Yes, boys and girls, your ordinary citizen can now ante up to the check-in at any hotel establishment on the island of Cuba, as long as he or she has the money to pay in hard currency. Ah, there's the rub.
A cursory search reveals at least one hotel in Varadero where a weekend stay costs about 120 dollars. Do a little simple math. Convert it to CUC's and then divide it by the average monthly salary of a average Cuban. Soon you realize that a weekend in Varadero would cost the equivalent of 5 and a half months complete take home pay. Now say you make 35 thousand a year, it would be like paying about 10 thousand dollars for your weekend.
These new "reforms" then would seem to be the height of cynicism. And they are, but not in the way you would expect. Yes, there is cynicism in decreeing "changes" dressed in the finery of "reforms," "changes" the metaphorical equivalent of allowing a nation of convenience store clerks to stay at the Waldorf in NYC, as long as they can afford it, not bloody likely. But it is more cunning still.
If you look at the "reforms" that have made the latest splash in the media, they all have one thing in common. Cell phones, computers, appliances (except for the lowly toaster, they'll have to wait 'til 2010 for them), they are the appurtenances of modern life, the must haves of the global consumer society. Your average American hears, "Cubans will be allowed to buy microwaves," and immediately pictures them in addition to the Kraftmaid kitchen with the Kitchen Aid appliances, not as a replacement for the lone hot plate with the grease of twenty years and the fraying cord, the cost of which must be paid out for years. So to the uninformed, the impression made is that Cuba is joining the 21st century.
Now Cubans may be isolated, but they have a sense of how the other half lives. All they have to do is look at the tourists, the party apparatchiks, and the State stores, or look to their exiled kin. And in part, they realize how little likelihood there is that they will be able to afford these luxuries the rest of the world takes for granted. As usual with the regime, appearance is all.
That's the true genius of these "reforms," they are designed to appeal to the Cuban sense of self. Raul is dismantling the assemblage of fiats that make Cubans feel like second-class citizens in their own country. While no substantial reforms have been forthcoming that will allow Cubans to avail themselves of these "changes," those decreed are designed to make them feel they could. One wonders if the removal of the two-tier currency will be next.
Still among the banned, however, are the rights of free assembly, free speech, free elections. Call me a skeptic, but I'm looking for one tell, and that is the release of the political prisoners. The day that Dr. Oscar Biscet walks out of whatever hell hole they've transferred him to a free man; then I will believe change is truly on the way. Until then, I fear I have misjudged Raul, who may very well have been the brains behind keeping the throne all these many years.
(An abridged version is posted on Babalublog.)