The Hollow Man

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on Resumen, December 24, 2020

The most recent episode of Trump vs Cuba is almost funny.  After more than 140 sanctions imposed since 2017, accomplishing little more than to snatch stuff from the Cubans without fulfilling his promise to chasten the Communist island, he is saying his farewell to the White House with the ridiculous act of sanction-listing the company that makes Cubita brand coffee.

Has there ever been, at any point in history, a leader in whom the discrepancy between the global reach of his power and the ridiculousness of his person has been more pathetic?  Perhaps some Roman emperor – Nero, for example, who in addition to being a despot, a male chauvinist, and a pyromaniac, ordered the assassination of his mother, Agrippina,  apparently poisoned his half-brother, Britannicus, executed his first wife Claudia, and kicked to death his second wife, Poppaea, while she was pregnant.  However, he did play the lyre, and in this taste for music he’d have come out ahead of Trump, had it not occurred to him to order the burning of Rome and at the same time prohibit the marketing of vinegar, which, mixed with honey, was a drink as popular in the First Century as coffee is now.

Cubans are so sick and tired of Trump that the echo of what he does in these last weeks of his presidency arrives to us muffled, already circling the drain of indifference.  After his having cut the remittances, stopped U.S. tourism,  and blocked the petroleum ships, after the persecution of companies trading with Cuba in third-party countries, the multi-million dollar fines levied against banks that do business with Cuba, almost nobody has  paid much attention to this action against the coffee distributer.  And those who knew about it put this story it at the very end of a long string of failures by the Gringo Nero.

Here, daily life goes on with other rhythms.  This coming January 1, the convertible peso (CUC) goes out of circulation and Cuba begins the process of monetary unification, which has taken seven years to finalize.  Only one official currency will remain, the Cuban peso (CUP), with an exchange rate of 24 pesos to the dollar, leaving the predictions of a severe currency devaluation on shaky ground. What has been called the Codification (or Planning or Management or Organizing) Task has also been accompanied by reforms of salaries, pensions, and subsidies for vulnerable persons.  President Miguel Diaz-Canel recognized that the end of a dual-currency system would not be “a magic solution for all problems” of the economy, but that it would “allow us to make solid progress,” in a context notable for an international economic crisis, COVID-19, and the effects of the U.S. blockade.

Regarding this point, those who make the effort to ignore the unilateral sanctions against Cuba by our powerful neighbor, and their open and covert actions, tend to assign all the blame for Cuban economic drama to bureaucracy and government inefficiency, whereas even a died-in-the-wool capitalist like Patrick Chovanec, professor at Columbia University, wrote on Twitter Dec 22 “You don’t withhold medical and humanitarian aid to a population because of political disagreements, even in war.” (Referring to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urging the White House to revoke Harris County COVID relief funds over mail in ballot issues.)  To which Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce in the Bush administration, replied instantly, “That’s what we’ve done to Cuba for 60 years.  It’s time for a change of policy.”

Shortages and uncertainty have caused lines, and price rises in the underground market, at the same time that the government confronts speculation and hoarding, and recognizes the unpopularity of stores that sell only in hard currency, a measure intended to re-direct money that was leaving the country back to internal markets.  They are juggling things so that every family receives the inviolable basic food basket, while the authorities assure people over and over that “no one will be left without help.”

But the hardest year that Cubans have lived through in a long time will end with a bit of tremendous news: Soberana 02, the national anti-COVID-19 vaccine, has begun phase II clinical trials and is the first pharmaceutical product of its type in Latin America to reach this stage. Among more than 200 vaccine projects initiated in the world, Soberana is vaccine number 30, in 14 countries, that has received appropriate regulatory agency authorization to advance to clinical trials on humans.

In the midst of all this, just imagine the consternation of those who try to interpret the last hours of U.S. international policy under Trump and discover that the Kave Coffee Company got the president’s whole attention during the final death throes of his regime, for the sin of selling Cubita coffee.  This is an insult even to Nero’s memory.  Remember the final litany of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper. 

Source: Cubadebate, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau


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One comment

  1. Or the world could end with a gargantuan methane burp due to the rapid melting of methane clathrates . A giant flatulent release. ( To spare the sensibilities of some I don’t want to use the more common four letter word for such a release.) All the more ignominious will be our end. Apologies to T.S. Eliot.

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