Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Rafael Hernandez on Biden's Partial Restoration of the Cuba Opening

US Policy Towards Cuba: Another Roll of the Dice?

By: Raphael Hernandez

May 20, 2022 |

Politics often pushes each other. He takes action because he has no choice, forced by circumstances. It is more like a ship on the high seas, which weathers the storm, and tries to continue without letting go of ballast, because it is difficult for it.

All policies have a conservative premise, consistent in following the course they were leading. Except when the turbulence is coming up, and there is no way to circumnavigate it, and course changes are imposed. Sometimes those course changes precipitate actions that go further, and that push the ship through unexpected seas.

To imagine that behind each new direction there is a change plan that is followed as a map is to ignore its nature. Even when there are contingency plans, circumstances force politics to operate without all the elements at hand, that is, half-blindly, making decisions that feed off each other or are denied, in continuous trial and error. Paying the costs, or offsetting them with the benefits, or claiming that this avoids higher costs. But especially trying to weather crises, which contain a quota of what is expressed in English as hazard : risk, danger, and therefore threat.

Like all those previous times, the Cuban government has maneuvered to promote an exit at the negotiating table. As is known, since the post-cold war here, Cuba ceased to be among the critical issues in its global foreign policy, as are national security issues. And uncontrolled migration is one of those issues for the US, because it represents a hazard . Not for nothing is a powerful Department of Homeland Security in charge of it.

Despite the continuous invocation of human rights, nothing in the White House's package of measures towards Cuba can be explained from that logic. Since the migration crisis is a premise and the center of US interest right now, the cooperation of the Cuban government is imperative. To achieve this, they have no other choice but to go back on the most sensitive part of their harassment during the last 5-odd years: the obstacles to Cuban travel and remittances.

Once they are forced to open the window with Cuba, to negotiate the reactivation of the migratory agreement, some other pending topics sneak in: visits by North Americans under general license, including group people-to-people visits; direct flights to provinces; visas for visits (B1 and B2) with multiple entries (five years). And others are added, which had never existed, such as direct banking operations to private entrepreneurs; and direct remittances to Cuban banking institutions. Those with the banks favor, in the medium term, expanding economic relations.

What other elements of judgment do these measures contribute in relation to the factors that govern the policy towards Cuba?

Despite the much talked about feud from Miami and from Congress, this package contradicts it, once again. Although since the end of the 1990s, commentators, media outlets, experts here and there have often repeated that the policy towards Cuba is dictated by the right-wing Cuban-American lobby in Florida, this repeated thesis has served more as a perfect justification for all the administrations that they don't want to spend the political capital required to loosen a 60-year ballast.

The proof is that Bob Menéndez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who a few days ago was something like the Colossus of Rhodes, who would not let a pin pass in favor of Cuba, has now become less than expendable. Marco Rubio himself, who attacks Biden for taking "the first steps towards Obama's policies on Cuba", rebels against the priority that the White House gives to the search for a negotiated solution to the immigration problem.

Rubio is not alone. Some analysts seem to attribute the causes of this step forward to a kind of latent Obamaism that survives among veterans from 2009-2016, participants in this Biden administration. One would have to ask where these lags come to light and what can cause them. Looking at the many things of the first magnitude that fill your hands only in foreign policy (Russia-Ukraine, the Taiwan issue with China, the nuclear dispute with Iran, the global international trade agenda), is it reasonable that the fulfillment of your  “bell promises” Regarding reversing Trump's measures against Cuba, can this be the lever for this package of new measures? Is it that there are marches in Hialeah demanding that compliance? Does a Democratic victory in the next elections in Florida really depend on those Cuban-Americans?

In any case, it is a fact that the opening to travel benefits Cuban-Americans and their relatives here. If we go by the polls, that “silent majority” on the side over there changes its public position regarding the blockade or normalization (what it dares to say to pollsters when they ask it on the phone), depending on whether the administration moves in favor or against these topics. So we might expect the polls not only to favor travel and remittances, but to reestablish their disposition in favor of normalization and against the blockade. Which would be very plausible, if only as a consequence, not a cause, of this package.

Finally, what can this decision mean in the perspective of the next Summit of the Americas? To what extent can it be dressed as a "sand" that compensates for "lime" aimed at excluding Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela?

What new space does it open to the countries that have made their participation depend on the reversal of that exclusion? How does it affect advancing a US-Cuba-ALyC* triangular framework? What role can that triangle have in continuing to push normalization? To what extent could it prevail over other more sensitive triangles, such as those with China or Russia at their vertices, in a strategic perspective for the US? Too early to tell, I'd say.

Returning to the foreseeable consequences of the package of measures, as it stands right now, and without falling into further speculation, a horizon can be envisioned in realistic terms. Although there is no plan in motion equivalent to a return to Obama's policy, the multiplier effects that the implementation of these measures may have are not negligible. Despite the fact that many continue to see it only in economic numbers, the reopening of the communicating vessel represented by US visitors constitutes a permanent bridge of what Ho Chi Minh called people-to-people diplomacy, whose political effect on US society is difficult. exaggerate.

We'll see.

      * ALyC  = America Latina y Caribe

Translation  by computer.  Original Spanish here

(the comments reveal much about the debate in  Cuba)

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