Cuba-United States relations for beginners (I)
One thing is each one’s respectable opinion and another, quite different, is to understand the nature of these relations.
Rafael HernándezbyRafael Hernández June 25, 2020in Opinion
Photo: Kaloian Santos
Photo: Kaloian Santos
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Cubans can confess ignorance in epidemiology or meteorology, but not about Cuba-United States relations. Perhaps nothing brings them so together on the same side―including those who don’t agree with the system―as that historical tension between a North that has sought to prevail at all costs, and a country determined not to let itself be dominated, at all costs.
If that were a trait of thinking as a country, surely it would be necessary to feel proud of a civic conscience. After all, as a history teacher friend says, “we are political animals” who have no choice but to opine on “a matter that concerns us.”
Here comes the basic idea (or the “theoretical framework,” as they used to say in the past at the University of Havana) of this conversation: one thing is each one’s respectable opinion and another, quite different, is to understand the nature of these relations.
Let’s assume that it is a couple in marital conflict. Those who care, are interested in and think about them don’t have to understand what is happening to them; opining hardly expresses “knowing,” for example, which of them “is right.” But the conflict itself, as Carl C. Jung would explain to us, is more than that. It isn’t as simple as among other beings in the natural world, say, the wolf and the sheep or the shark and the squid. Nothing compares to a conflict between human beings, especially if they live under the same roof, or almost.
Slipping by that same condition of human beings, some consider that Cuba’s relations with the United States are one of hate/love. Surely they refer to the many tastes Cubans share with American society and culture: baseball, jazz and rock, rumba and salsa, movies, swing, household gadgets, cars, etc. When comparing Cubans with other Latin Americans, probably an impartial third eye would find us closer to the gringos (pejorative Mexicanism), whom Cuban speech calls (affectionately) yumas (for that western, with Glenn Ford).
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Havana, August 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.
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So how can you fight to the death with such yumas? The conflict, naturally, is not with the Americans, nor is it hate/love or Eros and Thanatos, as Jung would say, but with their nation-state and successive governments. Although the idea would seem most reasonable and accepted by all, the personalization of the conflict continues as if nothing had happened. Attributing character traits to political power is equivalent, for example, to diluting the role of president of the United States in a certain personality: authoritarian, sexist, brute, narcissistic, slanderous, arrogant, stupid; or if you prefer, smiling, collectivist and affable, friend of immigrants, war-abolishing, “dialoguer” and social-civilist. There are people like that or who bear that image, although they don’t always deserve it.
In any case, attributes of this type don’t explain, say, that the German nation followed Hitler. To consider Nazism as the collective madness unleashed by a psychiatric leader or, on the contrary, by the good man adorned by a paragon of virtues, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as the embodiment of justice, totally lacks explanatory power, if it’s about politics. Otherwise, it will be difficult to understand that Donald Trump ends his mandate without having programmed (firmly) the dropping of several atomic bombs on another great nation (as FDR did); or that the brave civil rights fighter Bob Kennedy had something to do with paramilitary actions, incendiary bombs, machine-gunned farmers and fishermen in cities and fields on the island. “Nothing personal, just business,” as Vito Andolini, a native of Corleone, Sicily, would say.
Deciphering the reason of State from morality is not understanding it, Niccolo Machiavelli said to Lorenzo de Medici. Of course, that reason of State can be very cynical and atrocious, but you don’t gain much by simply condemning it, if it were to reason about it and glimpse what it proposes. Yes, because understanding a conflict between nation-states, like almost anything else, is measured by the ability to calculate what should come next, even if it isn’t in the extreme of “the possible,” but in the range of “the probable.”
In order not to constantly make mistakes in what is coming, and to identify the factors that keep the conflict alive, it is useful to begin by understanding the nature of politics: that of the United States, that of Cuba, that of any country. As almost always happens with the black box part of all processes, it is normal that there aren’t enough facts. “In politics, what is real is what cannot be seen,” Martí tells us.
This lack of clarity gives rise to all kinds of superficialities, particularly those that are built on “politics is conspiracy” and “politics is concentrated ideology.” In other words: “The twin towers were downed by the CIA,” “Cuban State Security must have known about the sonic attacks (those were the North Koreans),” “it’s impossible for a black man to be president,” “if The New York Times, CNN and all the mainstream media are against him, how can he beat Hillary?”.… Of course there are conspiracies and ideologies, but the architecture of politics is not revealed by the Da Vinci Code, speeches or editorials nowhere, but the dynamics of interests and values. Forgetting it involves making mistakes over and over again, as can be seen.
Hence, Cuba-U.S. relations in the last 60 years, crossed as they have been by all kinds of conspiracies and ideological polarities, are only rationally explained if it is known that they have always included dialogue, understanding and cooperation. As Leogrande and Kornbluh demonstrate, based on declassified documents, the Cuban leadership did not stop responding to any U.S. signal to dialogue, negotiate or agree on anything of common interest, without excluding the most tenacious Republican administrations: Nixon-Kissinger, Reagan, G.H. Bush and G.W. Bush.
This means that conflict and cooperation have not taken place in a linear sequence, which led to cooperation when the Interests Sections were established (1977) or diplomatic normalization was agreed on 17D (2014), rather, they have accompanied relations, and they have almost always acted in parallel, with contradictory and zigzagging results. Appreciating relations in this way allows us to recognize their complexity, instead of attributing the contradictions to the classic god mounted on a machine that descends through a window. It is not an aberration; it’s that way and probably still is.
With these conditions, and to make a pause in this talk without a didactic purpose (and without rushing to meet the teaching program), it would be necessary to return to the nature of the conflict.
If it was triggered by the Agrarian Reform Law (May 1959), just five months after the taking over power, when the Soviet Union didn’t fully understand what was happening in Cuba, and the Popular Socialist Party still called it “the January revolution,” the cause of everything was the expropriation of the United Fruit’s large estates? Is that the egg of the huge conflict? What came next, the spiral that led to the civil war, the organized violence on the Bay of Pigs scale, months before the nationalizations of the summer and October 1960, was it because of those first expropriations? Was it the anti-communism of a Cuban upper class and an American government that saw the hammer and sickle silhouette behind any moderate reform? Is there an explanation that goes beyond listing “nationalizations” and attributing the root cause to “imperialist ideology”?
This, which may seem like a history lesson, is key to understanding the conflict here and now, and also to thinking about its horizon, as will be seen very soon.
Cuba-U.S. relations for beginners (II)
What has happened between Cuba and the U.S. is closer to a novel, whose plot becomes more complicated in each chapter.
Cuba-U.S. relations for beginners (III)
Perhaps the darkest side of the recalcitrant Cuban-American group is not the preaching of hatred or the real damage it may cause to the understanding between the governments of the United States and Cuba, but its capacity to dominate the political culture of emigration.
Where did one of the architects of President Kennedy’s main program for Latin America, godfather of the Alliance for Progress, come from in 1961? In what hands did Ronald Reagan (1981-88) and George W. Bush (2001-2008) place their most important offices for the western hemisphere: those that coordinated the contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and in the Department of State during the failed coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002? Who did Clinton and Obama pick for second position in the Department of Defense bureaucracy toward the region? What led George W. Bush to choose his commerce secretary in his second term? What is the reason for President Trump’s proposal for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank?
The answers to all these questions have one ingredient in common: it’s a Cuban-American. More exactly, one that is opposed to the government and the prevailing economic, political and social order in Cuba.
Now, if it’s a question of U.S. policy towards the island, what would have to be clarified would rather be to what extent the presence of Cuban-Americans in hierarchical positions within Republican and Democratic administrations proves that this policy is dictated by a pressure group entrenched in Miami. Or seen differently, to what extent the command organs of that great power have been penetrated by some Cuban-Americans who share the same ideological fixation, with the evil purpose of “redirecting” it against the Cuban order.
The previous question could give way to two questions: is the appointment of the aforementioned decision-makers explained by the power of a Cuban-American lobby that represents historical exile? Is it up to these distinguished Cuban-Americans to engage or directly influence Cuba policy? What history reveals is not so. Ernesto Betancourt, a former official at Banco Nacional de Cuba, was already a technocrat for the Organization of American States (OAS) when he was chosen by Kennedy advisers for the Alliance project. Otto Reich had served as a military, business consultant, and administrator in USAID () for the region when he joined the Oliver North team, survived the Iran-Contra scandal, and earned merit to be co-opted again by the Republican diplomacy. Pedro Pablo Permuy and Frank Mora passed the revolving door that gives congressional staffers and professors from military universities access to inter-American positions in the Department of Defense, thanks to the ebb and flow of Democratic administrations. Carlos Gutiérrez was the CEO of Kellogg (the cornflakes one) when he was appointed to Commerce by George W. Bush. Mauricio Claver-Carone held Treasury positions under that same Republican presidency, long before Donald Trump noticed him, not precisely for his anti-Cuban lobbying work in Congress, but during the electoral campaign in Florida, and invited him to the transition team in a Republican administration that had already raised the flag of reversing the entire Obama policy.
Certainly, in the selection of U.S. government personnel to prevent “other Cubas” in the hemisphere, in the 1960s and 1980s, the anti-Castro anti-communist harvest must have had some weight in the Reich curriculum and especially of Betancourt. Surely it was decisive when the director of Radio Martí had to be appointed in the 1985-2000 period, or whoever co-chaired (with Condoleezza Rice) the resounding , of which, by the way, nothing has been heard again since 2006. In any case, they all served the government that employed them, not as representatives of any Cuban-American lobby.
Until the early 1980s, it never occurred to anyone to argue that the Bay of Pigs, the multilateral embargo also known as a blockade, the October (or Missile) Crisis, the covert operations plan called Mongoose, the insurgency that unleashed a bloody civil war (1960-1965), the impunity of Omega 7, Alpha 66, CORU and other paramilitary organizations in the 1970s or any of the other axes of hostility against the Revolution responded to the power of a Cuban-American pressure group. Rather, they were part of a policy of force, conceived, formulated and applied by the national security command bodies, articulated in the National Security Council, where the decisive levers of that relationship have resided since the beginning of the conflict, above any of the congressional committees.
That, or rather, those diverse Cuban-American interest groups were there when the United States and Cuba sat down to negotiate peace in Southwest Africa in 1988, the migration agreement in 1994-1995, the return of Elián González in 2000, the cooperation in anticipation of an oil spill in Cuban waters, collaboration in the interception of undocumented migrants and drug traffickers between the Coast Guard and Border Patrol, the exchange of meteorological information, and other practices throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including for two Republican terms. They also preceded the exchange of prisoners and the restoration of diplomatic relations on 17D 2014.
All those actions were opposed in vain by that influential Cuban-American lobby that the media in Miami and Havana identify, in unusual coincidence, as an efficient cause of the Cuba policy.
What, then, was (and is) the real power and role of these anti-Castro lobbies in American politics? Their raison d’etre?
Take as a small example the political action committee (PAC) chaired in Washington by Mauricio Claver-Carone since 2003, with the title of US-Cuba Democracy PAC, whose stated objectives have been “the transition to democracy, the rule of law and the free market,” “opposing legislation that prolongs the Castro regime,” “defending the Western Hemisphere against the threats of this regime” and “preparing the next generation of Cuban democratic leaders.”
In its objectives and means, this conspicuous PAC did nothing but follow in the footsteps of the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), which emerged 20 years before in the shadow of the Reagan administration, and which patented the formula of “American-style” local politics. In the footsteps of CANF, which incidentally lowered the flag of the embargo in 2009, the formula of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC has consisted, in , in “raising funds to distribute in the form of political contributions to candidates nominated to the Congress of the United States and those who oppose any economic measure that, directly or indirectly, finances and prolongs the repressive machinery of the Castro regime and that commit to supporting legislation that seeks to intensify support for the internal opposition movement in Cuba.”
Measured by its deployment on that panel of interest groups and capital flows that interweave the curious fabric of democracy in the United States, this PAC has achieved punctual achievements, as the CANF did before in the domain of the political machinery of the south of Florida. However, not so much in its declared objectives towards the island, that is, to change the regime, defend the hemisphere from its threat (isolate it) and train new Cuban leaders. To put it in baseball lingo, while they have made runs in the American political championship under Republican administrations, they have failed to win a game in the Cuban league.
Now, if it were thought that this game doesn’t find its meaning in the terrain of Cuba here, but that rather it’s a pennant to compete in that of domestic politics there, in particular to dominate that of Florida and influence that of New Jersey, as well as placing itself in the major league of foreign policy towards the region, it would be seen more clearly, apart from its patriotic speeches, that the logic is not so much that of an exile determined to return and take charge of the island at an indefinite moment, but rather to manage a very specific local industry called anti-Castroism, which produces political and financial dividends.
If it were to be imagined for a moment, let’s say that for heuristic purposes, that this recalcitrant Cuban-American group had its hands firmly on the levers of the policy towards Cuba and that its motivations were strictly ideological, then it would not compromise for anything less than the stated requirements in title I and II of the Helms-Burton Act, that is, the surrender and unconditional transfer of decisions, according to its own program of reversal and dismantling of everything established in Cuba.
In other words, this scenario would not be limited to agreeing that everything called Revolution and socialism has been a mistake, a deviation in the course of the nation’s life, and to redeem the parties in a process of reconciliation and mutual confession of guilt and forgiveness, as some imagine in the framework of the possible. On its own terms, it would be a matter of approving those who are going to lead, certifying the rules of a pure neoliberal economy, redesigning security and defense institutions and, of course, recasting the status of relations with the United States and a political system to ensure it.
Regardless of this virtual scenario, and returning to the realm of real politics, perhaps the darkest side of the recalcitrant Cuban-American group is not the preaching of hatred or the real damage it may cause to the understanding between the governments of the United States and Cuba, but its capacity to dominate the political culture of emigration, stigmatize anyone who seeks understanding, preserve anti-Castroism as a pattern of correct-correct political culture, tighten the pegs of a silent majority that prefers normalization, but doesn’t want to get mixed up in problems, as well as to offer arguments to those who, on this side, are suspicious of dialogue with Cubans related to the national interest of the United States. The main effect of this force is to rekindle the anger and mistrust between the Cubans of the island and those of the emigration.
The milestones that this rapid time machine has recovered for our beginners’ chat, and that some connoisseurs seem to avoid when they define the conflict as a “bilateral dispute,” illustrate the role assigned to the “cadres” and the constituency of historical exile for the region. Although in the long run they have been inept for the purposes of the United States’ Cuba policy, they have been instrumental in pursuing their goals in Latin America and the Caribbean.
An example of this is as Trump’s candidate for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in order to ensure “the leadership of the United States in important regional institutions and the advancement of prosperity and security in the western hemisphere.” This event also serves as a thermometer to measure the contradictory Latin American situation with respect to the years of the cold war. Although a few governments in the region have already aligned themselves with the Washington candidate, a notable group of former Latin American presidents and former foreign ministers, not exactly related to Cuban ideology, have expressed their of the “proposed appointment of a U.S. citizen in the IDB” and their dismay at “this new attack by the United States government on the multilateral system based on rules agreed by member countries.”
This last-minute appointment, obviously not related to relations with Cuba, implies that Trumpism, even if defeated in November, seeks to place in the inter-American system cadres dedicated to continuing America First, a much more threatening prospect for the hemisphere than the vicissitudes of the United States’ relations with the island, which, as is known, is not a member of the IDB, the OAS, or the (Rio Pact).
As can be seen, future U.S.-Cuba relations, like past ones, continue to be played in several fields at once, under the already indicated geopolitical arc.
How what happens within Cuba affects the dynamics and the degree to which the Cuban government modifies its policies, including the one applied during the Obama administration, is something much more complex than a struggle over “Obamism” or the supposed Cuban will to “implode” the course of normalization to what is reduced by ideological visions on one side and on the other. Analyzing this geopolitical complexity requires looking further.https://oncubanews.com/en/opinion/cuba-u-s-relations-for-beginners-iii/