Cuba and the United States Return to the Trenches / Iván García
Iván García, 19 June 2017 — For both countries it amounts to a remake of
the Cold War, this time in version 2.0. It will take time to determine
the scope of the contest or if the new diplomatic battle will involve
only bluffs, idle threats and blank bullets.
With an unpredictable buffoon like Donald Trump and a conspiratorial
autocrat like Raul Castro, anything could happen.
The dispute between Cuba and the United States is like an old love
story, one peppered with resentments, disagreements and open admiration
for the latter’s opportunities and consumerist lifestyle.
Beginning in January 1959, the dispute between Havana and Washington
took on an ideological tone when a bearded Fidel Castro opted for
communism right under Uncle Sam’s nose. The country allied itself with
the former Soviet Union and had the political audacity to confiscate the
properties of U.S. companies and to aim nuclear weapons at Miami and New
Successive American administrations, from Eisenhower to George Bush Jr.,
responded with an embargo, international isolation and subversion in an
attempt to overthrow the Castro dictatorship.
Times changed but objectives remained the same. Castro’s Cuba, ruled by
a totalitarian regime which does not respect human rights and represses
those who think differently, is not the kind of partner with which the
White House likes to do business.
But the art of politics allows for double standards. For various
reasons, Persian Gulf monarchies and Asian countries such as China and
Vietnam — countries which have leap-frogged over democracy like Olympic
athletes and are also heavy-handed in their use of power — are allies of
the United States or have been granted most favored nation status by the
To the United States, Cuba — a capricious and arrogant dictatorship
inflicting harm on universally held values — is different. Washington is
correct in theory but not in its solution.
Fifty-five years of diplomatic, economic and financial warfare combined
with a more or less subtle form of subversion, support for dissidents,
the free flow of information, private businesses and an internet free of
censorship have not produced results.
The communist regime is still in place. What to do? Remain politically
blind and declare war on an impoverished neighbor or to try to coexist
Washington’s biggest problem is that there is no effective mechanism for
overturning dictatorial or hostile governments by remote control. The
White House repeatedly shoots itself in the foot.
The embargo is more effective as a publicity tool for the Castro regime
than it is for the United States. This is because the military junta,
which controls 90% of the island’s economy, can still trade with the
rest of the world.
The very global nature of modern economies limits the effectiveness of a
total embargo. In the case of Cuba, the embargo has more holes in it
than a block of Swiss cheese. Hard currency stores on the island sell
“Made in the USA” household appliances, American cigarettes and the
ubiquitous Coca Cola.
There are those who have advocated taking a hard line when it comes to
the Cuban regime. In practice, their theories have not proved effective,
though they would argue that Obama’s approach has not worked either.
They have a point. The nature of a dictatorship is such that it is not
going to collapse when faced with a Trojan Horse. But as its leaders
start to panic, doubts begin to set in among party officials as support
grows among a large segment of the population. And what is most
important for American interests is to win further approval from the
international community for its geopolitical management.
Obama’s speech in Havana, in which he spoke of democratic values while
directly addressing a group of wrinkled Caribbean strongmen, was more
effective than a neutron bomb.
There are many Cubans who recognize that the root of their problems —
from a disastrous economy to socialized poverty, daily shortages and a
future without hope — lies in the Palace of the Revolution.
Hitting the dictatorship in its pocketbook has not worked. In Cuba, as
Trump knows all too well, every business and corporation which deals in
hard currency belongs to the government.
And all the money that comes into the country in the form of remittances
ends up, in one form or another, in the state treasury. Sanctions only
affect the people. I am convinced that, if Cuba’s autocrats lack for
anything, it is more digits in their secret bank accounts.
Like other politicians and some members of Congress, Donald Trump is
only looking at the Cuban landscape superficially.
The United States can spend millions to support Cuban dissidents (though
96% of the money goes to anti-Castro organizations based in Florida),
launch international campaigns and impose million-dollar fines on
various foreign banks to punish them for doing business with the
Caribbean dictatorship, but they overlook one thing: the regime’s
opponents — local figures who would presumably be leaders of any
prolonged, peaceful battle for democracy on the island — are failing.
The reasons vary. They range from intense repression to the opposition’s
proverbial inability to turn out even five-hundred people for a rally in
a public square.
I understand the frustration of my compatriots in the diaspora. I too
have suffered. I have
not seen my mother, my sister or my niece in the fourteen years since
the Black Spring in 2003 forced them to leave for Switzerland.
Various strategies have been tried yet the island’s autocrats still have
not given up. They are not going to change of their own free will. They
will retreat to the trenches, their natural habitat, where they can
maneuver more easily. And they will have the perfect pretext for
portraying themselves as victims.
As is already well known, the real blockade is the one the government
imposes on its citizens through laws and regulations that hinder them
from accumulating capital, accessing foreign sources of credit and
importing goods legally.
The regime has created anachronistic obstacles to the free importation
of goods from abroad by imposing absurd tariffs and restrictions.
But Cubans want a real democracy, not a caricature. We have to
understand that we must find the solutions to our problems ourselves.
Cuba is a matter for Cubans, wherever they happen to reside. All that’s
lacking is for we ourselves to believe it.
Source: Cuba and the United States Return to the Trenches / Iván García
– Translating Cuba –