Coming soon, a spring thaw with Cuba?
A current is emerging in the U.S. attitude toward Cuba that appears more
favorable to improved relations.
By Rafael Hernández
April 24, 2014, 5:33 p.m.
It's often assumed, or even taken for granted, that U.S. policy on Cuba
is not dictated in Washington but in Miami by Cuban exiles who would
rather die than allow Washington to negotiate with Havana. This
interpretation holds the politics of a single Florida county responsible
for a conflict that has lasted more than half a century. That may be one
factor, but the real explanation is more complex.
Since the end of the Cold War, Cuba's profile on the United States'
strategic radar has diminished. The island no longer has the
significance it did nearly a quarter of a century ago when it had 50,000
soldiers in Angola and maintained a political alliance with the Soviet
President Obama probably dedicates mere minutes to Cuba compared with
the hours he devotes to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, North Korea,
Pakistan, China, Russia, Venezuela, Ukraine, etc. Yet Cuba, the largest
island in the Caribbean, is part of the maritime hub that will emerge
after the enlargement of the Panama Canal. And if you look at a map, the
Gulf ports closest to Mariel, Cuba, are Houston, New Orleans and Mobile,
Ala., not Veracruz or Maracaibo.
In this new context, a current is emerging in the U.S. attitude toward
Cuba that appears more favorable to change. In November, Obama told the
Cuban American lobby that U.S. strategy ought to remain open to the
changes on the island, and he acknowledged the idea that "the same
policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as
effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and
world travel doesn't make sense." One month later, he was shaking Cuban
President Raul Castro's hand at the memorial for Nelson Mandela.
Should these signs lead to real change, what U.S. political and
geostrategic interests could be furthered by a rapprochement?
In economic terms, the embargo is beneficial to no one. Lifting it, or
letting it fade away, could encompass the interests of farming states
and agribusinesses, tourism and the biomedical, maritime transportation,
pharmaceutical and oil industries, as well as U.S. ports along the Gulf
of Mexico. It would also free a sector of Cuban American businessmen
held hostage by established policy, allowing them to participate
actively in bilateral economic relations.
In terms of security, dialogue would allow for a more permanent
cooperation on drug-trafficking interception, air and sea security,
coordination between military forces, civil defense and hurricane
preparation, mutual public health challenges, protection of migratory
species and shared environmental interests.
If the United States cares to influence the internal context of the
island, the embargo policy is counterproductive. Without opportunities
for active communication between U.S. institutions and the island,
influence is impossible. Blocking the front door while opening windows
of communication are mutually inconsistent policies.
Dialogue and discreet diplomacy — what the Canadians call "constructive
engagement" — have functioned better than external pressure toward Cuba.
The Vatican and the European Union, which could hardly be suspected of
sympathizing with the Cuban government, can bear witness to that approach.
The argument that this quiet, constructive engagement has not brought
about a transformation of the Cuban political system misunderstands not
only Cuba but also the examples of China and Vietnam. In the latter two
cases, the subject of human rights has been a prominent part of their
bilateral dialogue with the United States for more than 20 years. But if
their internal policies and legislation have moved forward in this area,
it has been in response more to their internal dynamics than to
heavy-handed external pressure.
Never before has there been a Latin American context — in the region and
within Cuba — more favorable to the normalization of bilateral
relations. And recent polls have found that a majority of Americans,
including in Florida, favor better relations with Cuba.
Obama has taken audacious steps in his second term toward the resolution
of old conflicts, and he has negotiated with countries that are far more
intractable for U.S. policy than Cuba, such as Myanmar, Iran and Syria.
None of these conflicts is less complicated in terms of security and
international policy than that of Cuba. None has cried out so long for
The Obama-Castro handshake picture in Johannesburg, South Africa, had an
important effect that triggered unusual hopes. This gesture, symbolic as
it was, was widely supported by the international media and public
opinion. The U.S. government now knows what kind of positive effects it
might see if, one day, it decides to follow the infectious rhythm of
Grupo Interactivo and come to Havana.
Rafael Hernández is chief editor of Temas, a Cuban social science
magazine, and the co-editor of "Shall We Play Ball? Debating U.S.-Cuban
Source: Coming soon, a spring thaw with Cuba? - latimes.com -