Has United States policy toward Cuba changed?
To the surprise of international public opinion, the United States Department of State this week announced a group of measures that make certain aspects of its policy towards Cuba more flexible.
In broad strokes, it commits to comply with the 1994 agreements, with regard to the granting of 20,000 visas per year; it reinstates the granting of temporary visas; it allows people-to-people contacts through general licenses for groups for educational purposes and professional exchanges; it takes various measures to support the functioning of the private sector in Cuba; it authorizes air travel to the provinces, as well as eliminating limits on the sending of remittances, provided that companies that are not sanctioned by the US government are used.
According to the official statement: “Cuba is going through an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to be focused on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free of repression and economic suffering.” American sensitivity arrives a little late, after more than two years of pandemic, but its credibility is not worth discussing, the key to this decision must be sought elsewhere, rather than in the statement, also contained in the statement of that what was announced “is in line” with the interests of the national security of the United States.
Apparently what has determined this decision is the immigration problem, one of the most toxic and divisive issues on the US political and social scene, which has been complicated by the avalanche of undocumented immigrants on the country’s southern border, which the Biden administration has been unable to avoid. Considered a matter of national security, its solution is of decisive importance for the aspirations of the Democrats in the upcoming elections this year and in 2024.
The violation of the migratory agreements with Cuba, making it impossible for legal channels to emigrate to the United States, as well as the policy of economic suffocation carried out by the Trump and Biden administrations, has also led to the uncontrolled increase in the flows of illegal Cuban migrants, either joining the caravans that cross Mesoamerica to reach the United States or by sea, with the dangers that both circumstances entail.
The Cuban ‘freedom seekers’ cannot be treated the same as the rest of the migrants without affecting the policy against the Island. Nor should they be considered an exception, because it damages the relations of the Democrats with other national groups and their countries of origin. So there is no other option than to try to reduce the flow of Cubans and thus clear the migration problem in general, of one of its most conflictive political problems for the U.S. government.
We are in the presence of a regularity in US policy towards Cuba. While emigration has been used to demonstrate the “aberrations of socialism,” the United States has always encouraged it, especially that which is carried out illegally, since it has greater media connotations. The limit has been to keep it at controllable levels to avoid affecting national security, as they conceive it. As a result, every time this ability to control has been broken, the US government has resorted to agreements with Cuba to restore it. That is the history of the migratory agreements signed in 1965, 1984 and 1994. It also explains the reorganization efforts that we see today.
Let’s say that these measures are very elementary and constitute the minimum necessary to bring some order to the current chaos, which is only possible if the legal channels are facilitated and the economic pressures that exacerbate the problem are attenuated. In this sense, they constitute a respite from the “devastating” policy applied by the United States in recent years, as Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described it, and this is enough to welcome them, although the Cuban government is right when warning us to wait for the rules that regulate its application to be able to measure its true impact.
The moment could be related to the celebration of the Summit of the Americas, to be held next June in Los Angeles, California. Either to clean up the criticism of some governments for the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua or even to eventually reverse this decision and include them in the summit in a climate that they hope will be less tense. Apparently, the fact that measures have been coincidentally announced that also relax the sanctions against Venezuela, although for different reasons, may also be related to this event.
We may think that we are in the presence of an advance of the forces that defend soundness in the policy towards Cuba within the current US administration, for which the Cuban government should do everything possible to make their job easier. This should not be very difficult since what is proposed is a lived experience. Also, the Cuban economic reforms themselves are in harmony with the measures that the United States says aim to favor the development of the private sector in the country, and which constitute its most clearly subversive intention.
It is clear that as long as Cuba is a socialist country and defends its sovereignty, it will have antagonistic contradictions with the US. The issue under discussion is to assess the setting in which the conflict unfolds. The Cuban people have verified firsthand and in the worst way that Obama is not the same as Trump. As Biden looks more like the latter, signs of change should be encouraged.
The Cuban government is correct when it describes these measures as very limited. In truth, they do not alter the essence of the blockade nor do they eliminate the designation of Cuba as a promoter of terrorism, which constitutes a great difficulty for the commercial and financial functioning of the country. Nor has the rhetoric against Cuba changed: there is not a single conciliatory word in the US declaration.
However, these measures contribute to unlocking the negotiation mechanisms and stimulating dialogue between the two countries, a dynamic that also involves the civil society of both and has its own inertia. Despite the fact that we cannot affirm that we are witnessing the beginning of a more transcendental process, and even if started, we well know that it can be reversible. It is not unreasonable to affirm that it is effectively a change in the US policy towards Cuba, even if it was not the reason of this move by the US. They may not be even fully aware of it.
Those who do know what this means is Cuban American extreme right and their allies, both Republicans and Democrats, which is why they have started to scream and complain. Also aware are Cubans and their relatives in the United States who harbor the hope of seeing the agony of so many years of separation overcome. It is even possible that, in gratitude, some Cuban Americans are inspired to even vote for Joe Biden, as they did for Barack Obama, for which he would be rewarded for what he does not deserve.