Something is moving

Summer 2014

Ignacio Ramonet, director of Le Monde Diplomatique in Spanish, analyses current US-Cuba relations

In her recently released book about her experiences as Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term (2008-2012) entitled “Difficult decisions””, Hillary Clinton makes an important statement about Cuba: “At the end of my term I asked President Obama to reconsider our embargo against Cuba. It fulfills no function and hampers our projects with Latin America.”

For the first time a personality aspiring for the presidency of the United States publicly said that the blockade imposed by Washington - for more than fifty years - against this island in the Caribbean has “no function”. In other words, it has not managed to subdue this small country in spite of all the unjust suffering it has caused in its population. Most importantly, Hillary Clinton mentions two factors: first she breaks the taboo of saying in a loud voice what everyone knows in Washington: the blockade is not worthwhile. And, second, and most important, she declares now that she is preparing to open her Democratic candidacy for the White House; that is to say, she is not afraid to say this - against the policy of Washington toward Cuba for the last half a century - is a handicap for her in this electoral battle she has ahead of her for the elections on 8 November 2016.

If Hillary Clinton maintains this unconventional position it is, in the first place, because she takes up the challenge without fear of the harsh criticisms directed at her by her Republican adversaries, furiously hostile against all changes regarding Cuba in Washington; and, in the second place, and most importantly, it is because she is aware that US public opinion has evolved regarding this subject and that there is a majority today who favour ending the blockade.

Like Hillary Clinton, there are a group of fifty important business people, former high ranking US citizens of different political and intellectual views, who know that the President of the United States does not have the right to lift the blockade. It does not depend on the Government but, instead, on the Democratic and Republican majority in Congress who have just asked Obama, in an open letter, to use his executive right to “introduce more intelligent changes” in its relations with Cuba and approach towards Havana since, they point out, public opinion favours this change.

Actually, a survey carried out in February by the Atlantic Council Research Centre reported that 56% of US citizens want a change in Washington’s policy towards Havana. And, more significantly, in Florida, the state most sensitive regarding this subject, 63% of its inhabitants (62% Latinos) also want an end to the blockade. Another more recent survey made by the Cuban Research institute of the International University of Florida, shows that the majority of the Cuban community in Miami want the blockade to end too (71% of those interviewed said that the embargo “has not functioned” and 81% would vote for a policy that promotes the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries).

Contrary to hopes, after Barack Obama’s election in November 2008, Washington maintained immobility in its relations towards Cuba. Shortly after assuming his position as president, Obama announced in the ““Summit of the Americas”” held in Trinidad and Tobago, in April 2009 - that he would give relations with Havana a “new direction”. But he limited himself to mere symbolic gestures: he authorised US citizens of Cuban origin to travel to the island and send certain amounts of money to their families. Later, in 2012, he adopted new measures, but also with limited reach: he permitted religious groups and students to travel to Cuba, he allowed US airports to receive charter flights to the island and extended the limit of remittances that Cuban-Americans could send their families. That is very little in relation to the formidable differences that separate the countries.

Foremost of these is the case of ““The Five”” which has stirred international public opinion. These Cuban intelligence agents, arrested in Florida by the FBI, were carrying out missions against anti-Cuban terrorism and were sentenced in a political trial reminiscent of the cold war (authentic legal lynching) to high prison terms; condemned to such unjust penalties when they committed no act of violence nor sought information regarding United States security. The only thing they did, running mortal personal risk, was prevent attacks and save human lives.

Washington is not consistent when it claims to combat “international terrorism” but continues to support anti-Cuban terrorist groups in its own territory.

Last April Cuban authorities arrested a new group of persons linked to Luis Posada Carriles (responsible for previous terrorism against the island), once again departing from Florida to commit attacks.

It is not consistent to accuse “’The Five’” of anti-American activities which never existed while Washington continues to interfere in the internal affairs of Cuba and support a change of the political system.

This again was demonstrated with the recent revelations of the ‘“ZunZuneo’” affair. That false social network of an agency of the State Department created and financed covertly between 2010 and 2012 intending to cause protests similar to the “revolution of the colours” or of the “Arab spring” or the Venezuelan “guarimbas” to give the White House a pretext to demand a political change in Cuba.

All this demonstrates that Washington continues with its a reactionary attitude against Cuba, symbolic of the cold war, a period that ended a quarter of a century ago...Such an archaic policy clashes with the positions of other powers. For example, all other Latin America and Caribbean states, whatever their political orientation, have recently strengthened ties with Cuba and denounced the blockade. This was evident last January, at the Summit of the Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC) meeting in Havana. Washington suffered another snub last month in Cochabamba (Bolivia) during the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) when Latin Americans - with a new show of solidarity with Havana - threatened not to attend the next Summit of the Americas, scheduled to be held in 2015 in Panama, if Cuba is not invited to participate.

For its part, the European Union (EU) decided, last February, to abandon the so-called ‘“common position’” against the island imposed by José María Aznar in1996, then president of Spain, to “punish” Cuba and reject dialogue with the its government. But this action was sterile and failed. Brussels recognised it and has begun neow negotiations with Havana to reach an agreement on political and economic cooperation. The EU is the first foreign investor in Cuba and the second trade partner. In this new spirit several European ministers have already visited the island. Of these, last April, Laurent Fabius - first French foreign affairs minister to visit the Caribbean nation in over thirty years - declared that he aimed to “promote alliances between companies of both countries and support French groups that wish to develop projects or settle in Cuba”.

In contrast with Washington’s intransigence, many European foreign affairs ministers observe, with interest, the importante economic changes in Cuba promoted by President Raúl Castro to “update the economic model” within guidelines defined by the 6th Cuban Communist Party Congress. Particularly, the recent creation of the Special Development Zone at the port of Mariel and approval last March of a new Foreign Investment Law which has promoted significant international interest.

Authorities consider that there is no contradiction between socialism and private initiative. And some officials believe the later (which includes foreign investment) could cover 40% of the economy of the country while the state and public sector maintain 60%. Their aim is to make the Cuban economy more compatible with its main partners in the region (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia) where there is coexistence between the public and private sector.

Meanwhile, the US continues to blockade itself with an ideological position belonging to a bygone era. However, every day more people in Washington accept that this position is mistaken, and that US policy towards Cuba urgently needs to withdraw from international isolation. Does President Obama listen to them?

This article originally appeared on the IPS News Website

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