Where are we? How can we help?

By Lorenzo Cañizares and Rolando Castañeda
A few weeks ago, The Washington Post announced that the states of Virginia and Maryland are eagerly awaiting the change expected in the relations between Cuba and the United States. The article pointed out that these two states have been dealing with the Cuban government and have increased their business with the island to a large extent.
All this enthusiasm began with President Obama’s lifting of the restrictions on visits and remittances by Cuban-Americans, and the response of Cuban President Raúl Castro, who said he was open to any kind of discussion at the negotiating table, wherever and whenever, including the topics of democracy, human rights and the release of political prisoners.
Shortly thereafter, Fidel Castro, who obviously still holds great power in Cuba, accused President Obama of misunderstanding what his brother tried to say and stated that there would be no debate about any of those issues and no release of political prisoners.
In late April, Raúl Castro said, during a meeting of the Nonaligned Nations Movement held in Havana, that Cuba will not negotiate away its national sovereignty nor its political and social system with the United States. In this, we resolutely support the general, because these are issues that concern the Cuban people solely and exclusively. At the same time, the Obama administration has assumed the position that the U.S. will not lift the embargo until Cuba takes concrete steps to change its political system.
So, where do we stand? The Cuban government is right in expressing its categorical refusal to any negotiation with a foreign government that might impose conditions and set as its goal a regime change in Cuba. To expect otherwise is childish; no government bargains away its own extinction. The Cuban government is not in agreement, nor are we, with any negotiations that impose external positions on the domestic management of the country, thus diminishing the nation’s sovereignty.
However, it is important to point out that a discussion on human rights or individual freedoms has nothing to do, in and of itself, with national sovereignty. On the contrary, true sovereignty rests on a population that desires more rights and fundamental freedoms. That’s how the Cuban government saw it when it signed two international treaties on human rights in 2008.
Let us also recall that, in early April, a delegation of Afro-American legislators met for several hours first with Fidel and later with Raúl. We interpret this as the Cuban government’s desire to normalize its relations with the U.S. government, especially with a president who is extremely popular in the international arena.
Also, it is important to point out the replacement of Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, known as a hard-liner or “Taliban” toward the United States, by Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s delegate to the United States, 1995-2003. This should be interpreted as the Cuban government’s desire to assign a career diplomat to explore the possibilities of better, more realistic and more pragmatic relations with the U.S.
Simultaneously, foreign journalists stationed on the island, have reported that the situation involving foreign payments has deteriorated swiftly, that power blackouts are in the offing, and that Cuban academicians have questioned the pace of the domestic measures necessary to confront the difficult economic situation, which has been heightened by the international financial crisis.
Many Cubans north of the Caribbean and in other sites of the diaspora have responded in different ways to what’s happening between the two governments and in Cuba. As we have said before, we consider the position adopted by the Cuban-American National Foundation toward the embargo as very significant and correct. That position recognizes not only the fact that the embargo is very porous but also that it is time to begin a new chapter.
The time has come for us Cubans in the diaspora to take a much more active position in the reconciliation and national reintegration of our people (which is, moreover, unavoidable), to help overcome the difficult national problems and to establish a project for the country that a majority of the Cuban people will desire. How can we help? By taking the necessary steps to establish a national table at which representatives of all Cubans can work together to define and develop the bases to solve the nation’s problems.
We must take into consideration that Cuba, in order to develop economically, needs a peaceful environment in its foreign relations, especially while it makes important internal structural changes. A détente with the U.S. government is necessary, even mandatory, to halt the detour of resources that are used for military expenditures and the solving of diplomatic problems created by the political isolation established by the United States.
Why does the United States oppose Cuba’s access to international financial institutions that will help it determine the changes it needs to make? Cuba needs technical resources, investments and foreign markets to develop its devastated economy.
Many foreign companies are leery of trading with Cuba because of the penalties they might incur for violating the U.S. embargo, penalties imposed by the Helms-Burton Act and the Torricelli Law, both of which violate the standard rules of international law. For example, Sherritt maintains environmental standards on the island that are prohibited in Canada, under the principle that whoever contaminates pays for the cleanup.
Cuba needs resources to exploit its rich mineral deposits, particularly its crude oil, to expand tourism possibilities and to trade normally with its most important and closest market, all of which is prevented by the lack of foreign investments and the U.S. embargo.
Lorenzo Cañizares, is a Cuban-American labor leader who is a specialist on organization for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa. Rolando H. Castañeda is a Cuban-American economist who retired from the Inter-American Development Bank. He lives in Washington, D.C.