HAVANA — President Barack Obama has issued an executive order that establishes the objectives of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the measures planned to accomplish them, and the rules for the operation of the organizations assigned to apply them.
Thus he institutionalizes the existing policy, projects it into the future and reduces the obstacles that government bureaucracy can place on its path.
One value of this document is that it establishes the framework for the relations between the two countries, seen from the United States’ perspective. From that viewpoint it is possible to identify agreements and differences, as well as the advantages and dangers for Cuba in that relationship.
There probably isn’t another official document (public, at least) that analyzes in such detailed manner the United States’ policy toward a specific country, which demonstrates the importance that Obama attributes to the Cuban case.
The executive order constitutes a paradigmatic model of the application of the so-called “soft power,” a component of the doctrine of “smart power” that springs from the principle of utilizing — in a rational, balanced and specific manner — all the resources of power available to the U.S. to advance its interests worldwide.
This has been the doctrinal base that has ruled Obama’s policy during his term in office, and it’s not unrelated to the contradictions present in the U.S. body politic regarding foreign policy. Therefore, it is excessive to affirm that it guarantees the irreversibility of that policy, inasmuch as it is an executive order that can be amended by another president in the future.
Although stated in the document, it should be pointed out that the order is aimed at satisfying “the interests of the United States,” making it clear that it dovetails with the National Security Strategy of 2015 and other instruments intended to consolidate U.S. hegemony throughout the world.
And although it states that there is no intention to promote a “regime change” in Cuba, it sets out the objectives that the U.S. pursues in the current relationship, taking advantage of the opportunities that (according to the document) are offered by the “endogenous changes underway in Cuba.”
Nor is it anything that’s left to the spontaneity of events. The directive establishes the type of programs that the U.S. will develop to contribute to its success, thereby reaffirming a willingness to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs. The excuse is quite simple: the United States assumes the right to act in this manner anywhere in the world.
To argue whether this is or not an imperialist policy makes no sense. It can’t be otherwise because it reflects the nature of the system on an international scale and Cuba is not an exception in that context. The problem lies in interpreting the reasons for the changes and how to deal with their consequences in a world where there are no other options.
As expressed in the directive itself, the reasons for change respond to the objective of “ending an outdated policy” and “shift[ing] away from an embargo, which is an outdated burden on the Cuban people and has impeded U.S. interests.” The point here, therefore, is to update the policy and that is what this document sets out to do.
Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to analyze the conditions that now influence this process, to understand its evolution and its perspectives.
Even after the surprise announcement of the start of the process toward the “normalization” of relations, on Dec. 17, 2014, Obama had been testing U.S. public opinion by using expressly the argument that it was a “change of methods but not of objectives.”
This, by itself, was quite offensive to Cuba and, as expected, generated reactions of opposition in various sectors of Cuban society and the international Left.
Even so, in the political sphere, rapid advancements were made in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, as well as in the progress of negotiations in matters of common interest.
However, on the subject of economic relations — partly conditioned by the blockade but also by the President’s apprehension — the initial measures were extremely cosmetic. They established the principle of alienating Cuba’s state-owned enterprises and the role of the government from any of the openings that were made, making it all too obvious that the U.S. intended to strengthen a private sector that was conceived as a potential enemy of the socialist regime.
These measures then ran into the obstacles created by Washington’s ignorance of the Cuban authorities and entities, the shield that the Cuban system raised against U.S. intentions, and the ability of Cuban diplomats to protect the nation’s interests in the course of the negotiations.
Within the U.S. itself, the sectors interested in doing business with Cuba increased their pressure to eliminate or attenuate the established conditions and the U.S. government has had no choice but to accept the limits imposed on its objectives by the nature of the Cuban system. It also had to recognize the authority of the Cuban government and its institutions if it wished to continue with the march of progress.
The expressions of national and international support received by the announcement of policy toward Cuba provided greater assurance to the Obama administration and there has been a gradual advance toward the broadening of possibilities for economic contacts under the current conditions.
This conclusion has been reflected in the executive order and demonstrates a more objective knowledge of Cuba’s reality. Some of its passages are quite interesting because beyond the well-known criticism of the democratic model and human rights (aspects that both governments were discussing at the time the order was issued) they posited a distancing from many of the stereotypes commonly used to justify U.S. policy toward Cuba.
An achievement for Cuba is that, regardless of its intentions, the U.S. government was compelled to negotiate under conditions of equality and mutual respect, publicly expressing in the directive its recognition of “Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination.” That’s something that no U.S. government had done in more than half a century.
It is true that the President could still make other executive decisions that would facilitate the participation of U.S. companies in the Cuban market. Failure to do so would contradict the very objectives of his policy, especially because it would conspire against the irreversibility that Obama hopes to achieve.
Nevertheless, the directive itself acknowledges that the main obstacles to U.S. policy toward Cuba arise from the U.S. political system.
Although the new policy enjoys the support of most Americans and has even achieved a rare level of consensus among Democrats and Republicans, the existing polarization and the inability of government organizations to make decisions have kept Congress from lifting the blockade. This has created a barrier to the process of normalization and to the United States’ very ability to gain influence in Cuba, as desired by the President.
We see here a problem that should be taken strongly into account when analyzing U.S. policy toward Cuba. This policy is debated in the context of the internal contradictions that exist in that country. Those contradictions determine the policy’s vulnerabilities and inconsistencies, as well as the opportunities derived from its understanding and utilization for the purpose of satisfying the “Cuban interests.”
And that is the part that we’re interested in defending in this complex equation.