trade, with trade increasing at a rate of about 10 per cent a year.

· Moscow was the principal supplier to the Castro brothers of oil, food, machinery, spare parts, chemicals and other vital materials.

· Soviet subsidies – primarily through the supply of low-cost oil and purchase of Cuban sugar at hugely inflated prices – were estimated at about USD 5 billion a year.

This time around, Castro II won’t be paying homage to the old Soviet dream which was never much of a dream, at least not for ordinary Russians. Instead, he will have to cope with the new capitalist realities of Moscow and its new money-hungry rulers.
One thing that hasn’t changed all that much, however, is the nature of the relationship: the slightly younger Castro will still be begging for subsidies (now called “loans”) to keep afloat what passes for the Cuban “socialist” economy.


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