HAVANA — December 2017 will mark three years since the announcements made by the governments of Cuba and the United States. Those events were the greatest break in the “status quo” maintained between both nations for almost six decades.
The announcements are noteworthy because of the selfsame fact; because, even though it was expected that something like that would happen sometime and many things had changed since then, nothing had really changed.
The symbolism and importance of those events have propitiated an explosion of literature, analyses, debates and events of all kinds. This article is not going to list the accords signed or name the U.S. companies that are doing business in Cuba.
It should be noted that it is possible that the administrations at that time made a strategic mistake during the two-year window of opportunity they had to solidify that relationship. Both parties assumed, with excessive certainty and speed, that they would have at least four more years to smooth things over and build mutual trust.
Lamentably, that illusion evaporated on Nov. 8, 2016. After all, everyone knows that, in a race between two candidates, each has a 50 percent chance of winning, a probability that becomes even more uncertain in the peculiar electoral model of the United States. The surprise ended in a diplomatic marathon between December 2016 and January 2017, when the Obama administration came to an end.
Winds of change are blowing now, and one can’t help but be surprised by the accumulation of worn-out arguments that have been disseminated to reverse the processes of the two previous years.
A minority sector in the U.S. maintains that Obama’s policies were a concession to the Cuban government. It is said that international tourism favors only the military higher-ups and that all the resources generated end up in the hands of the State. It is also said that Cuban nationalized many properties and that it is a dictatorship, which requires a certain type of special treatment by the U.S. We must admit that the creativity of certain sectors is infinite.
For the past 60 years, Washington’s arguments to maintain the sanctions have gone from the nationalizations (whose compensation the U.S. government always refused to negotiate, as part of its refusal to recognize the Cuban government and its bet on a regime change), to Cuba’s support for progressive guerrillas, its conversion into a Soviet satellite, its alleged protection of and support for terrorism, the alleged violations of human rights, its reticence to promoting the development of the private sector, and many others. Every time one argument is exhausted, another is picked up.
Public discourse claims that all that is done to “liberate” the Cuban people and defend its “interests.” One wonders what proportion of the Cuban people has been consulted about its true interests.
As part of that phenomenon, one often hears politicians talk about a Cuba and a people that they don’t know. The mutual ignorance that characterizes the discourse from both shores of the Strait is truly incredible. Each side refuses to accept that these stereotyped images do not constitute a good basis for a healthy relationship.
Unfortunately, the Cold War and its aftermath have excessively polluted our historical links with unfortunate episodes. But of course we know that the sanctions, the isolation and the punishment do serve some interests (in this case, some very narrow interests of a small minority) that border on revanchism and vengeance. Those are not the interests of the American people, much less of the Cuban people.
On this side of the Strait, there are also questions that require a serious discussion. Some sectors in Cuba have vehemently opposed a rapprochement to the United States, maintaining that it is impossible to establish “normal” relations with such a neighbor. Fresh in their minds are the events that surrounded President Obama’s visit and the lack of clarity that held back the process.
One small detail is left out of the analysis. If what some consider normalcy is an illusion, how exactly do people imagine that Cuba can improve its relations with the United States? What would be good enough for those sectors and what would be the optimal trajectory for an improvement?
The conclusion is that we’ll be satisfied only if the Americans express their devotion for the Communist Party and agree to repair the damages caused by the embargo with interests, including withdrawing from Guantánamo, in exchange for nothing.
This likely demonstrates an unquestionably devout nationalism, but it’s an absurdity in terms of Cuba’s geopolitical reality. Nothing like it is ever going to happen. It would be more advantageous to imagine how we can begin to construct a “more balanced” relationship with a country that occupies a singular position in the world and rises 90 miles from our shores, something that inevitably makes it a partner we cannot ignore forever.
It is difficult to imagine any nation (primarily one that is close to the United States) that has no reservations about the way the Americans conduct their affairs on the international arena.
It is well known that, even within today’s limited framework, the United States occupies a relevant position within the economic panorama of Cuba. Think about the trade — especially the importation of food — international tourism, remittances, telecommunications, academic and scientific exchanges and the supplies brought in from that country, and the combined effect reaches the billions of dollars.
A lifting of the blockade will undoubtedly multiply those possibilities several times over and will do so very quickly.
As if that weren’t enough, several aspects of our reality fail to contribute to a more balanced relationship. A vulnerable economy that lacks the mechanisms to insert itself adequately into the present world is not necessarily an asset at the negotiating table. Our capacity for absorption is quite questionable.
Look at what’s already happening with international tourism, on a stage that still displays conservative numbers in comparison with the potential. On the other hand, the near absence of a serious debate on the U.S. reality, a debate that avoids the extremes of exile politics or ideological propaganda does not propitiate an objective basis for advancement.
Cuba’s mistrust is not without basis; it has deep historical roots. The huge asymmetry between our countries reinforces the fear of economic dependence, of a subaltern position that are legitimate causes for the Cuban people. Our history has shown on too many occasions that we have emerged seriously battered from such situations. Economic influence can lead to political leverage.
All this requires due attention, but other issues should also be borne in mind. The true interests of the Cuban people, summarized in laudable aspirations of prosperity, tolerance and participation, should not be kidnapped by an outdated political discourse.
The young generations of Cubans are watching us attentively. It is frustrating that so much is said about the Cuban people and its interests while they are questioned and consulted so little.
The new administration needs only to put into practice what Secretary of State Tillerson recommended, when he said that the United States should not impose its values on other nations. Those of us in Cuba need to start imagining a world where we can lead a civilized coexistence with the United States, even in its status as a great international power.
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