Jose Azel discusses Cuba’s transition; life after the Castro brothers
VOXXI correspondent Diego Rosette sat down with Cuban exile scholar, Jose Azel— currently a senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami—to discuss political and economic transition in Cuba, the embargo’s role amongst the exile community, and what the future hold in store for the island nation.
Q: Personally, what’s your connection to Cuba?
I was born in Cuba, and came to Miami in 1961 as part of what is known as the Pedro Pan Children. I’ve never been back and I never saw my parents again since I left. So I’ve spent the last 55 years, in essence, fighting against the revolution.
I dedicated most of my life to the business world, retired some years back, and then came to the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at UM where I’ve been carrying out my research ever since.
Q: Can you talk about the Cuba Transition Project here at the University of Miami?
Well, the Cuba Transition Project was very active shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the collapse of the communist regime in Cuba seemed imminent. It’s role fundamentally centered on putting together the different experiences of the nations that had undergone a transition from totalitarian to democratic forms of government, and from centrally-planned economies to market economies.
The Cuba Transition Project tried to learn from those experiences: what worked, what didn’t, what plans were successful, which weren’t, what were the ideal policies, etc.
Q: In your article, “The Cuban Embargo as an Ideological Stand-In”, you discuss the embargo’s central role as the cornerstone of debate surrounding potential reform in Cuba. Quantitatively, what have the effects of the embargo been?
Quantitative data indicates that the Cuban embargo has limited the amount of resources that the government gets. And I would argue that this fact is clearly a good thing, as it limits a government which spreads anti-American sentiment and represses its own people.
Obviously, however, the embargo hasn’t been a policy which has brought about regime change. Consequently, other people would argue that it has given the Castro government an excuse as to why its economy is such a failure. Ultimately, I think anyone that is somewhat knowledgeable realizes that the collapse of the Soviet Union proves that centrally-planned economies simply do not work. The failure of Cuba’s economy is not due to the embargo; it’s due to the fact that centrally-planned economies have been proven to fail.
Q: In other words, has the role the embargo played in the failure of the Cuban economy been overstated?
The fact of the matter is that Cuba is free to buy products from all over the world. The government buys products from the Chinese, Germans, Italians, and everybody else. So one cannot make a claim that Cuba can’t buy products; actually, they can buy great products from all over the world.
In fact, even with the embargo, the United States is the fifth or sixth largest supplier of products for Cuba. Food and medicinal trade aren’t restricted under the embargo, so the United States is actually a very large trading partner.
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