“I care about the recent events with Cuba because I am a human, not because I am a human of Cuban descent.”
That’s what I told a coworker a couple of days after the landmark words from President Obama were spoken on December 17th. I am optimistic about the potential for the Cuban people to have another avenue of hope, their best in 54 years since Eisenhower put the first aspects of what the Cuban government still refers to as “the blockade” into effect.
Keeping Perspective on the President’s Remarks on Cuba
Do I expect anything to be different for us or them in 100 days when things take effect? No, I do not. I feel that the majority of Americans out there are keeping this in perspective but I’ve seen some Facebook posts that talk about people “finally” being able to get their hands on Cuban rum, or “when will Cuban cigars be for sale at the tobacconist?” These posts are uninformed and potentially just a spur of the moment quip. I don’t think the majority of citizens believe this is “it” in regards to the embargo. I will say this. I DO believe this can be the beginning of the end of the embargo. We need to be very careful, as false steps here can empower those who take office next to claim Obama’s declarations were not only incorrect, but also helpful to the enemy.
What DOES It All Mean?
Much will depend on Kerry’s analysis of Cuba’s status as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and whether Cuba does truly lower some of the restrictions they have on contact to the outside world. If Cuba shows ANY legitimate human rights improvements (yes, the internet is a human right derived from free speech) there is a chance that this gains some momentum and the embargo could end after the next congress (Jan 2017) is sworn in. There is little to no chance this will occur in 2015 since the Republicans have taken power of the house. There would have to be SWEEPING change in Cuba for the likes of Marco Rubio and others who want the 29 electoral votes in Florida to change their public opinion on this. It’s just too critical of a voting base to alienate the Southern Florida core of Anti-Castro citizens.
If Kerry does not rescind the edict that Cuba is a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” OR sizable humanitarian improvements are not witnessed, I am fairly certain that the next president will swiftly and completely go the other direction with his ruling on the matter. Think Bush’s change in 2004. He lowered the visit limit, removed the legality of “financial assistance” to Cuban citizens and made it even more difficult to travel to the nation for aid workers. We could go right back there, if not even further.
So, How Did We Get Here?
Cuba and its citizens have been made more of a pawn in the recent years than they ever have been in the past. Even in the election of ‘64 when it was the first chance for a new administration to address the “blockade” (as it essentially was at times in those early stages) it was not as polarizing of a topic as it became later in the Castro regime’s tenure (I understand LBJ held office. It is speaking to the fact that it was not a point of contention between candidates). We have to realize that the goal here is an improvement of life for the citizens of our southern island neighbor. This is the first real attempt at improving that which I can recall.
I am not able to corroborate this 100% but I don’t believe there have been public declarations from the POTUS as strongly worded as those shared Wednesday the 17th, in regard to the failure of U.S. policy on the matter. There is a real chance that THIS declaration is enough. There is a real chance that Cuba will give a little in response. And there is a real chance that this may be a day we remember for the rest of our lives. It’s possible the U.S. just got a little less hypocritical in its foreign relations (think human rights & the torture report). When a major government does that, we’re all in a better position.
On December 20th at the bi-annual meeting of the Cuban National Assembly Raul Castro commented much about the change in policy between the two nations. He strongly denounced encouragement from Obama to reform Cuba’s communist government & economy but on multiple occasions commended the President’s willingness to start the most striking change to policy in over 50 years.
In a NY Times article published after Castro’s address, Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a Cuban diplomat, said that Castro’s words addressed “domestic politics”.
A connection was made between both governments postulating that conservative idealists in each country thought their respective nations had yielded too much. Frankly, this idea was new to me. Understandably Raul’s political position is not as questionable as Obama’s, but it still has a faction of fragility. The article cements this point by summarizing Treto as follows:
“…Just as Mr. Obama must contend with Cuban-American lawmakers who are angry about the deal, Mr. Castro faces opposition from more conservative party members who recall that Cuba’s previous stance, established in the 1960s, was to hold off resuming relations until the United States lifted its trade embargo completely.”
In my opinion, it’s logical to think that the wheels started turning on this entire process in 2008 (shortly after Raul formally assumed power) when Raul announced major improvements to personal freedoms for Cubans. These “human rights” included the ability for Cuban citizens to obtain a passport, start a business, own property & purchase electronic consumer goods. The baby steps paved the way for the Obama administration to give a little in response.
In 2009, Obama rescinded many of the Bush admin’s travel restrictions and allowed “unlimited funds” to be sent to anyone in Cuba for aide. It really was the first steps taken by the two new administrations to show that they were each ready to act. That was until Alan Gross was arrested later that year.
Formally the U.S. Government stated that no further communications would be made until Gross was released. He was tried and convicted of “undermining the integrity & independence of Cuba” by bringing illegal satellite communications equipment to the island. Relations stalled. Nothing would progress as Cuba viewed their position as just, and the U.S. was not willing to move the line drawn in the sand.
Fast forward to December 2014 and Gross has been released, communication is starting and both parties seem willing to make attempts to continue improving relations. If Gross had not been detained could the landmark deal brokered by Canada and the Vatican have occurred in 2010 instead of 2014? Did we really just extend a trail of progress out 4 years instead of starting fresh just now? I personally believe this to be the case. We wanted Gross but we thought he was guilty and didn’t want to force international support on a case we couldn’t win. It was a political line we could not waver on and another example of the “domestic politics” that needed looking after.
What Does the Future Hold?
With all major roadblocks removed from the pathway to normalization, I expect 2015 to continue demonstrating improvements on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico. Travel permits could become increasingly easy to obtain for island travel and human rights improvements could easily continue to improve on the island. We shall see. I hope to have insight from experts on this topic in a future article to be published later in the month.
2015 will bring a visit from the United States Secretary of State to Havana, the first time such a visit has occurred in 57 years. It will also put the Presidents of both nations at the Summit of the Americas this April for the first time since 1962. Many have speculated that further communication could take place at such a gathering.
Is this the beginning of the end for the Cuban Embargo? Only time will tell if this is the case but it certainly appears that an avenue of hope has begun to be paved for Cuban citizens. Normalized relations between our two nations, with plenty of Cuban rum & cigars to go around, could be right around the corner.
So, what are your thoughts? Is this the beginning of the end for broken relations between our two countries? Or, just chatter? Leave a comment below or drop me an email to [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!