Will Washington End its Cold War Against Cuba?

Bruno Eduardo Rodriquez Parilla, foreign minister of Cuba
By Felicia Gustin
Feb 26, 2013

Talk about being caught in a time warp. The antiquated U.S. embargo against Cuba has never looked so outdated, so illogical and so totally inexplicable to any of the other 179 nations that have relations with the island.

So you think it’s going to end anytime soon? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Sure, with the U.S. elections over, there is a cacophony of voices saying the opportunity is at hand.

Writing in the Havana Note, journalist Anya Landau French points out that “President Obama’s new Secretary of State, former senator John Kerry has long criticized U.S. Cuba policy. (Obama’s) nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has never minced words when it came to our “outdated” approach to Cuba. Both men walk in (or hope to walk in) to their new jobs with long and clear records opposing U.S. sanctions on Cuba.”

In a February 9th editorial, The Boston Globe said “the timing is ripe for a new diplomatic agenda with Cuba,” citing Cuba’s recent reforms to its immigration policies that allow Cubans to travel abroad freely and allow those who have emigrated or fled to return home.

“These changes, and the beginning of Obama’s second term,” says The Globe, “create an unusual opportunity to acknowledge Cuba’s gestures and respond in a substantive way. Rather than simply extend policies that, in five decades, have failed to dislodge the Castros, the Obama administration has a chance to drag U.S. policy into the 21st century.”

But this isn’t the first time changes in Cuban policy have lined up with Washington’s criteria for normalized relations. In fact, as each new President moved into the Oval Office, each has imposed his own list of prerequisites that have included any of the following:

- End alignment with the Soviet Union and communist bloc

- End support for liberation movements fighting colonialsim (aka “exporting revolution”)

- Withdraw Cuban troops from Africa (Cuba sent troops in 1975 to help Angola repel the invasion by South African apartheid forces)

- Stop state-sponsored terrorism

- End promotion of leftist revolutions in Central America, especially El Salvador and Nicaragua

- Stop violations of human rights

- Establish U.S. approved “democracy” and a market economy

- Hold U.S.-sanctioned elections with Fidel Castro stepping down as Cuba’s President

- Free political prisoners

And so on.

Some of these have long been “complied” with. Some are so ridicuous they are laughable such as ‘state sponsor of terrorism.’ Believe it or not, Cuba is still on Washington’s list of terrorist nations even though several several senior administration officials and high-level U.S. diplomats have acknowledged Cuba should not have this designation.

Some items on the list are quite contradictory such as the call regarding human rights violations. Since when has Washington let human rights violations get in the way of full diplomatic relations with another country?

FREE TRADE, INDEED

During his first term, Obama did loosen travel for Cubans in the U.S. to visit family members on the island as well as send remittances. But ironically, the continued embargo actually benefits Cuban-Americans. Writing in the Huffington Post, long-time Cuba observers filmmaker Saul Landau and Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico, Nelson P. Valdes note that “Miami-based Cuban-Americans and their Cuba-based families have used U.S.-Cuba policy, the embargo representing the power of the nation for their own self-interest, and in order to attain a comparative advantage vis-a-vis the rest of the American population.”

They claim that Cuban-American entrepreneurs have “manufactured a lucrative business with the island, regulated by the very government they pretend to hate,” and that rightwing congressional representatives try to pass laws to punish Cuba while ignoring the trade that has benefitted both economies.

Open trade that could come with the end of the blockade would benefit both countries. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the cost of the embargo to the U.S. economy is $1.2 billion per year while The Cuba Policy Foundation estimates it’s even higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports.

The Cuban government estimates the economic damage caused to the Cuban people by the embargo as of December 2011 amounted to $1.066 trillion. Bruno Eduardo Rodriquez Parilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, told the U.N. General Assembly, “Any sensible person could figure out the living standards and development levels that we could have achieved if we had had those resources available,” calling the blockade one of the main causes of Cuba’s economic problems and the major obstacle to its economic and social development.

Most of the world agrees with him. With the passage of the twenty-first consecutive resolution calling for an end to the United States’ blockade against Cuba, United Nations delegates voted 188 in favor to 3 against (United States, Israel, Palau) with 2 abstentions (Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia).

SADLY, NOT A PRIORITY

President Obama has outlined the priorities for his second term and most are on the domestic front: fixing the economy, immigration reform, improving education, gun control, addressing climate change, to name a few.

In terms of foreign policy, Obama hopes to wrap up the U.S. quagmire in Afghanistan; deal with conflicts in Mali, Syria and other possible hotspots in the Middle East and Africa; strengthen engagement in Asia; handle the standoff with Iran and North Korea over nuclear capabilities; and reboot relations with Russia, among others.

Normalization of relations with Cuba doesn’t make the top ten of either list. Nor from Washington’s vantage point, is there any compelling reason for it to especially given the knee-jerk reaction on the part of Republicans to everything Obama proposes/wants/does. Imagine if the President did in fact move in the direction of lifting the embargo, opening trade and travel with Cuba. Republicans would go ballistic. They already charge him with being a socialist. This would only provide more fodder for their obsession and obstructionist modus operandi.

For Democrats, surely already thinking about four years from now, a change in Cuba policy might also fuel Florida Republicans Jeb Bush’s or Mark Rubio’s run for the presidency.

Cubans in Florida are a powerful lot. And despite shifts and even voting for Obama overwhelmingly in the last election, the old school leaders still have a grip on determining foreign policy with regards to Cuba. Unfortunately up in Washington, there doesn’t seem to be the political will to challenge this or make major changes any time soon.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.

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