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For Cuba, Now Come The Hard Questions

Once the noise dies down over the deal with the U.S., Cuba's educated populace may not take it so well when it realizes the communist regime will budge very little at home.

An anti-American billboard in Havana
An anti-American billboard in Havana
Hugo Martini


BUENOS AIRES — It certainly is big news: the United States and Cuba restoring diplomatic ties after 53 years as enemies. Still, hard questions have been overlooked in all the excitement as we begin to imagine where Cuba is heading now.

Here are three key questions:

No. 1: President Barack Obama has decided to place Cuba on the same chessboard as countries with political systems opposed to American values, but that nonetheless generate no real risks in international affairs. How does this mechanism work? Havana was a danger to stability when, as a Soviet ally, it became a communist base 90 miles from the Florida coast.

The situation has changed, and Obama is now telling them they will have the same status as states like Russia or China. It is a message that refreshes a principle we Argentines might do well to bear in mind: State policies are made by the government in charge. The world will not act if states violate human rights, restrict press liberties, twist legislative and judicial functions to suit a government, imprison opponents without good cause or design legal systems with double standards — one for the government and its friends, and one for the citizenry.

No. 2: The project envisaged for Cuba, namely to make it a "Chinese-style" system of open economy and political dictatorship, could face difficulties. When Deng Xiaoping began China's economic liberalization in 1978, he was working on the basis of a reality: that 60% of the Chinese people were illiterate. In contrast, Cuba is winding down the Castro era with a 98% literacy rate, which is almost the same as in 1959 when it was the second Latin American country in terms of literacy after Argentina (according to UNESCO education quality reports).

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In Havana — Photo: Christopher Michel

The question is, how will the highly educated Cuban population tolerate a system with two (capitalist and communist) heads? Teaching is essential to improvement, but you cannot simply have your way with educated people.

No. 3: The importance given to the Cuban culture may not last that long. Cuba has for the last half century been linked to one name, Fidel Castro, who has always been more important than his country. Cuba represents no more than .07% of the world economy, .06% of global trade, and 1.5% of the Latin American economy. Since January 1959, thanks to Fidel's clever strategy, Cuba stopped being a Caribbean island subject to regional power plays, and became a player in the Cold War. Until now it has never been a part of the politics of its own region, notwithstanding the end of that war and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The end of the crisis prompts a question only the Cubans will be able to answer: Can they become something more than the Caribbean's largest island on its way to being a mega tourist hub?

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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