Thursday, November 26, 2020

Rafael Hernandez Analyzes Post Election US-Cuba Relations

 Published in On Cuba.  Original Spanish follows English translations from On Cuba

"In difficult times": the tango of normalization (I)

To what extent will the emerging political context of elections in the US really allow agreements to be awakened and the tango of relations with Cuba to be re-launched?

by Rafael Hernandez November 11, 2020

In a well-known 1968 poem, Heberto Padilla describes a man who is asked to successively deliver parts and capabilities of his body. When he has given them all up, they urge him to walk straight into the future, "for in difficult times/this is undoubtedly the decisive test".

Although these then-controversial verses referred to the asymmetry between the state and the individual, their poetic allure allows us to reread them as a metaphor for the asymmetry of powers between the US and Cuba, and the difficult treatment between our two nations and countries.

Now that a window for understanding between the two sides appears to open again, as a result of the recent elections in the North, some place the question: what will the island government do to seize this new opportunity, on which the future of the country depends?

In English it is said "to dance the tango it takes two". Unlike rumba, in which dancers evolve on their own, when you dance as closely as in tango, there is no way to judge what one does without seeing (and understanding) what the other is doing. To really appreciate it you would have to give a little rewind to the tango of normalization.

Despite the rule of law and the balance between the three governing powers in the United States, most of what was agreed with Cuba during Obama's short summer did not have the stability of agreements between states, but only between governments. That trait, by the way, is nothing new. Almost none of the major agreements over 60 years have been endorsed by Congress to become treaties, because understandings, which leave it hands free, have sufficed for the Executive to change them if it suits him. These are the cases of the 1965, 1984 and 1995 migration agreements, the 1973 hijacking of aircraft, the 1977 fisheries and maritime boundaries, and so on.

Of the 22 bilateral instruments adopted during the Obama administration (the largest round of tango in more than half a century), almost all had only the category of memorandums of understanding (MOU): scheduled flights, passenger safety and commerce, cancer health cooperation, law enforcement and enforcement; as well as conservation and management of marine protected areas, hydrography and geodesy for maritime safety, exchange on agriculture and related areas, conservation of wildlife and protected areas, animal and plant health inspection, exchange of information and research on climate and meteorology, as well as joint response to hydrocarbon spillage in the Gulf and Florida Strait.1

Beyond the MOU category, it was agreements that restored diplomatic relations and the opening of permanent diplomatic missions—the first with the Obama administration—and cooperation between Zapata Swamp Park and the Everglades Park in animal life protection, which was the last. It also had this category of operational cooperation to deal with illicit trafficking in drugs and psychotropic substances.

The others consisted of "joint declarations" on immigration policy (continuing the agreement signed in 1995) and environmental protection; a pilot plan for direct mail; a joint programme for the teaching of English and an "arrangement" to admit security officers on board aircraft.

Only the treaty category reached the delimitation of the continental shelf in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico, beyond 200 miles, which reformulated the 1977 agreement. The legal existence of this instrument is rather virtual, as it has not been submitted to Congress for approval.

The list of understandings and agreements reflects the diplomatic level achieved by the ongoing normalizing process under the Obama administration. How to appreciate this tango from the "bottom" side? To put it in a fashionable language for these lares, tended to negotiate with the U.S. government involved Cuba investing in a joint venture whose counterpart submitted hardly any memorandums of intent, without providing any seed money or lines of credit or fresh capital, or signing any contracts. It led to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a corporation called America Inc., which was to leave office in a very short time, a credit that included unusual access, going beyond the lack of reliability accumulated by that corporation in the Cuban, regional and global market.

To conclude the idea with the same jargon, although the CEO and other managers of America Inc. argued that they had to deal with their shareholders at an assembly called Congress, which greatly complicated their decisions, the Cuban Government-Party business counterpart also had to deal with a diversity of opinions, up and down, logically concerned about collateral risks and costs that did not have insurance to guarantee them.

In previous texts I drew attention to the asymmetrical nature of the process called standardization with the US. I listed unilateral actions from Cuba, which, despite emerging negative reactions from both sides, and occasional disagreements over tango steps, helped to prevail the will to continue dancing until the end. The greatest of these decisions involved discarding the choreography used by China and Vietnam, whose full diplomatic relations with the US previously went through commercial and financial normalization, security and cooperation. By putting the opening of embassies ahead of the lifting of the embargo, Cuba prioritized the start of dialogue and negotiation, despite the risks and costs noted above.

What I have said is intended to set the milestones of this recent story, apparently forgotten by some when they talk about "Cuba's lack of response." I do not intend to devalue the merits and achievements of the intense diplomacy deployed on both sides, but only to set points on certaintíes.

The last of these points is strategic. In a framework of radical asymmetry, such as that between Cuba and the US, a negotiating process that fits a quid pro quo (that is, bartering – mechanics is fatal. This mechanic is reflected in questions such as "what internal changes will Cuba make in reciprocity to the US, after 58 years, lifting the embargo?", or "what would Cubans give in exchange for returning control of those 117 square kilometers of its territory occupied by the US Navy at the entrance to Guantanamo Bay, since 1898?"

I know that for some, those questions are legitimate. And it is not that the issues of the embargo and the naval base do not deserve to be worked together, in conflict resolution scenarios that creatively imagine mutually agreed dispute-overcoming mechanisms. But a Cuban government that accepted them as part of the logical quid pro quo, with a communicative vessel inwards, would be exposed not only to opening a flank in its negotiating position, but above all to a loss of legitimacy, both among its followers and among many other citizens, on and off the island, for whom the defense of the national interest goes through sovereignty, first and foremost.

To recap the steps of our tango, I invite you to re-select the raffle of agreements noted above and answer some questions. To what extent do they reflect interests on both sides? Which of these instruments were unilateral concessions to the Cuban government on the part of the United States? In what specific areas were achieved: economic and commercial relations, ecology, transport, culture and education, diplomacy, security and defense? How many and which departments like Homeland Security, on the one hand, and MININT or MINFAR on the other? To what extent did cooperation between these bodies fulfill national interests on both sides, or barely benefit the bodies themselves?

As Philip Brenner of the nine main agreements or MOU has pointed out, eight remain valid*; three have been fully implemented; four partially or restrictedly and the only unvalidated is still respected by both parties. So almost all 23 (including the embassy opening) are alive. As in the Sleeping Beauty scene, in which the characters suddenly fall into a deep sleep, the nightmare of renewed hostility during Trump's reign failed to erase what was agreed, but rather put it into hibernation.

In addition to taking Trump out of the White House, these elections showed—anyone who had eyes to see beyond polls, political flip flops, and local struggles—the enormous gravitation of conservative populism, a substrate of Trumpism, into truly existing political culture. How this living and collecting substrate will affect the immediate future will be revealed in the republican opposition's ability to raise the cost and counteract the next government's initiatives.

Soon, many people of goodwill dream of the president-elect's ability to heal a divided society (by Trump...) and subtract a democracy lacerated by four years of deviation from the right path, among other well-meaning images. In addition to the success that rectifying negative errors and trends can achieve within that great nation, it is very likely that the new governing team will also prioritize the counter-reform of Trumpism in the large areas of problems of its global foreign policy: European Union, China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change, free trade agreements, etc.

It is within that real political framework that it would then make sense to ask our question: to what extent will the emerging political context of the US elections really allow agreements to be awakened and the tango of relations with Cuba put into motion again?

The denial of Trumpism should logically lead to the rectification of its brutal decisions towards Cuba. In particular, those that directly affect Cubans on the island and in emigration. Although polls and the campaign itself showed a not-so-luminous side of that suddenly Trumpist emigration, some preliminary figures have revealed that his vote was ultimately not as Republican as he foreshadowed, let alone determining election results in Florida's most Cuban districts, which voted blue. Remittances, travel, sales of food and medicine and, above all, standardization of the consulate and the visa process in Havana would respond to those interests, on both sides.

The second moment in the logic of interrupted relations would be for the new administration to open the archives where the 22 agreements signed with Cuba were deceived, return to the point where they were in January 2017, and at least resume dialogue and diplomacy of meetings around what has already been agreed, even if it did not progress another millimeter.

Finally, I would be resizing the normalization process. No think tank or lobby can provide a more articulate, accurate and comprehensive strategic document for a Democratic administration than the US-Cuba Presidential Relations Directive, produced by the Obama administration in October 2016, and then agreed with all the state bureaucracy involved in any relationship with Cuba. Biden was part of the government team that generated the standardization policy in 2014 and produced that document. It would be logical for that directive to be retouched at some point, and to circulate on its external relations team, perhaps with a notice of Biden's handwriting in the margin, asking for updates and adjustments, between question marks.

But in politics, it's not enough to make sense. Neither Cuba has the relevance it had at the peculiar juncture of an outgoing administration in its final months; nor are we in the world of 2016 (but virtually in 2021) nor does this Democratic administration come to power as the previous one did, as is obvious from everything noted above.

On the other hand, in many journalistic commentary on the Cuba-USA tango, it seems as if the two were alone on the dance floor. What character will the triangles of both have with the European Union, China and Russia? To what extent can the US-Venezuela-Cuba triangle evolve? What factors, not only in Washington, but in Caracas and the international environment, can influence it? What will happen in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021? In places like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil...? Those who repeat the old tango of monodependence as Cuban doom do not seem to understand the complexity of these networks of current relationships, and their geopolitical implications.

Four years of Trump, with high economic costs to Cuba, have not represented qualitatively new strategic challenges, as the government has more practice in dealing with U.S. hostility than normalization. In the waiting period, circumstances have imposed the urgency of the transformations of the established order, and accelerated their implementation. Perhaps when we look back, in a few years' time, we can discover that misfortunes like COVID-19 and Trump helped to bring that change to a close, and to do so in a totally disassociated manner from a negotiation with the United States.

In any case, for those who like parallels, the new administration will meet its first 100 days in coincidence with the VIII Congress of the PCC. In contrast to so much theatricalization of dominant network politics, and editorials by tirios and Trojans, an equal look at those hundred days would allow us to anticipate how the tango paints, and its new steps, in difficult and decisive times.


*Philip Brenner, "Recovering Empathy: An Examination of the Cuban-US MOUs". Lecture in the XVII Edition of the Series of Conversations "Cuba-U.S. Relations: The Challenge of a Coexistence Based on Mutual Interests"; December 16, 17 and 18, 2019. ISRI, Havana, Cuba.

"In difficult times": the tango of normalization (II)

Cuba is not on the agenda of major problems. But that is precisely why it can serve as a less complicated and cautious demonstrative effect than turning relations with China, Iran and immigration politics.

by Rafael Hernandez November 25, 2020

A Japanese friend told me that in her land people do not follow the elections and avatars of US politics so closely; they are more interested in the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, with which their own history is inserted, including, by the way, hot immigration influences. It is not that they and their government suffer from a colonial syndrome that puts their destiny in the hands of others, of a mentality dependent and obsessive with these neighbors, or anything personal, ideological or paranoid towards them, but of a geopolitical condition, which explains a knowledge before Marxism-Leninism.

The Japanese parallel illustrates a recurring edge in some visions of US-Cuba relations: ethnocentrism. According to this optics, Cubans do not look like anyone else, what happens to us is always exceptional, a tragedy of 60 years has set out the national being, rather glued, we are very different from other places where concord and understanding reign, and the worst of all in the face of the goodwill of the Americans, with whom we do not manage to understand ourselves because we do not really want to , unlike so many others that harmonize with them. Thus we go, always seeing the straw in our eye, like Caribbean Jews, transitioned by diaspora, exodus and other biblical glosses.

This ethnocentrism, by the way, is also reflected in ideas such as US presidents rising up thinking about the Cuban Revolution, that we are the thorn on the side of the empire, that Cuban politics only responds to ideological motivations and not to national interests, that our allies are those who share our highest principles and values, that the nation is confused with socialism Etc.

This ethnocentrism, from where you can hardly understand and explain politics, gives vampires an air: they are not seen in their own mirror. I mean, they only see the qualities they've chosen.

In an earlier text, I tried to characterize relations between Cuba and the United States during the terms of Office of Barack Obama and Raul Castro, map the tango they executed in just two years, show that the two sides yielded considerably, taking into account not only the barrier of embargo, but that of the legacy of mistrust, and the enormous asymmetry that separates them. I also mentioned some differences between the two, such as the risks and collateral costs assumed, without insurance to guarantee them.

Let me take a few more steps down this often hidden verdict. When the US government establishes agreements with Cuba, it can assume that it will deal with the same government for a time longer than four years. The stability factor has the advantage of allowing you to know the Cuban leadership well, learn how you think, predict your reactions, analyze your environment, calculate the limits of your power and the viability of your policies, projected on five-year plans. The Cuban side lacks that advantage. If Joe Biden now fills us with hope, we must not forget that, as soon as 2024 arrives, the 51 polling stations in charge can choose a Donald Trump perfectly (God forbid).

That situation pre-conditions relationships. Already, the president-elect's team has an eye to secure the second term, as well as to tie up a congressional election in just two years. As we know, since the 1960 struggle between Nixon and JFK, that electoral climate, with its high volatility, has been fatal for countries like Cuba—generally for Latin America and the Caribbean—no matter what we're doing or not, given the adverse effects of getting caught from study material for their electoral battle.

On the other hand, many weather parts about US-Cuba overlook that Joe Biden is going to be the first US president with a brand new Cuban counterpart. If Obama went through with chips, as they would say in dominoes, emphasizing that he was not born when the Cuban Revolution triumphed, it's worth remembering that Diaz-Canel didn't either. He had nothing to do with Playa Girón, the missile crisis or the guerrillas in Latin America, nor did he take letters in the alliances with the USSR or the Tricontinental. If Obama was 30 years younger than his interlocutor Raul Castro, Biden could be the first U.S. president to talk to a Cuban party's head of state and secretary 18 years younger than him and whose last name is not Castro.

Anyone would say that this circumstance is highly favorable for progress in relationships. However, the previous experience tells us that, with the US, the stars tilt, but they do not force. I will then write down some political processes already underway that can align these stars in the direction of renormalization sooner rather than later.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the likelihood that the new U.S. government team would prioritize the counter-reformation of Trumpism. This would include the large areas of problems of its global foreign policy: the European Union, China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change, trade agreements, etc.

As we know, Cuba is not on the agenda of major problems. But that is precisely why it can serve as a less complicated and cautious demonstrative effect than turning relations with China and Iran and immigration politics. It was exactly that logic that prompted Obama to invest his last two cents of political capital on an issue as secondary as Cuba. Jeremy Bentham, the apostle of utilitarianism, would interpret it as achieving maximum profit at minimal cost, through an issue that, although small, has the applause of his allies and the rest of the world, as already known from experience.

Comparatively, sweeping the destruction of the Republican elephant into the glassware of our relations would not pose a major complication. Restoring remittances, travel, food and medicine sales and, above all, normalizing the consulate's work and the visa granting process in Havana can only have opposition among Miami's most bombastic Trumpists. I wonder if the experts who, from dissimilar balconies (EFE, Granma, El Toque...) seem to agree that Washington's policy towards Havana passes through Miami, would bet something on the real power of these rhyming to dictate it around the aforementioned topics.

The second requirement for change is the existence of an elaborate strategy to deal with Cuba. Some meteorologists question the reality of that vision, as if we were in a kind of zero-grade relationship. Describe yourself as a double-edged knife or Trojan horse, the same dog with another collar, or other novel metaphors... it's definitely not an enigma. The Presidential Directive on U.S.-Cuba relations, produced by the Obama administration in October 2016, and shared with joe joe joe biden, sang his triumphs loud and clear, as they say in auction, on one stick and another.

Can we have any idea where and who it's time to play that tune? We know that security issues are not decided in Senate Foreign Relations Committee or Florida legislature hearings, but in foreign policy governing bodies, historically decisive in relations with Cuba. If we give even a minimum of credit to bureaucratic policy models, to recommend the one that will be done towards Cuba, we should start by appreciating the communicating vessel with the Obama administration. The appointment of figures charged with leading national security and foreign policy from senior officials in the previous Democratic (and other more remote) governments include the National Security Council (Jake Sullivan), the State Department (Antony Blinken), Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorkas), the intelligence community (Avril Haines) and the president's chief of office (Ron Klein).

All of them were already there between December 17, 2014 and January 20, 2017; and there is still a need to name a few more, from various hierarchies. For example, the ambassador to the UN (with rank in the NSC) and the president's special envoy for the climate (cabinet member) turn out to be an expert black career diplomat in Africa (Linda Thomas-Greenfield), and the former chancellor who opened the embassy in Havana (John Kerry). If the continuity of normalization had first and last names, this list would be eloquent.

On the other hand, finding a common thread for these designations could lead to dreams of reason. Let's say, someone might think that when Biden appoints a California lawyer born in Cuba to lead the agency in charge of counterterrorism, border control, transportation security, and immigration, which has negotiated and signed agreements with the MININT and MINFAR (those blacklisted Castroist agencies by Trump and company), he's giving a candle to Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart on politics toward Cuba.

Finally, let's go back to geopolitical reason and the global tango track. According to our previous history, the US-Cuba conflict has unfolded with elements and sands that exceed strictly bilateral space. If, instead of Miami's upside-down, a wide lens were used to look triangularly, how would their relations with the European Union, China and Russia intersect? To what extent could the US-Venezuela-Cuba triangle evolve? What will happen in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and Honduras? In Argentina and Mexico? To what extent will the region's magnetic field, for causes and chances outside the two countries, move in a configuration conducive to the Cuba-US relationship?

To comment on these questions, with adherence to the logic of tango and the dance floor, we would have to explain the structure of Cuban foreign policy and its factors, within the framework of its relations with the world, rather than simply reflecting the conflict-cooperation with the US. What alliances, interests, convergences, partnerships and uncoverings govern it? Where do your strengths and weaknesses lie? How have they moved during the Trump era? What signals announce that you are ready or not for renormalization with the US? How do these external relations interact with domestic policy?

Understanding this interaction requires looking without polarized lenses at the process of reforms and the matrix of transition. Calibrating the US as a domestic factor in the transition involves thinking about it in the context of other factors and dynamics, such as relations between the two societies, and in no way as a negotiating agenda between governments. Although it is said easy, to put it in the words of Jorge Luis Borges, decipher "that new tango (...) it is a riddle, without lacking the perplexed variants, common places and reasoned discord of the commentators."


Taking into account that Díaz Canel could be elected as the first secretary of the PCC at the VIII Congress, in April 2021.

“En tiempos difíciles”: el tango de la normalización (I)

¿En qué medida el contexto político emergente de las elecciones en EEUU va a permitir de verdad despertar los acuerdos y volver a poner en movimiento el tango de las relaciones con Cuba?

Rafael HernándezporRafael Hernández noviembre 11, 2020en Con todas sus letras


Banderas cubanas ondean en la llamada tribuna antimperialista, frente al edificio de la embajada de Estados Unidos en La Habana. Foto: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS. Archivo.

Banderas cubanas ondean en la llamada tribuna antimperialista, frente al edificio de la embajada de Estados Unidos en La Habana. Foto: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS. Archivo.

En un conocido poema de 1968, Heberto Padilla describe a un hombre al que le piden entregar sucesivamente partes y capacidades de su cuerpo. Cuando las ha cedido todas, lo exhortan a que camine derecho hacia el futuro, “pues en tiempos difíciles/esta es sin dudas la prueba decisiva”.

Aunque esos versos entonces tan controvertidos se referían a la asimetría entre el Estado y el individuo, su allure poético nos deja releerlos como una metáfora de la asimetría de poderes entre EEUU y Cuba, y el difícil trato entre nuestras dos naciones y países.


Ahora que parece abrirse otra vez una ventana para el entendimiento entre ambos lados, como resultado de las recientes elecciones en el Norte, algunos colocan la pregunta: ¿qué hará el gobierno de la isla para aprovechar esta nueva oportunidad, de la que depende el futuro del país?

En inglés se dice “para bailar el tango hacen falta dos”. A diferencia de la rumba, en la que los danzantes evolucionan por su propia cuenta, cuando se baila tan pegado como en el tango, no hay manera de juzgar lo que hace uno sin ver (y entender) lo que está haciendo el otro. Para apreciarlo de verdad habría que darle un poco de rewind al tango de la normalización.

A pesar del estado de derecho y el equilibrio entre los tres poderes que rigen en los Estados Unidos, la mayoría de lo acordado con Cuba durante el corto verano de Obama no tuvo la estabilidad de acuerdos entre Estados, sino apenas entre gobiernos. Ese rasgo, por cierto, no es nada nuevo. Casi ninguno de los principales acuerdos a lo largo de 60 años han contado con aval del Congreso para convertirse en tratados, porque al Ejecutivo le ha bastado con entendimientos, que le dejan las manos libres, para cambiarlos si así le conviene. Esos son los casos de los acuerdos migratorios de 1965, 1984 y 1995, el de secuestro de aviones de 1973, el de pesca y límites marítimos de 1977, etcétera.

De los 22 instrumentos bilaterales adoptados durante la administración Obama (la mayor ronda de tango en más de medio siglo), casi todos tuvieron apenas la categoría de memorandos de entendimiento (MOU por sus siglas en inglés): vuelos regulares, seguridad de pasajeros y comercio, cooperación en salud sobre cáncer, aplicación y cumplimiento de la ley; así como conservación y manejo de áreas marinas protegidas, hidrografía y geodesia para la seguridad marítima, intercambio sobre agricultura y áreas afines, conservación de la vida silvestre y áreas protegidas, inspección de salud animal y de plantas, intercambio de información e investigación sobre clima y  meteorología, así como repuesta conjunta ante derrame de hidrocarburos en el Golfo y el estrecho de la Florida.1

Más allá de la categoría de MOU, fueron acuerdos el que restableció relaciones diplomáticas y la apertura de misiones diplomáticas permanentes —el primero con la administración Obama— y la cooperación entre el Parque de la Ciénaga de Zapata y el de los Everglades en protección de vida animal, que fue el último. También tuvo esa categoría el de cooperación operativa para enfrentar el tráfico ilícito de drogas y sustancias psicotrópicas.

Los demás consistieron en “declaraciones conjuntas” sobre política migratoria (dándole continuidad al acuerdo firmado en 1995) y protección ambiental; un plan piloto para correo directo; un programa conjunto para la enseñanza del inglés y un «arreglo» para admitir oficiales de seguridad a bordo de los aviones.

Solo alcanzó la categoría de tratado el referido a la delimitación de la plataforma continental en la parte oriental del Golfo de México, más allá de las 200 millas, que reformuló el acuerdo de 1977. La existencia jurídica de ese instrumento es más bien virtual, pues no ha sido sometido al Congreso para su aprobación.


La lista de entendimientos y acuerdos refleja el nivel diplomático alcanzado por el proceso normalizador en curso bajo la administración de Obama. ¿Cómo apreciar este tango desde el lado “de abajo”? Para decirlo en un lenguaje de moda por estos lares, disponerse a negociar con el gobierno de Estados Unidos implicó para Cuba invertir en una joint venture cuya contraparte presentó apenas memorandos de intención, sin aportar ni seed money  ni líneas de crédito ni capital fresco, ni firmar contrato alguno. Conllevó entregarle al Chief Executive Officer (CEO) de una corporación llamada America Inc., quien iba a dejar el cargo en brevísimo plazo, un crédito que incluía accesos insólitos, pasando por encima de la falta de confiabilidad acumulada por esa corporación en el mercado cubano, regional y global.  

Para terminar la idea con la misma jerga, aunque el CEO y otros directivos de America Inc. argumentaban que debían lidiar con sus accionistas en una asamblea llamada Congreso, lo que complicaba mucho sus decisiones, la contraparte empresarial Gobierno-Partido cubano también tuvo que bregar con una diversidad de opiniones, arriba y abajo, preocupadas, lógicamente, por riesgos y costos colaterales que no contaban con un seguro que los garantizara.

En textos anteriores llamé la atención sobre el carácter asimétrico del proceso llamado normalización con EEUU. Listé acciones unilaterales de Cuba, que, a pesar de reacciones negativas emergentes de los dos lados, y de desacuerdos puntuales sobre pasos del tango, contribuyeron a hacer prevalecer la voluntad de continuar bailándolo hasta el final. La mayor de esas decisiones implicó desechar la coreografía usada por China y Vietnam, cuyas plenas relaciones diplomáticas con EEUU pasaron antes por una normalización comercial y financiera, de seguridad y cooperación. Al poner la apertura de embajadas por delante del levantamiento del embargo, Cuba priorizó el inicio del diálogo y la negociación, a pesar de los riesgos y costos apuntados arriba.

Lo que llevo dicho no tiene otra intención que establecer los hitos de esta historia reciente, al parecer olvidada por algunos cuando hablan de “falta de respuesta de Cuba”. Ni por asomo pretendo devaluar los méritos y logros de la intensa diplomacia desplegada por los dos lados, sino solo fijar puntos sobre ciertas íes.

El último de esos puntos es estratégico. En un marco de radical asimetría, como el que existe entre Cuba y EEUU, un proceso negociador que se ajuste a una mecánica de quid pro quo —es decir, de trueque— resulta fatal.  Esa mecánica es la que se refleja en preguntas como “¿qué cambios internos hará Cuba en reciprocidad a que EEUU, luego de 58 años, levante el embargo?”, o “¿qué darían los cubanos a cambio de que se devolviera el control de esos 117 kilómetros cuadrados de su territorio ocupados por la US Navy en la entrada de la bahía de Guantánamo, desde 1898?”.  


Sé que para algunos esas preguntas sí son legítimas. Y no es que las cuestiones (issues) del embargo y de la base naval no merezcan ser trabajadas conjuntamente, en escenarios de resolución de conflictos que imaginen creativamente mecanismos de superación de diferencias, mutuamente acordados. Pero un gobierno cubano que las aceptara como parte de la lógica quid pro quo, con un vaso comunicante hacia adentro, se expondría no solo a abrir un flanco en su posición negociadora, sino, sobre todo, a una pérdida de legitimidad, tanto entre sus seguidores como entre otros muchos ciudadanos, dentro y fuera de la Isla, para quienes la defensa del interés nacional pasa por la soberanía, ante todo.  

Para recapitular los pasos de nuestro tango, invito a releer la ristra de acuerdos anotados arriba y a responder algunas preguntas. ¿En qué medida reflejan intereses de ambos lados? ¿Cuáles de esos instrumentos fueron concesiones unilaterales al gobierno cubano de parte de EEUU? ¿En qué áreas específicas se alcanzaron: relaciones económicas y comerciales, ecología, transporte, cultura y educación, diplomacia, seguridad y defensa?  ¿En cuántos y cuáles se involucran departamentos como Homeland Security, de un lado, y el MININT o MINFAR del otro? ¿Hasta qué punto la cooperación entre estos organismos cumplió intereses nacionales de ambos lados, o apenas benefició a los propios organismos?    

Como ha señalado Philip Brenner, de los nueve acuerdos o MOU principales, ocho se mantienen válidos; tres han sido aplicados plenamente; cuatro parcialmente o de manera restringida y el único no validado se sigue respetando por ambas partes. Así que casi todos los 23 (incluyendo el de apertura de embajadas) están vivos. Como en la escena de la Bella Durmiente, en que los personajes caen de súbito en un sueño profundo, la pesadilla de hostilidad renovada durante el reinado de Trump no alcanzó a borrar lo acordado, sino más bien lo puso en hibernación.  

Además de sacar a Trump de la Casa Blanca, estas elecciones mostraron —a todo el que tuviera ojos para ver más allá de encuestas, chancleteo político y forcejeos locales— la enorme gravitación de un populismo conservador, sustrato del trumpismo, en la cultura política realmente existente. Cómo afectará ese sustrato vivo y coleante al futuro inmediato se revelará en la capacidad de la oposición republicana para elevar el costo y contrarrestar las iniciativas del próximo gobierno.

Por lo pronto, muchas personas de buena voluntad sueñan con la capacidad del presidente electo para curar una sociedad dividida (por Trump…) y restañar una democracia lacerada por cuatro años de desviacionismo del camino correcto, entre otras imágenes bien intencionadas. A reserva del éxito que la rectificación de errores y tendencias negativas pueda alcanzar dentro de esa gran nación, es muy probable que el nuevo equipo de gobierno también priorice la contrarreforma del trumpismo en las grandes áreas de problemas de su política exterior global: Unión Europea, China, Rusia, Irán, Irak, Afganistán, el cambio climático, los acuerdos de libre comercio, etc.

Es dentro de ese marco político real que tendría sentido entonces formular nuestra pregunta: ¿en qué medida el contexto político emergente de las elecciones en EEUU va a permitir de verdad despertar los acuerdos y volver a poner en movimiento el tango de las relaciones con Cuba?

La negación del trumpismo debería conllevar, lógicamente, la rectificación de sus brutales decisiones hacia Cuba. En particular, las que afectan directamente a los cubanos en la Isla y en la emigración. Aunque las encuestas y la campaña misma mostraron una cara no muy luminosa de esa emigración, súbitamente trumpista, algunas cifras preliminares han revelado que su voto no fue finalmente tan republicano como se presagiaba, y mucho menos determinante de los resultados electorales en los distritos más cubanos de la Florida, que votaron azules. Remesas, viajes, ventas de alimentos y medicinas y, sobre todo, normalización del consulado y el proceso de otorgamiento de visas en La Habana responderían a esos intereses, de un lado y de otro.

Los cubanoamericanos y la elección presidencial: evidencia e hipótesis de la Encuesta Cuba 2020 (II)

El segundo momento en la lógica de unas relaciones interrumpidas sería que la nueva administración abriera los archivos donde quedaron engavetados los 22 acuerdos firmados con Cuba, volviera al punto donde estaban en enero de 2017, y al menos reanudara el diálogo y la diplomacia de encuentros en torno a lo ya acordado, aunque no avanzara un milímetro más.

Finalmente, estaría retomar el proceso de normalización. Ningún think tank ni lobby puede proveer un documento estratégico más articulado, preciso y abarcador para un administración demócrata que la Directiva Presidencial sobre relaciones EEUU-Cuba, producida por el gobierno de Obama en octubre de 2016, y consensuada entonces con toda la burocracia estatal implicada en alguna relación con Cuba. Biden formó parte del equipo de gobierno que generó la política de normalización en 2014 y elaboró ese documento. Sería lógico que esa Directiva fuera retomada en algún momento, y que circulara en su equipo de relaciones exteriores, quizás con una notica de puño y letra de Biden en el margen, pidiendo actualizaciones y ajustes, entre signos de interrogación.

Pero en política no basta con lo más lógico. Ni Cuba tiene la relevancia que tuvo en la peculiar coyuntura de una administración saliente en sus meses finales; ni estamos en el mundo de 2016 (sino virtualmente en el de 2021) ni esta administración demócrata llega al poder como lo hizo la anterior, según resulta obvio de todo lo apuntado arriba.

Por otra parte, en muchos comentarios periodísticos sobre el tango Cuba-EEUU, parece como si los dos estuvieran solos en la pista de baile. ¿Qué carácter tendrán los triángulos de ambos con la Unión Europea, China y Rusia? ¿En qué medida el triángulo EEUU-Venezuela-Cuba puede evolucionar? ¿Qué factores, no solo en Washington, sino en Caracas y el entorno internacional, pueden influir en él? ¿Qué pasará en América Latina y el Caribe en 2021? ¿En lugares como Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Brasil…?  Quienes repiten el viejo tango de la monodependencia como fatalidad cubana no parecen entender la complejidad de estas redes de relaciones actuales, y sus implicaciones geopolíticas.   

Cuatro años de Trump, con altos costos económicos para Cuba, no han representado desafíos estratégicos cualitativamente nuevos, ya que el gobierno tiene más práctica en lidiar con la hostilidad de EEUU que con la normalización. En el compás de espera, las circunstancias han impuesto la urgencia de las transformaciones del orden establecido, y han acelerado su aplicación. Quizás cuando miremos hacia atrás, dentro de unos años, podamos descubrir que desgracias como la COVID-19 y Trump contribuyeron a poner a punto ese cambio, y a hacerlo de manera totalmente desvinculada de una negociación con los Estados Unidos.   

En todo caso, para aquellos que gustan de paralelismos, la nueva administración cumplirá sus 100 primeros días en coincidencia con el VIII Congreso del PCC. En contraste con tanta teatralización de la política dominante en redes, y de editoriales por parte de tirios y troyanos, una mirada ecuánime hacia esos cien días permitiría anticipar cómo pinta el tango, y sus nuevos pasos, en tiempos difíciles y decisivos.


Philip Brenner, “Recovering Empathy: An Examination of the Cuban-US MOUs”. Ponencia en la XVII Edición de la Serie de Conversaciones “Las Relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos: El desafío de una convivencia basada en intereses mutuos”; 16, 17 y 18 de diciembre de 2019. ISRI, La Habana, Cuba.

“En tiempos difíciles”: el tango de la normalización (II)

Cuba no está en la agenda de grandes problemas. Pero precisamente por eso, puede servir como efecto demostrativo menos complicado y cauteloso que darles un vuelco a las relaciones con China, Irán y la política inmigratoria.

Rafael HernándezporRafael Hernández noviembre 25, 2020en Con todas sus letras


Foto: Marita Pérez Díaz.

Foto: Marita Pérez Díaz.

Una amiga japonesa me comentaba que en su tierra la gente no sigue tan de cerca las elecciones y los avatares de la política de EEUU; les interesan más la República Popular China y la República Popular Democrática de Corea, con las cuales se entreteje su propia historia, incluidos, por cierto, candentes influjos migratorios. No es que ellos y su gobierno padezcan de un síndrome colonial que pone su destino en manos ajenas, de una mentalidad dependiente y obsesiva con estos vecinos, ni nada personal, ideológico o paranoico hacia ellos, sino de una condición geopolítica, que explica un saber anterior al marxismo-leninismo.

El paralelo japonés ilustra una arista recurrente en algunas visiones sobre las relaciones EEUU-Cuba: el etnocentrismo. Según esa óptica, los cubanos no nos parecemos a nadie, lo que nos pasa siempre es excepcional, una tragedia de 60 años ha escindido el ser nacional, antes bien pegado, somos muy distintos a otros lugares donde reina la concordia y el entendimiento, y los peores de todos frente a la buena voluntad de los americanos, con quienes no logramos entendernos porque realmente no queremos, a diferencia de tantos otros que armonizan con ellos. Así vamos, viendo siempre la paja en nuestro ojo, como judíos del Caribe, transidos por la diáspora, el éxodo y las demás glosas bíblicas.  


Ese etnocentrismo, por cierto, también se refleja en ideas como que los presidentes de EEUU se levantan pensando en la Revolución cubana, que somos la espina en el costado del imperio, que la política cubana solo responde a motivaciones ideológicas y no a intereses nacionales, que nuestros aliados son esos que comparten nuestros más altos principios y valores, que la nación se confunde con el socialismo, etc.

Ese etnocentrismo, desde donde difícilmente se puede entender y explicar la política, se da un aire a los vampiros: no se ven en su propio espejo. Es decir, solo ven las cualidades que han escogido.   

En un texto anterior, intenté caracterizar las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos durante los mandatos de Barack Obama y Raúl Castro, mapear el tango que ejecutaron en solo dos años, evidenciar que los dos lados cedieron considerablemente, si se toma en cuenta no solo la barrera del embargo, sino la del legado de desconfianza, y la enorme asimetría que los separa. Mencioné también algunas diferencias entre los dos, como los riesgos y costos colaterales asumidos, sin un seguro que los garantizara.

Permítanme seguir unos pasos más por esta vereda, a menudo escondida. Cuando el gobierno de EEUU establece acuerdos con Cuba, puede asumir que va a lidiar con el mismo gobierno por un tiempo mayor a cuatro años. El factor estabilidad tiene la ventaja de permitirle conocer bien al liderazgo cubano, aprender cómo piensa, predecir sus reacciones, analizar su entorno, calcular los límites de su poder y de la viabilidad de sus políticas, proyectadas en planes de cinco años. El lado cubano carece de esa ventaja. Si ahora nos llena de esperanza Joe Biden, no debemos olvidar que, tan pronto llegue 2024, los 51 colegios electorales a cargo pueden elegir perfectamente (Dios no lo permita) a un Donald Trump.

Esa situación precondiciona las relaciones. Ya el equipo del presidente electo tiene un ojo puesto en asegurar el segundo mandato, así como en amarrar al máximo unas elecciones congresionales dentro de apenas dos años. Como se sabe, desde la pugna de 1960 entre Nixon y JFK, ese clima electoral, con su alta volatilidad, es fatal para países como Cuba —en general, para América Latina y el Caribe—, no importa lo que estemos haciendo o no, dados los efectos adversos de que nos cojan de material de estudio para su batalla electoral.  

Por otro lado, muchos partes meteorológicos sobre EEUU-Cuba pasan por alto que Joe Biden va a ser el primer presidente de EEUU con una contraparte cubana completamente nueva. Si Obama se pasaba con fichas, como dirían en el dominó, recalcando que él no había nacido cuando triunfó la Revolución cubana, vale la pena recordar que Díaz-Canel tampoco. Él no tuvo nada que ver con Playa Girón, la crisis de los misiles o las guerrillas en América Latina, ni tomó cartas en las alianzas con la URSS o la Tricontinental. Si Obama tenía 30 años menos que su interlocutor Raúl Castro, Biden podría ser el primer presidente estadounidense en dialogar con un jefe de Estado y Secretario del Partido cubano1 18 años más joven que él y cuyo apellido no es Castro.


Cualquiera diría que esa circunstancia es altamente favorable para un progreso en las relaciones. Sin embargo, la experiencia anterior nos dice que, con EEUU, las estrellas inclinan, pero no obligan. Apuntaré a continuación algunos procesos políticos ya en curso que pueden alinear esas estrellas en dirección a una renormalización, más temprano que tarde.

Hace dos semanas mencioné la probabilidad de que el nuevo equipo de gobierno estadounidense priorizara la contrarreforma del trumpismo. Esta incluiría las grandes áreas de problemas de su política exterior global: la Unión Europea, China, Rusia, Irán, Irak, Afganistán, el cambio climático, los acuerdos de comercio, etc.

Como se sabe, Cuba no está en la agenda de grandes problemas. Pero precisamente por eso, puede servir como efecto demostrativo menos complicado y cauteloso que darles un vuelco a las relaciones con China e Irán y a la política inmigratoria. Fue exactamente esa lógica la que impulsó a Obama a invertir sus últimos dos centavos de capital político en una cuestión tan secundaria como Cuba. Jeremy Bentham, el apóstol del utilitarismo, lo interpretaría como conseguir un beneficio máximo a un costo mínimo, mediante un asunto que, aunque pequeño, cuenta con el aplauso de sus aliados y el resto del mundo, según ya se sabe por experiencia.

Comparativamente, barrer los destrozos del elefante republicano en la cristalería de nuestras relaciones no plantearía una complicación mayor. Restablecer remesas, viajes, ventas de alimentos y medicinas y, sobre todo, normalizar el trabajo del consulado y el proceso de otorgamiento de visas en La Habana solo puede tener oposición entre los más rimbombantes trumpistas de Miami. Me pregunto si los expertos que, desde balcones disímiles (EFE, Granma, El Toque…) parecen coincidir en que la política de Washington hacia La Habana pasa por Miami, apostarían algo al poder real de estos rimbombantes para dictarla en torno a los temas mencionados.

El segundo requisito para un cambio es la existencia de una estrategia elaborada para lidiar con Cuba. Algunos meteorólogos se interrogan sobre la realidad de esa visión, como si estuviéramos en una especie de grado cero de las relaciones. Descríbase como un cuchillo de doble filo o un caballo de Troya, el mismo perro con otro collar, u otras novedosas metáforas… definitivamente, no es un enigma. La Directiva Presidencial sobre relaciones EEUU-Cuba, producida por el gobierno de Obama en octubre de 2016, y compartida con el equipo de gobierno del que formaba parte Joe Biden, cantó sus triunfos alto y claro, como dicen en el tute subastado, en un palo y en otro.

¿Podemos tener alguna idea sobre dónde y a quiénes les toca jugar ese tute? Sabemos que las cuestiones de seguridad no se deciden en audiencias del Comité de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado ni en la legislatura de la Florida, sino en los órganos de mando de la política exterior, históricamente decisivos en las relaciones con Cuba. Si les damos aunque sea un mínimo de crédito a los modelos de política burocrática, para preconizar la que se hará hacia Cuba, habría que empezar por apreciar el vaso comunicante con la administración Obama. La designación de figuras encargadas de dirigir seguridad nacional y política exterior provenientes de altos cargos en el anterior gobierno demócrata (y en otros más remotos) incluyen el National Security Council (Jake Sullivan), el Departamento de Estado (Antony Blinken), Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorkas), la comunidad de inteligencia (Avril Haines) y el jefe de despacho del presidente (Ron Klein).

Todos ellos ya estaban ahí entre el 17 de diciembre de 2014 y el 20 de enero de 2017; y todavía falta nombrar algunos más, de diversas jerarquías. Por ejemplo, la embajadora ante la ONU (con rango en el NSC) y el enviado especial del presidente para el clima (miembro del gabinete) resultan ser una diplomática de carrera negra experta en África (Linda Thomas-Greenfield), y el excanciller que inauguró la embajada en La Habana (John Kerry). Si la continuidad de la normalización tuviera nombre y apellidos, esta lista sería elocuente.

Por otra parte, encontrarles un hilo conductor a esas designaciones podría llevar a sueños de la razón. Digamos, a alguien se le podría ocurrir que cuando Biden designa a un abogado de California nacido en Cuba para dirigir el organismo a cargo de antiterrorismo, control de fronteras, seguridad de transporte e inmigración, que ha negociado y firmado acuerdos con el MININT y el MINFAR (esas agencias castristas puestas en listas negras por Trump y compañía), les está dando vela a Marco Rubio y Mario Díaz-Balart en la política hacia Cuba.

Por último, retornemos a la razón geopolítica y a la pista global del tango. Según nuestra historia anterior, el conflicto EEUU-Cuba se ha desenvuelto con elementos y en arenas que rebasan el espacio estrictamente bilateral. Si en lugar del catalejo al revés de Miami se usara un lente ancho que permitiera mirar triangularmente, ¿cómo se intersectarían las relaciones de ambos con la Unión Europea, China y Rusia? ¿En qué medida el triángulo EEUU-Venezuela-Cuba podría evolucionar? ¿Qué pasará en América Latina y el Caribe en 2021, en Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Perú, Nicaragua y Honduras? ¿En Argentina y México? ¿Hasta qué punto el campo magnético de la región, por causas y azares ajenas a ambos países, se moverá en una configuración propicia a la relación Cuba-EEUU?

Para comentar estas preguntas, con apego a la lógica del tango y de la pista de baile, habría que explicarse la estructura de la política exterior cubana y sus factores, en el marco de sus relaciones con el mundo, en vez de simple reflejo del conflicto-cooperación con EEUU. ¿Qué alianzas, intereses, convergencias, asociaciones y desencuentros la gobiernan? ¿Dónde radican sus fortalezas y debilidades? ¿Cómo se han movido durante la era de Trump? ¿Qué señales anuncian que está preparada o no para la renormalización con EEUU? ¿Cómo interactúan esas relaciones exteriores con la política interna?

Entender esa interacción requiere mirar sin lentes polarizados el proceso de las reformas y la matriz de la transición. Calibrar a EEUU como un factor doméstico en la transición implica pensarla en el contexto de otros factores y dinámicas, como las relaciones entre las dos sociedades, y de ninguna manera como agenda de negociación entre los gobiernos. Aunque se dice fácil, para decirlo con palabras de Jorge Luis Borges, descifrar “ese tango nuevo (…) es un acertijo, sin que le falten las perplejas variantes, los lugares comunes y la razonada discordia de los comentadores”.


Tomando en cuenta que Díaz Canel podría ser elegido como primer secretario del PCC en el VIII Congreso, en abril de 2021.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Dialogue with Circles Robinson about Biden's Impact



We don't really know what Biden will do about Nicaragua and Venezuela.  About the latter, he, Nancy Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats appeared initially to follow the Trump/Bolton regime change fantasy of Juan Guaido.  (Fareed Zakaria was a cheer leader as well, to his great discredit.)

However Biden subsequently adopted a more nuanced position, stating in his Americas Society interview, "The United States should not be in the business of regime change. Nicolás Maduro is a dictator, plain and simple, but the overriding goal in Venezuela must be to press for a democratic outcome through free and fair elections, and to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their country."

In principle that frees the Biden Administration from going through a US created leader and allows it to seek a political solution directly with Maduro and the actual Venezuelan government.  The US can support rather than sabotage the Norwegian peace initiative or create its own comprehensive approach to the region that includes an end to all economic sanctions and embargoes.

I was surprised by your simplistic analysis of Cuba:

"The Castro’s outright rejected Obama’s policy of opening more doors to Cuba. The Cuban government opposed the increased US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses. They treated it as a 'trojan horse' plan to subvert their rule. Their reaction was greater repression of dissenters and independent journalists and a slow-down in their own economic reform plan."

While Fidel, or old guard intermediaries around him, did criticize Obama, it is not hard to understand why.  The embargo is used as an excuse but it is also a classic act of very damaging economic warfare.  I think that Obama and now Biden are moving toward an end of the embargo--and the return of Guantanamo.  Their step by step approach is understandable in the context of US politics but makes it hard for older conservative sectors of the Party to stomach being lectured to about human rights and free enterprise by the same government that has had a knee on their neck for sixty years.

However, over more than two decades of deep involvement with Cuba, I have never encountered opposition to, "increased US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses"  before or after Obama and Raul Castro normalized diplomatic relations.  To the contrary.

Did state institutions try initially to maintain monopoly control, sure, but that seemed bureaucratically and economically driven to maintain institutional primacy and fund the state budget.  There was steady growth of openness to the important role of the non-state sector, most obvious in practical cooperation with bed and breakfasts and private restaurants.   That will go further in the new round of economic reform discussions if travel is a sector authorized for small and medium enterprise.

The "greater repression of dissenters and independent journalists and a slow-down in their own economic reform plan" did not come during the Obama Administration.  It was a reaction to overt hostility and growing sanctions from Trump. 

The US responded to perceived threat in World War II by mass detention of Japanese Americans.  We responded to post war conflict with the Soviet Union by McCarthyite purges from government and educational institutions, by imprisonment and firings of members of the US Communist Party because of suspected disloyalty, as well as by mob action against left cultural events.  Are you surprised that a country of 11 million responds harshly and defensively to an existential threat from a thirty times larger geographically and culturally close superpower and mistreats citizens who overtly support US aggression against national sovereignty?

 Just as I believe Cuba would dramatically improve its economic situation if it adapted and adopted Vietnam's market model, I believe the US would dramatically strengthen its influence in Cuba if it followed the same policy of mutual respect and non-interference that it has with Vietnam.  Do I hope that Cuba, like Vietnam, finds a path to a more liberal and tolerant multi-party political system?  Yes, but the only role that US can play in either country's process is to give it space for its people to find their own path for their own reasons.

You can find my no doubt overoptimistic assessment of where Biden might go on Cuba as published by the Quincy Institute at

   --John McAuliff


I agree that Fidel's statement was negative.  It was impossible for anyone to directly contradict him but my impression is that his words represented only the most cautious perspective within the government and Party.  

It might have been impossible in terms of US politics, but I wonder whether Obama making a courtesy call on Fidel as the Pope did would have affected the atmosphere after his departure.

There was certainly not a negative change in policy or behavior about "US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses".  The atmosphere was increasingly positive.

The problem for evaluating whether repression increased is that the people complaining  were against Obama's policy of normalization and could have been seeking ways to discredit it. 

Did anything negative happen to the people who spoke frankly during Obama's session promoting private business?

Again, my memory is that serious backsliding was associated with Trump's election.

Because the legal conditions were different, Clinton was able to lift the embargo of Vietnam before he reestablished diplomatic relations.  There were still conflicts after normalization but one of the biggest obstacles to establishing trust had been removed

Thursday, October 15, 2020

How President Biden Can Manage Cuba


How President Biden Can Manage Cuba

  By John McAuliff

Five years ago I stood in a mostly Cuban crowd outside of the US embassy in Havana, excitedly watching our flag be raised for the first time in 54 years.  Two hours later I was at a celebratory party at the US Ambassador’s residence, a beautiful building designed but never used as a Winter White House for FDR.  Scores of official and non-official Americans who had worked for normalization were there, along with diplomats from other countries.  No one from the Cuban government attended because the embassy had invited a few prominent dissidents. 

The path to this day had not been easy because of political distrust on both side and was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Obama and Castro.  None of us expected the future would be simple.  However we never anticipated that virtually all would be undone by the election of Donald Trump.  

Cuba relations will hardly be the largest problem or the first priority of a Biden Administration, but it is low hanging fruit.  While minorities are loudly in favor or against US engagement with the island, most Americans, including Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and even inclined to go further on travel.

Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening.  He will do at least as well with personally invested Florida voters by convincing them his goal is a positive relationship with the homeland of their parents, children and other family members.  He can counteract the narrowminded regression of President Trump for whom Cuba policies were little more than a favor to Marco Rubio and to Vladimir Putin.

Biden will be able to signal his concern for the well-being of the people of both nations, his desire to strengthen pro-market reforms and the need to practically counteract growing Russian and Chinese influence.   His Administration will solidify a historic new chapter of post Monroe Doctrine post Platt Amendment US partnership with the hemisphere. 

Biden’s campaign is already publicly critical of the latest punitive pettiness of the Trump Administration, prohibition of rare private charter flights.  He has told Americas Quarterly, “as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights”.

Biden will certainly receive support from his Vice President.  Senator Kamala Harris is among 46 bipartisan cosponsors of the Leahy bill to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba.

He can also expect an abrazo, a hug, from the First Lady whose moving cultural visit to Camaguey and Havana was portrayed in an Obama White House video. 

Biden has four stages of opportunity that would cut the Gordian knot of six decades of intractable mutually destructive US-Cuba relations.

1) During the campaign or right after election:  Announce that immediately upon taking office he will restore Obama policies on individual and group travel licenses, cruises, flights to regional cities, remittances, import of agricultural products, specific types of investments and banking and international shipping as well as facilitation of visas for educational and cultural exchange.  Clarify that Cubans granted visas for family and professional visits and for study in the US will be deemed ineligible to claim status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.  (Depending on US success in controlling Covid-19, an announcement of intention allows planning for the winter season and spring semester by the travel sector and universities.) 

2) Within the first year: Fully restaff an embassy gutted by a Secretary of State and President who were opportunistically intimidated by inexplicable health problems.   Reopen consular authority and restore visas for immigration and family reunion visits.  Support Leahy/McGovern legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and for comparable initiatives in agricultural and medical sales as well as on related financial transactions.   Enable collaboration in medicine and science, including on anti-Covid research, treatment and international assistance.  Return to abstention on the UN vote against the unilateral US embargo. Resuspend Title III of Helms-Burton to stop annoyance suits by Cuban Americans for property they lost before they had any claim as US citizens. 

Break new ground.  To test and support economic reforms, terminate application of the embargo to privately owned small and medium Cuban enterprises, permitting their exports, imports and American investments.  Cooperate with Cuba to confirm Canadian research that chemical toxins not illusive sound waves caused illness of embassy personnel and to discover who was responsible. Stop all US government funding of projects within Cuba that are not vetted through normal diplomatic channels with a host government.

3) Within the first two years: Align with Hemispheric and European goals by achieving through comprehensive negotiations a political settlement in Venezuela and an end to the unilateral US embargo of Cuba.   Open consulates in at least one Cuban and one US city.  Begin ferry service between US and Cuban ports.   Support with governmental, corporate and foundation funds wide ranging cultural, educational, professional and business exchanges.  Seek reciprocal dampening of interventionist hostility by state funded publications, broadcasts and social media, replaced by ongoing multi sectoral dialog about conflicting values and ideologies.

4) Within the first term: Follow the road map to restore full Cuban sovereignty of the Guantanamo base that was developed by Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro during Obama’s normalization discussions.   Explore transforming the military outpost and prison into a free trade zone, hemispheric medical research center and cruise port.

"What to Make of Cuba’s Planned Economic Reforms?"  Read a range of Cuban opinions here

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Impact of the US Election from a Cuban Perspective

 The Impact of the US Election from a Cuban Perspective

   by Jose Viera

On one occasion, Fidel Castro said that the results of the presidential elections in the United States were so important to Cuba that Cubans should be able to vote in them. In the next elections to be held in November the result will bear important consequences for the Island and, of course, for Miami, in particular the Cuban-American community.

Six years ago, on December 14, 2014, the joint announcement by Presidents Barak Obama and Raúl Castro of an agreement to negotiate the normalization of diplomatic relations and explore cooperation in areas of common interest opened a new phase in bilateral relations that, for the first time since 1959, was not based on hostility.

This brief period was quickly reversed by the then newly re-elected President Trump who, on June 16, 2017 in Miami stated: "Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba."[1]

In fact, the cancellation of these advances did not happen immediately, as Trump proclaimed in his usual arrogant and theatrical style.

During the years 2015-2016, the two countries had negotiated a score of cooperation agreements that were of importance to both the United States and Cuba, while at the same time, people-to-people relations increased substantially. Cuban-American visits and family relationships multiplied and Cuba even proved to be an immediate market –even under the conditions of the embargo- for US airlines and cruise companies with all indications of significant growth, even in the short term.

It was not possible for the Republican administration to reverse everything that had been advanced at a stroke; they have not even managed to do it in its entirety until now, but they did bring a sustained dismantling of all cooperation and even a severe increase in unilateral sanctions and a tenacious persecution of Cuban financial and commercial ties with the world. Today it can be said that the embargo ("blockade" for the Cubans) is more extensive, systematic and thorough than ever before.

Trump's policy was never explained in positive terms, he never presented a goal to be achieved other than reversing a visionary foreign policy achievement of his predecessor in the White House. In none of his statements did Trump offer a vision of the future of relations between the United States and Cuba, much less of how he conceived them in the framework of inter-American relations as a whole. It was not stated what were the interests of the United States in Cuba outside of promoting a change of regime or how to ensure a supposed democratization on the island. Nor was it explained how imposing more economic penalties on Cuba could provoke a regime change or how Cuba or Cuban-Americans could be affected by causing economic and social chaos on the island. By saying that the economic sanctions were to deny resources to government and party leaders, it was concealed that the real victims were the citizens of the island, the Cuban people, who were denied the means for their subsistence and development. It was a massive punishment seeking to force Cubans toward instability and disorder.

Even as recently as September 23 of this year, already in the middle of the electoral process and in search of his re-election, President Trump explained his actions fundamentally in terms contrary to those of the previous administration, stating that: “The Obama-Biden administration made a weak, pathetic, one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship that betrayed the Cuban people and enriched the communist regime. I canceled the Obama-Biden sellout to the Castro regime."[2]

Both in the 2016 elections, as during his four years in office and even when facing his coveted reelection in 2020, at no time did Trump think of a policy towards Cuba, a plan based on solid foundation - that would take the history of those relations into account. – to forge a bond between two neighboring countries that can benefit each other so much.  Nor, even with the goal of changing the political and economic system on the island, did he articulate the way to achieve it in the best possible terms, without exposing Cubans, and even North Americans, to incalculable risks of violence and loss.

Every time what Trump decides about Cuba, is determined by his goals in the internal politics of the United States, to win the vote of Cuban-Americans.   In fact, he cares little about what happens to Cuba or to the Cubans. Nothing proves this better than the following statements by Trump: “Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans…,” apparently the President of the United States considers that all Cubans are US citizens and vote in the elections in Florida.[3]

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has not provided extensive explanations of his policy toward Cuba. "Former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday he would return to Obama-era policies of engagement with Cuba and reverse the Trump administration's sanctions if he wins the White House race in November." "In large part, I would go back,”[4] Biden said. To these statements last April he recently added: “I’d try to reverse the failed Trump policies, it inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,” Biden said. "It's done nothing to advance democracy and human rights, on the contrary, the crackdown on Cubans by the regime has gotten worse under Trump, not better."[5] These statements have been nuanced with references to what Cuba should do in its relations with Venezuela and in the fulfillment of supposed commitments acquired by the Cuban side.

Neither Biden, and much less Trump, have offered an explanation of a policy towards Cuba that corresponds to a statesman's vision that describes the strategic interests of the United States, taking into account those of Cuba, and aiming to close the negative chapters of the complex historical relationship between the two countries.

Obama's policy.

In his statement of December 17, 2014, President Obama, in an excellent speech, outlined a vision of the future of these relations. One may or may not agree with his positions but there is no doubt of its transparency, depth and broad scope. Two concepts deserve special consideration.[6]

The first is the  “policy of engagement”, he said: “…I am convinced that, through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.”

The other was to abandon the goal of bringing political, economic and social collapse in Cuba. Obama said: “Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests or the Cuban people to try to push Cuba towards collapse.” Adding: “Even if that worked -- and it hasn’t for 50 years -- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

It is necessary to understand the practical scope of both concepts in the context of the relations of both countries since 1959.

The proclamation that the United States did not seek to push Cuba to collapse signified accepting the reality of changes that occurred in Cuba since January 1, 1959. At the same time, the geographic proximity, the strategic situation of the island at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, would provoke the beginning of an important and beneficial cooperation between both parties in a whole set of areas ranging from health care and weather forecasting to exchange and cooperation on legitimate issues that concern national security. Differences on international issues could be examined, and topics as important as compensation for the nationalization of American investments in Cuba, and compensation to Cuba for human and material losses due to American hostility, could find a solution in the new political and diplomatic environment created.[7]

More importantly, without a collapse of the Cuban system, the legality existing in Cuba is consolidated. This has an enormous practical significance for every Cuban. In the aggressive and tendentious campaign of defamation and demonization of the revolution, American citizens are never reminded that the Cuban Revolution not only nationalized or confiscated the properties of foreigners and wealthy Cubans but also created hundreds of thousands of new owners in Cuba. More than 200,000 Cuban farmers received possession of the lands they cultivated. The Revolution gave ownership of their homes to hundreds of thousands of Cubans who previously paid rent to individuals or who got new apartments and houses build by the State or by themselves.  A collapse of the Cuban system would end the legal protection of these owners.

In fact, for the United States to proclaim that it was not seeking the collapse of the Cuban system but that it will use engagement to influence its evolution, meant something concrete and positive for practically every Cuban citizen.

The policy of engagement, of promoting the values ​​that Washington looks to see in force in Cuba through the promotion of cultural, economic, scientific cooperation between both peoples meant rescuing the most powerful ideological and political weapon available to the United States in its relation with the island nation : its great cultural influence in Cuba.  The fact that Cuban nationality was forged parallel in time to the period in which the United States became consolidated as an independent state and that the rapid growth of intense economic ties and the importation of technological advances that Spain was unable to provide to Cuba, insured that in the emerging identity of Cubans was present the cultural influence of the United States.

This general influence includes now the particularly important relationship with Miami. Undoubtedly the participation of Cuban Americans occupies a main place in Obama's confidence that the engagement policy would have a profound impact in Cuba.

The mutual cultural influence between Havana and Miami was not born with the emigration that took place after 1959. That influence grew steadily throughout the post-war period and was very evident in the 1950s. Ten of thousands of Cubans visited Miami each year, spending vacations, shopping, and experiencing American society. The geographical proximity and the ease of transportation provided by intense air and maritime links even led to practically a daily trade by Cubans who traveled back and forth in the same day. In that period, many Cubans, not only corrupt politicians, invested in Miami in significant amounts.[8]

Indeed, after 2014, the number of Cubans visiting the United States, especially Florida, and Cuban-American visits to Cuba increased even more, as did remittances to Cuba.   These now also included masked personal and family investments on the island within the framework of the conditions created by the timid and limited economic reforms in the Cuban system.

Many consider that the engagement policy proclaimed in 2014 did not find support in the Cuban-American Community and that this is shown because, facing the elections on November 3, support for the Democratic candidate will be less than it was in 2016 A major poll just released, the most recent Cuba FIU Poll 2020, finds that 60% of Cuban-Americans support Trump's reelection.

However, data provided by the same survey show very important contradictions in the opinions of Cuban-Americans, that allow affirming that there are present in the Cuban-American community aspirations in relations with Cuba that do not have space in the policy followed by Trump in his present mandate or those that would seem to bring his re-election. The following is one of those contradictions.

Parallel to the eight-year term of President Obama and the gradual reduction of hostility towards Cuba, support for the embargo fell from almost 60% at the beginning of that term to 47% in 2014 and 34% in 2016, the year of the lowest register. At the same time, support for normalization of relations and engagement grew from around 55% in 2008 to 66% in 2014 and 72% in 2016. That is, far from decreasing after two years of its application, support for normalization tended to grow among Cuban-Americans in Miami.[9]

But it is not the only contradiction. Actually among the possible policy implications of the poll is “strong support strong support for suspending the sanctions codified in the embargo to allow for humanitarian assistance during the COVID-19 crisis”.  There is high or strong support for “selling of food and medicines,” for “airlines to establish routes to all regions of Cuba, ”and for “policies designed specifically to improve the economic well-being of Cubans on the island”[10]

It would seem that the reversal of normalization trends under the Trump administration is not due to a rejection of Obama's initiatives but to the impact of open and increased hostility towards Cuba, and towards all those who supported those initiatives in Miami, in a community so sensitive to intimidation and political intolerance.  In the discussion of the findings of the FIU Poll, the pollsters state that it may be that “Cuban Americans are not so much shaping as reflecting U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.”[11]

The support for the reelection of Trump is better explained by the absence of an open political debate in the Cuban – American community in Miami, without intimidation,  Also important is the excessive caution of Democratic Party candidates in explaining what return to engagement would bring to economic advantages and in family ties.  An additional factor is concealment of the true intentions and consequences of the continuation of the economic strangulation of Cuba by Trump, seeking the collapse of the Cuban system.

The re-election of Trump would bring much more than a worsening of the living conditions of the Cuban people.  His ultimate goal coincides with the desire for revenge and going back to December 31, 1958, of the most conservative, racist and anti-popular sectors of the Cuban emigration. To propose the collapse of the Cuban system would mean the end of the legal protection for the properties of land and houses of the Cubans who share their destiny on the island and who received those properties from the Revolution. The desire for revenge is directed not only against the leaders of the government and the Cuban communist party, but against all the people. Nothing would stop the counter-revolutionaries.

On the other hand, the return to engagement, with the most propitious conditions already created by the still fearful and insufficient economic reforms applied in Cuba particularly this year, opens the door for a decisive increase in cultural, economic and people-to-people relations between Cuba and the United States, but especially between Cuba and Miami and Florida. No one will benefit more from this increase than Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait.

The political and economic evolution of the Cuban system and of the political trends among Cuban-Americans would become subject to a "battle of ideas." Finding who is afraid of that battle means discovering enemies of the future of the Cuban people.

[7] It should be remembered that Cuba paid compensation for the nationalizations to foreign interests in Cuba with the only probable exception of Americans because of Washington's refusal to find a negotiated solution. Cuba has never denied its obligation to pay.  The very laws that protected the nationalization included mechanisms of payment that can open the way to a wide deal that includes trade and mutual compensation.

[8] For an illustrative explanation of the links between Miami and Havana in the 1950s and the influence of the culture of the United States on the identity of Cubans see "On Becoming Cuban", by Louis Perez Jr. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill

[9] 2020 FIU Cuba Poll. Appendix 2: Selected Trends. Figure 41.

[10] 2020 FIU Cuba Poll, page 46.

[11] Idem.