US election results and Cuba policy

Spring 2017

Esteban Morales Domínguez, economist at Havana University’s Centre for US Studies and leading writer on race in Cuba warns President Trump not to try to pressure or pick a fight with Cuba in future negotiations

The results of the United States’ presidential elections in November 2016 are re-defining US policy with regard to Cuba and other processes taking place worldwide.

Various events are responsible:

The first thing that stands out in the current context is that Cuba and the United States did not advance enough in their negotiations to make recent achievements irreversible.

Obama’s own fifth package of measures and the Presidential Policy Directive towards Cuba did not in essence say anything new. Obama divided his policy in two and throughout his mandate used the “carrot and the stick” method, especially during the final year and a half, more than any other president during the last 50 years or so of aggressive policy against Cuba. Nonetheless, Obama left office with the legacy of having done more than any other president to change policy towards Cuba, although its essential elements remained untouched.

On 17 December 2014, Obama admitted that previous US policy towards Cuba had been a failure and had only resulted in the United States isolating itself. He did not make this concession from a position of defeat, nor renounce his imperialist interests. Obama already had an alternative policy for Cuba, as he had declared that it was not possible to continue doing things in the same way and expect different results. Obama did not make an essential strategic change in US policy towards Cuba, but just a tactical one, continuing to run the same basic policy, in order to obtain the same results that the US has always wanted.

If Trump intelligently interpreted what Obama did with Cuba, he would realise that he can try to do the same. This might mean mutual advantages in the medium term future, as far as they could stretch. Over the medium term, Trump would realise, like Obama did, that with this policy he would not beat Cuba. Indeed, if Trump were to try to pressure Cuba in negotiations, talks might collapse.

No other alternative appears to be viable, as I don’t believe that the United States is yet comfortable with a policy that would allow Cuba to freely follow its own path, without the US trying to control it again. Given that Cuba already escaped from the clutches of the United States, it does not contemplate returning to their influence, as the latter may seek to frustrate their independence.

That’s why, if Trump wants to reverse the legacy of his predecessor, he can only do so by relying on Obama’s own Presidential Directive. Supposedly, by just tightening the screws a little, he could achieve his desire of forcing the Cuban government to make concessions to him that they didn’t make to Obama. This would be a dream come true for Trump. He doesn’t seem to understand that Cuba has remained resolute in its policy throughout more than 11 administrations without being tricked or bullied.

In the short term, even if he were to decide to follow Obama’s policies, I also believe that he would have to deal with the fact that the situation regarding relations between Cuba and the United States now goes far beyond a bilateral relationship. There has been investment in this new situation throughout the rest of the hemisphere, in US society, and among the many countries which voted at the United Nations for the US to drop the blockade against Cuba. Although US-Cuba relations should have advanced further with Obama, enough progress was made to make it very difficult politically for Trump to turn back now.

Furthermore, on the matter of foreign policy towards Cuba, Trump also has to consider the will of the international community, in which the United States has already lost much of its previous prestige. Cuba is not alone and the new president will have the opportunity to understand this if he tries to turn back any progress, albeit limited, that was made with Obama’s policy towards Cuba. These are not illusions, but realities that the new president must accept. The danger here is that Trump is not a politician and can be influenced by individuals who attempt to lead him along a contradictory path.

However, the issue of policy towards Cuba is just one of many that Trump will have to face and is probably not even the most complicated. Thousands of Latinos took to the streets when they learned that he had been elected president, following a campaign based on an aggressive immigration policy. This policy continues to contradict the - privileges received by Cuban migrants to the US via the Cuban Adjustment Act, and shows aggression to Latinos in general.

Trump’s stated intention to build a wall, supposedly to be paid for by Mexico, was met with a unified and fraternal reaction from people who despite being legally in the US are strongly opposed to their fellow Latinos being expelled. Even those ‘illegal’ represent a barrier to Trump to fulfil his promise to deport three million people who entered the country without legal documents .Given this situation, Mexico will have to act to defend its national interests. Other issues threaten to become thorny for the Trump administration too. For example: his promise to declare war on international economic treaties, such as NAFTA, the TPP, the APC, relations with China and others. Although his objective is supposedly to avoid the loss of American jobs, in actual fact American multinationals have benefitted from these treaties and the economic relations between the United States and China.

Obama and Clinton were not successful in their foreign policy. So Trump will have to face the exhaustion from three coups and five wars that have not resolved anything and been very costly for the US.

NATO policy, guided by the United States, will be a real headache for Trump, if he indeed continues to insist that each member should cover the costs of any conflicts that they provoke and no longer involve the US. Trump seems to want a more constructive relationship with Russia, although some internal political forces do not seem to share his views. Indeed, various accusations were made during the campaign.

Trump will have to attempt to re-build relations between the US and the rest of the Americas. However, if he tries to do so at the same time as following an aggressive policy towards Cuba, he will clash with the most progressive forces in the region: those which fight against the blockade; deplore his policy towards Venezuela; refuse to reverse the progress within Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador; support the peace process in Colombia; criticise Macri’s neoliberalism in Argentina; and attack the overturning of progressive policies in Brazil. Within that context, a group of Caribbean countries supporting Cuba show a similar stance against right wing movements which are trying once again to place the entire hemisphere under the influence of the United States, as recent actions by the Organisation of American States and other regional institutions testify.

In general, Trump will have to deal with the reality that it’s one thing to have the campaign where the commitment is to potential voters, but the presidency is something else. Here the commitment is with the US public and the world. Within this situation, he must deal with the mechanisms of politics, which do not always, and indeed very rarely I would say, allow one to do what one wants.

In any event, Trump is in a difficult situation. His declarations against Fidel and against Cuba are the expression of a man lacking in sufficient ethics and morals to know that one should not speak ill of the dead, even in the case of one’s enemies, and that men like Fidel die, but their legacy remains. So taking on Cuba right now in an opportunist and speculative manner will not bring any political advantage but rather a level of contempt that will hamper him in negotiations.

As a businessman Trump is used to making the most of every opportunity that presents itself to him in order to achieve his objectives, but if he picks a fight with Cuba, especially at a time like this, the president may just have made the biggest mistake of his life.

This article originally appeared in Spanish www.estebanmoralesdomí
Thank you to Dr Jordan Lancaster for translation.


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