Saturday, October 18, 2014

US-Cuba Relations and the Internal Blockade

US-Cuba Relations and the Internal Blockade
October 18, 2014
The fundamental question that those of us interested in the wellbeing of
the Cuban people should ask ourselves is: how will such measures affect
Cuba's internal blockade.
Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — A New York Times editorial published on October 12 urges
President Obama to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba –
something that is beyond the scope of the embargo provisions and which
falls within his presidential prerogatives – with a view to improving
international relations with Latin America and setting in motion new
forms of interaction with the island and its internal situation.

The US embargo (which some call a blockade) has thus become the center
of all debates about Cuba's problems once again, when many of us know
that the main blockade, the one we need to lift once and for all so that
the Cuban people and economy will be able to improve their lot, is the
internal blockade, the one imposed by the Party-State on its citizens
and which thwarts the development of their economic, political and
social initiatives.

The fundamental question that those of us interested in the wellbeing of
the Cuban people should ask ourselves is: how will such measures affect
this internal blockade which is ultimately what keeps Cuba in chains
(not the other, the external one, something which those who insist in
maintaining the trade embargo agree on)?

Raul Castro's reform process does not suffice to eliminate the internal
blockade we Cubans are subjected to. Its extension and progress, without
current obstacles, could however gradually lead to its dismantling and
ultimate elimination. Its stagnation and ultimate neutralization by
conservative forces within the Castro government would indeed be the
worst thing that could happen to Cuban society today.

US policy does not determine but does have an impact on the correlation
between the forces at play within the governing elite and, generally
speaking, within the Party-government and Cuban society as a whole, as
well as among those who support the deepening and broadening (to varying
degrees) of the so-called "updating of Cuba's economic and social model"
and those who merely aspire to maintain only the semblance of this
process to keep the old, hyper-centralized system in place.

Between the Two Castros

It is no secret that there exists a kind of "friendly" arm-wrestle – a
permanent conflict arising from disagreements between Cuba's historical
leader, Fidel, and his brother, the army general Raul – as to the form
and content Cuba's domestic and foreign policy and the structure of the
country's economy.

It is easy to demonstrate that the first speeches pronounced by Raul
Castro after he took office and the spirit of renewal of the "reform
process" have not been adequately embodied by the application and the
results of the policies implemented.

The most visible cause of this is Fidel Castro's gradual recovery and
his attempts at taking back the limelight.

The evidence for this are his "reflections", his continuous public and
media appearances, where he is seen receiving foreign personalities, and
in the systematic praise for his thoughts and figure in the
Party-controlled press – so frequent that they outnumber Raul's public
appearances and speeches, even after Fidel "retired and asked not to be
called 'Commander in Chief' any longer."

Are we expected to forget Raul Castro's "glass of milk" speech and the
suppression of his remarks by Granma, as well as everything that entailed?

Raul may have replaced the members of Fidel's administration, but the
traditional Fidelistas still remain within the Party leadership,
particularly in the Party Secretariat, headed by Machado Ventura, the
man in charge of all the Party's concrete activities, the appointment
and dismissal of cadres, propaganda and others.

This is the main Party structure responsible for keeping the positions
of the "historical leader" alive. The second-in-command within the
government, Diaz Canel, is not the second-in-command within the Party,
Machado is.

The authority of these Party structures, at the top of the ladder, next
to Fidel, but beneath Raul, was evident in the debates during the 6th
Party Congress, which were manipulated by Party bureaucrats against
calls for a free and democratic debate at the base level.

The general, Fidel's brother, who knows Fidel better than anyone and was
appointed by him, has had to govern in his shadow, with that particular
handicap, caught between advancing his "reforms" and avoiding a
confrontation with the leader – hence his increasing moderation and
fewer and fewer public appearances.

Raul has been clear in his intentions of a rapprochement with the United
States, while his brother, now recovering, does not miss an opportunity
to try and distance himself from them as much as possible.

This, which could also be interpreted as the "good cop, bad cop"
routine, could have served to achieve such a rapprochement if only it
had been adequately encouraged, if Washington had been more consistent
in its first appraisal of what Raul Castro's ascent to power meant.

It is therefore worthwhile to recall that, at the time, the United
States demonstrated much interest and willingness to work with him and
his military officers, and rumors were even leaked to the effect that
Washington was convinced the tough hand of the military and their
"reforms" would prevent future migratory avalanches, the main concern
weighing on US-Cuba relations.

However, the United States did not take any significant steps to help
the Raul Castro government in its reform plans, steps that could have
strengthened the General's position in the Cuban government's internal
correlation of forces.

More effective support and the lifting of other important sanctions
stemming from the blockade-embargo could have tilted the internal
balance of power in favor of Raul's reformers and allowed them to
develop their "updating process" better – and, eventually, other
democratic "reforms" that could have entailed deeper changes in the

It's possible the United States considered that the transfer of power
was merely nominal and that "only the television had been handed over,
without the remote control."

Today, we bear witness to how Cuba's critical economic situation, caused
by the limitations of the "reform process" and its inability to overcome
the stagnation produced by the near-absolutist model that was in place
for nearly fifty years, is prompting a mass exodus of Cubans towards the
United States through all imaginable routes.

The proposals now advanced by the New York Times may be coming a little
too late, but, as they say, "better late than never."

Should they yield results, they would have the immediate effect of
easing tensions between the two governments and, without a doubt, many
of those desperate to leave for the United States might consider that it
is more advisable to stay a little longer, to see the concrete results
of this rapprochement.

At the same time, it would suggest that the Obama administration is not
chiefly responsible for maintaining the blockade-embargo, but that
Congress is. It could clear the way towards the elimination of the
embargo, inasmuch as it would entail previously removing Cuba from the
list of countries that sponsor terrorism and make other positive
relations between the two countries possible.

Such developments could serve to appease those who blame all of our
misfortunes on imperialist aggression, which is one of the fundamental
pretexts with which the economic disasters of the State-command economy,
the repression of the opposition, the absence of democracy and the lack
of civil and political liberties and rights are justified.

Most importantly, it would imply a measure of US support for Raul
Castro's updating process. The "reformist" current could be thus
revitalized and the complicated balance of forces within the Cuban
government could be tilted in its favor. Raul, in turn, would be unable
to ignore such US gestures and would be forced to act accordingly. One
development would prompt others.

The issue can be approached from many other perspectives. As far as
Cuba's internal situation is concerned, these are the ones I consider
most important.

Source: US-Cuba Relations and the Internal Blockade - Havana -

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