Archive for December 21st, 2014

US-Cuba: A Historic Decision

December 21, 2014

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I took my time writing about the historic agreement between the US and Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations, exchange prisoners and end the embargo of the island, for the simple reason that it is a complex issue with many different edges. No matter how it eventually plays out, it is a historic event that will change the relations between the United States and Latin America. Let me say right off the bat, that I am in total agreement with the decision: The embargo is obsolete, made no sense and in the end, and it was just hurting the people of Cuba the most.

To begin with, the normal state of things is to have diplomatic relations between countries, no matter how unfriendly they may be and how deep the political divisions between the are. Relations are normally broken only when countries threaten each other and it has certainly been a while since this has happened between the US and Cuba beyond the rhetoric of claiming the US is the enemy of Cuba (and vice versa), something that will now simply have to go away.

The blockade of Cuba has certainly not worked, neither has it helped human rights on that island and it has had a negative impact on the people of Cuba, but not so much on the economy of the island. After all, in Venezuela, with no embargo, lots of trade with the US and lots of oil, the Government has tried the imitate the Cuban model and its economy is fast becoming the same failure as the Cuban one.

So, for the US, the policy has not worked at all, why keep it? How do you reason that you will keep it: We decided this 50 years ago, it has done nothing, we screwed up, but let’s just keep it because we are all used to it or is by now programmed into our DNA?

That’s precisely why it needs to end: The embargo was an utter failure!

If the US, or any other country for that matter, broke relations with any country that violated human rights or was run by a Dictator, countries would then  save a lot of money on diplomats, because they would have to reduce their Ambassadors significantly. If this were the criteria, neither Egypt, China, or for that matter Venezuela, would qualify for having diplomatic relationships with the US and European countries that value Human Rights. And while people may support sanctions on Venezuelan individuals, I don’t think an economic embargo would help Venezuela or Venezuelans on Human Rights, but would create the same “blame the US” propaganda tool that has been used in Cuba to blame the failure of the revolution on the US.

I do agree that the agreement reached between Obama and Raul Castro seems so far  fairly one-sided: Cuba appears to have gotten the best part of the deal. But do we really know all the details? I imagine lots of details are still being worked out. But this is not a short term decision, this is in my mind a deal struck thinking long term by both sides. A deal that has been decades in the works, given that Kissinger tried in the 70’s (via Fausta) to end the embargo, and he was part of a Republican administration! Imagine that!

And the US-China rapprochement in the 70’s can be a good comparison. It was started by Kissinger, but relations did not become formal for some eight years. Eight years from now, Raul will be 91 and Fidel 96, if any of them are alive. Clearly, Obama is planning ahead to the demise of the most visible leaders of the Cuban revolution and likely Raul is thinking long term too, no matter how much he claimed that the revolution will not steer away from its course. Obviously, Obama thinks he can convert Cubans to the capitalist mode, while Raul is thinking more of some Cuban-style mixed system, which would benefit the population of Cuba. Just think, US tourism alone could become the main driver of the Cuban economy, while keeping it under the control of the Government. In the end, an open relationship between the USA and Cuba will certainly lead to a more open Cuba. How can I be against that? How can that not help change the Cuban mindset?

But I am sure that Obama’s gambit with US-Cuban relations also has a fairly large electoral component. That is, a component aimed at helping the Democrats retain the White House in the next Presidential election. After all, the Republicans face a shift in demographics that does not help their chances of taking the White House, unless the candidate’s name is Marco Rubio. And Rubio now has to be very careful if he decides to fight the removal of the embargo, because if he fails, he will look like a loser. And he is likely to fail, even if the Republicans control the Senate, simply because it is an issue which no longer has the passion that it may have had in the past. The ineffectiveness of the embargo is the best argument against it. But at the same time, the end of the embargo will remove a very emotional topic from the political table, particularly in ever important Florida.

As to whether Maduro knew or not about what was going on, my feeling is that he clearly was left out in the cold. Just think, not only did Maduro hold on Monday a rally devoted exclusively to the issue of anti-Americanism (When was the last time Chavismo held a rally only against the US?), but Maduro spent the whole week prior to that making sure he made the US the enemy, “thinking whether we should have relations or not”, accusing the local Embassy of conspiring against him and saying that the US was behind the drop in oil prices, only to hurt Venezuela. But the worst part was, that as the details of the US-Cuba agreement were being ironed out, Maduro spent last weekend in Cuba.

And he was clueless and out of the loop.

Nicolas can´t be happy about all this. But maybe he was told it was not his problem anyway.

Nicolas is not Chávez and such a shift in policy (and history!) is likely to confuse him and maybe even make him screw up. It is not an easy change, his idols have decided to talk to the Evil Empire, leaving Venezuela alone in blaming all of its ills on the US.

For now, people are just wondering how the agreement will affect the Cuban cigar industry, Major League Baseball, Tourism, communications and the like. Many US companies are salivating at the possible opportunities. Cubans are also happy, but some are also somewhat bewildered by the agreement. It is not easy to change the party line 180 degrees in a country where all of the media is controlled and the story had a single script up to now.

And who knows what it all means for Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution. If it creates divisions between Cuba and Venezuela, then it is all for the better. The same is the case if it creates differences among the various Chavista groups vying for power. But for now, there is not enough information. The agreement is historic, but only history will be able to tell us its significance and how it changed (or not) the region.

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