Cuba and the USA Facing 2016

January 6, 2016 |

By Jesús Arboleya  (Progreso Weekly)

A U.S. diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Havana greeting a Cuban employee on July 20, 2015, the day when the Cuban Embassy opened in Washington. Photo/CNN

HAVANA TIMES — This will be an election year in the United States and every political act will be seen through the prism of electoral convenience. The topic of Cuba does not escape this conditioning, especially in terms of Washington’s actions regarding the advancement of relations between the two countries.

Reestablishing relations with Cuba was a solid success for the Obama administration, to the point that — except from the Cuban-American extreme right — no political sector has firmly opposed that decision.

So far, the topic of Cuba has barely surfaced in the presidential debates. It is quite obvious that the Republicans are avoiding it so as not to expose their internal contradictions while the Democrats are doing it for the opposite reason, since it is not an issue of dispute between the party’s candidates.

Nevertheless, the Democrats, in particular the government, have exploited it in the media, knowing that rapprochement is in their favor. It was an issue stressed by the President and the secretary of State in their year-end messages.

There is even talk that Obama plans to travel to Cuba before his term of office ends, presumably in March during a foreign tour.

However, this is no assurance that the administration is willing to take decisive steps to solve the fundamental problems remaining in the process of normalization of relations.

Regarding issues such as the return of the Naval Base at Guantánamo and the correction of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba — two issues that have priority in the Cuban agenda — the government of the United States has expressed its decision not to alter its policies.

This means that it is in the enforcement of the economic blockade that President Obama’s real willingness to consolidate his Cuba policy will be decided.

As is well known, the total lifting of the blockade — “embargo,” according to U.S. terminology — is up to Congress, and it will be very difficult before the elections to find a consensus to eliminate the complex skein of laws that regulate it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Cuban Foreign Ministry. He poses with Cuban FM Bruno Rodriguez.

Perhaps the most that can be hoped for in this context is to manage a lifting of the restrictions on the travel of U.S. tourists to Cuba, and to approve amendments that facilitate trade in the food sector, especially granting credit and other facilities to the Cuban side.

If these steps were taken, they’d be important steps forward, but the dynamics of the electoral process and the polarization that exists in the Congressional body make it difficult to assure their materialization.

The real capacity to consolidate the efforts accomplished lies in the President’s willingness to use his executive powers to soften the blockade’s impact — a policy that Obama himself has criticized — and that leads us again to analyze the electoral equation.

Evidently, Obama doesn’t want to do something that might be interpreted as “gratuitous concessions” to Cuba, an argument central to his opponents’ criticism. He has made it quite clear that any forward movement depends on the domestic “changes” made by the Cuban side.

That stance breaks away from the premise of equality that has characterized the negotiations and places Cuba in the impossible situation of having to consider issues that are essential to its sovereignty in exchange for actions that can only have a unilateral purpose on the part of the U.S., inasmuch as the measures adopted by the U.S. against Cuba are unilateral.

It is true that the pressures urging the President to consolidate U.S. policy toward Cuba are many, and that those demands to the Cuban side might be only rhetorical, so it is not out of the question that some new executive measures will be taken to make the blockade more flexible — especially if Obama’s interest in visiting the island becomes reality.

But in the end everything depends on the cost/benefit relation with which Obama’s actions are calculated, from the electoral point of view.

Another factor that can influence these decisions is its legal complexity, the administration’s fear that some executive measure might be interpreted as a violation of the law and challenged in court by its adversaries. I imagine that government attorneys are engaged in interminable discussions on that account, something that could paralyze or limit the President’s decisions.

With reason, some analysts posit that unless Obama moves forward in the adoption of new executive actions — in particular authorizing the use of the U.S. dollar in financial and commercial transactions — he would affect the interest of the economic sectors and limit the real impact of the measures adopted.

That would deny momentum to his policy and endanger what some consider one of the main “legacies” of his administration.

I’m not sure that the legacy of the first black president in U.S. history depends on his policy toward Cuba or any other policy. It lies precisely in his condition as the first black president, a status he holds since 2008, although any success will have a bearing on his historical evaluation — and his policy toward Cuba is part of this logic.

The issue here is to guess whether Obama feels satisfied by his achievements until now or if he is willing to run the risks implied by making this policy bulletproof and irreversible, as well as if that opinion is shared by whoever is chosen as the Democratic candidate in the November elections.

Another basic problem in the policy adopted by the U.S. government toward Cuba this year will be its vision of the Cuban situation.

Although the reestablishment of relations with the U.S. has facilitated Cuba’s insertion into the world market and broadened its international relations, the global economic crisis and the temporary reversal experienced by the progressive processes in Latin America, especially in Venezuela, foretell a very complex economic situation, which is reflected in the predictions of growth in 2016.

That situation could stimulate a U.S. desire to “negotiate on its own terms” and maintain the pressure on Cuba, limiting the adoption of new measures that might render the economic blockade more flexible.

Again, the most important variable in this dynamics will be Cuba’s ability to deal with the oncoming situation. The Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, to be held in April, will be a determining moment to channel the transformations required by the economic model and to articulate the domestic consensus about it.

It will define the course that Cuba will follow in the next several years, which will be decisive for the future of its relations with the United States.

Seen thus, 2016 looms as an exceedingly complex year for the development of U.S.-Cuba relations and as a defining year for the future. At the very least, it will influence the characteristics of those relations’ continuity in the new scenario — always changing and uncertain — created by the election of a new U.S. president, be he (or she) Democratic or Republican.

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  • John Goodrich

    The bad relations between Cuba and the U.S. are caused by U.S. actions and the end to the bad relations rests with the U.S..
    Cuba is not alone in being attacked
    It has been a century-long policy of the now imperial U.S. government to brook no alternative to free enterprise capitalism .
    That policy remains in effect and has been extended to not allowing any dissent or blowback from imperial aims.
    The U.S. has close to 1000 military outposts in over 100 countries .
    They are not interfering there or in Cuba for the benefit of the people living in those areas.
    And… they will continue this policy until the coming demise of capitalism .
    Look for the crippling U.S. economic embargo on Cuba to continue for that foreseeable future.

  • Rich Haney

    An excellent article, pointing out that “only the Cuban-American extreme-right” opposes President Obama’s historic overtures to Cuba. However, the Cuban-American extreme-right, as far as Cuba is concerned, still has an iron-grip on the U. S. Congress. Amazingly, although polls even in Miami show that the majority of Cuban-Americans support President Obama’s Cuban policy, the Cuban-American extreme-right still controls the election process, meaning that a moderate Cuban-American need not apply. That, in my opinion, reflects badly on the democratic process.

    • Richard Graves

      In an interview with Marco Rubio a while back, he made the following comment ” I don’t care if 99% of the U.S. population was for lifting the embargo, I would be against it” In other words, as President he would not cater to the wishes of the people. On the other hand, I don’t believe any other Republican Presidential candidate would reverse what President Obama has started and would promote lifting the embargo on Cuba. The Cuban American extreme right is not as powerful as they once were; they don’t control the votes of the majority of Cuban Americans anymore, especially since most Cubans in the U.S. believe the embargo should be lifted, especially those under 50 years of age.

      Who the hell do these people think they are that want to control where U.S. companies can do business and what countries our citizens can visit. WE CAN TRAVEL ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WITHOUT PERMISSION OF OUR GOVERNMENT— EXCEPT CUBA!!!

      Meanwhile every country in the world is jumping in to do business in Cuba and Cuba has become the hottest tourist destination in the world,

      And please, don’t someone reading this come back and tell me how bad the Cuban Government is or the Castro’s. Cuba is no worse than a lot of the countries that we do business with and can visit.

      Opening up Cuba to the United States will have a much better effect on changing Cuba than this ridiculous embargo that we have been holding on to for over 50 years

      • Moses Patterson

        If you refuse to accept the FACT that the Castros continue involving themselves in anti-American behavior, then you disqualify yourself from the debate. The Castros affinity for all things North Korean, Syrian, Russian, etc. alone give validity to a go-slow approach to improving US-Cuban relations. Its your basic “my enemy’s FRIEND is my enemy”.

  • charles a bailey

    Closing the prison at Gitmo will not bring about the end of our deep water port there. What about the titles to private land taken by the Castros??