HAVANA — One year has elapsed since the elections that put a new tenant in the White House. Some of the worst predictions about the foreseeable turn in U.S. policy toward Cuba have become reality.
This time, however, we resemble the rest of the world a little more. The chaos in U.S. foreign policy affects not only Cuba or some of the countries considered unfriendly to the U.S. but also that country’s allies.
The current panorama includes the step backward announced by the presidential memorandum of June 16, and the diplomatic “punishment” derived from the alleged acoustic attacks, about which there are more questions than answers at this time. But that’s not important.
The presidential memorandum of June 16 and the recently published regulations posit that the pivot in U.S. policy toward Cuba will help defend the interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people, as well as the island’s political and economic freedoms.
In reality, although the new regulations contain some innovations, such as the restriction lists, their essence does not alter the practice of almost six decades and will not change the results.
[Read – in Spanish – also: “Another wall in U.S. relations with Cuba,” by Jesús Arboleya.]
U.S. policy toward Cuba has rested on two essential pillars. Within the framework of the Cold War, there was no chance of being soft with a nation that moved too close to the Soviet Union (or was pushed, some might way, or a combination of both) and adopted an ideology that radically opposes the principles of the U.S. model, especially in terms of its foreign policy. The expropriations or the tilt toward leftist movements in other countries are examples of this antagonism.
To sell this idea — and above all, to defend this policy until today, after the end of the Cold War — the notion is promoted (shared by some circles of power in the United States) that universal standards on human rights exist, which must be interpreted and applied uniformly in all nations of the world.
To this is added the alleged duty and right of the U.S. to actively “promote” the adoption of these rights, even through the use of military force and political and economic sanctions. What’s truly important is that something that could be praiseworthy is conveniently applied on the basis of whether a nation abides by U.S. policy or not.
The countries that question U.S. hegemony are subjected to various levels of sanctions, depending on their economic or military relevance. The smallest — such as Cuba — must submit to the most punitive sanctions, given the asymmetry in economic or military power.
In the Cuban case, the second question is more specific and has to do with the political positioning of the Cuban community in the United States. This stance allows them to successfully defend the aspirations of a part of that community to call themselves the legitimate spokesmen for the Cuban people, to decide the type of society that should exist in Cuba, and to demand the return of the confiscated properties.
The combination of these actions presupposes an immediate and direct effect on travel to Cuba and the adoption of new business initiatives between entities on both sides. To that should be added the adverse effect in the perception that third parties form about Cuba. The choice of content and moment is not accidental, inasmuch as international tourism has proved to be the most dynamic sector in recent years and foreign investment has been identified as a priority for the island.
Once again, the biggest loser is the Cuban people. The nascent private sector is closely related to the foreign visitors, because much of it depends on that market to establish itself and grow. Its size has increased noticeably in the past seven years, representing at present almost 30 percent of employed individuals, including farmers and cooperatives.
Besides, tourism is one of the greatest generators of employment in Cuba and most of its workers earn wages greater than the average in the state-run sector.
In addition, the likely impact to the businesses included in the list will affect a large number of Cubans, in their status as employees and through the deterioration of volume and quality of the services they perform or the products they manufacture.
The broadening of the categories of functionaries involved in the shipment of resources and gifts will have an indisputable impact on the living conditions of these people and their families. It would seem that everyone affected (a number in the millions) are not part of the Cuban people.
U.S. citizens also lose, in the exercise of their proclaimed constitutional right to travel freely to any country, in this case one that does not constitute a threat of any kind to U.S. national security.
Other losers are U.S. businesses, thwarted in their right to trade and establish business relations with entities in other countries.
Politically, the choice couldn’t be worse. To alienate sectors as large of the Cuban population contributes only to radicalize the debate about change in Cuba and empowers the most conservative sectors. Likewise, it directly contributes to consolidate the use of foreign threats as an argument to distract from other problems of greater relevance.
In contrast with these visions, most Cubans are convinced that the fate of their country must be decided in Havana, not in Washington or Miami. This is probably the main ideology endorsed by island Cubans at present.
The evolution of Cuban society would take place in a more natural and peaceful fashion to the extent that all the sectors can interact more actively with counterparts in other contexts. This would enormously increase the matrix of ingredients and shadings available to undergo those transformations.
More than 60 years of isolation and punishment have served only to impoverish the Cuban people, to severely limit their contacts with the international community, the Cuban community in the U.S., and the American people themselves, and to promote the most extremist and paranoid interpretations in history and the bilateral relations in the Cuban society itself.
Twelve U.S. administrations cannot show that even one of the interests described in the presidential memorandum has advanced.
And these have been six decades in which Cuba has gone through the most diverse contexts, both domestic and foreign. The Cuban model has proved to be resilient and flexible, and anyone who is interested in making a positive contribution to the construction of a better Cuba must accept that the Cuban government — though it faces formidable challenges at home and internationally — is a government whose top priority at present is to guarantee a peaceful turnover of the leadership of State and Government to a new generation of leaders.
In practical terms, it is necessary to consider the context. In addition to the new regulations, relations have been damaged in other spheres. Under the pretext of “acoustic attacks” on its diplomatic personnel in Havana, the U.S. State Department reduced its staff in Cuba, severely affecting the consulate’s activities. In turn, it demanded the same from the Cuban Embassy in Washington.
Added to that was the issuance of two travel cautions related to Cuba, one due to Hurricane Irma (no other caution was used for the Caribbean region) and the other related to the potential danger presented by the alleged sonic events.
It is noticeable that so many legitimate interests were sacrificed to placate an increasingly small segment of the Cuban-American community, some of whose spokesmen expressed disappointment because the changes were applied softly, predictably due to the complaints of a growing sector doing business with the island.
The context in the United States has changed. In fact, almost all analysts agree that the regression is only partial and confirms the high popularity of the changes introduced by the previous administration.
The senseless contradictions in the current policy have few parallels in contemporary history. An idea has been implanted (and nobody seems to question it) that it is possible to defend the Cuban people’s freedom by imposing restrictions on freedom in the United States and impoverishing the Cubans themselves.
A principle has been adopted that pouncing on Cuban businesses won’t cause additional privation to the Cubans. Despite the pathological absence of results in six decades, some claim that asphyxiating the country will force the Cuban government to flee in fear or submit to leonine terms at an eventual table of negotiations.
The prediction is made that forcing Cuba to collapse will result in the construction of a stable and prosperous country. The illusion is sold that an impoverished country would not hesitate to accept a compensation accord for U.S. and Cuban businesses and individuals that would result in an additional and unbearable burden on the Cuban population.
Lamentably, none of this will become a reality in the foreseeable future. It seems that everyone will end up the loser with this “better deal.” The extremist sectors in Miami will have to continue to wait for their revenge (which seems to be their only priority) while the Cubans on the island look on attentively.
Maybe they should rethink their stance. That attitude makes them a lot less eligible to participate in any form in the future of Cuba. Those in the United States who have promoted a rapprochement between the two countries should reconsider other options.
The current U.S. policy, with its recent modifications, goes against all economic and business rationality, especially in the case of a neighbor. Not only that, it has a questionable moral basis and a dark political agenda that distances itself dangerously from today’s Cuban reality.
Finally, today’s world is not the world of the 1990s. Alienating Cuba can end up pushing it into other latitudes. Remember that the force of gravity can be countered creatively. The space age is proof of that.