United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

United States Cuba Relations - La Alborada: The Language of Concessions - Special Comment

We republish here an excellent op-ed that was published by La Alborada on October 28th. In the world of diplomacy, successful negotiations and engagement require a concept of mutuality between the parties, founded upon mutual respect, even in light of broad disagreements. The only exception to this dynamic is war, when there is a victor and the terms of surrender are dictated to the loser. Diplomacy with Cuba has not been very effective because of our lack of mutuality with it. Now, our politics with Cuba are driven in part by individuals driven by revenge and retribution whose pipe dream would be a U.S. military intervention in Cuba and overthrow of its government. This is what has driven the violence and warped sense of values that is reflected by those hardliners in the Cuban American community where it is acceptable for example, that homage and protection be given to men who bomb an airplane and kill innocent people and our government look the other way because these actions were taken against the Cuban government. Since we will not militarily invade Cuba, the politics have been to have a policy in place that is another form of war, the economic embargo and with it, the insane travel regulations that bar the free movement of Americans to Cuba. This is a position that remains only because it is bought politically, but without any logical or rational foundation that may have existed in the 1960's, or even effectiveness. Based upon results the embargo has been mutually destructive to the United States and Cuba in so many ways. If the Cuban American community wanted to have a real positive influence on Cuba then it would bring its sizable economic influence to bear on the island of its ancestors. Instead it chooses to politically use the U.S. government and the taxpayer as its proxy to fight the Cuban Revolution over and over again with the Cubans on the island. The U.S. and Cuba are both losers in this game.
We hammer Cuba for its human rights record, yet we look the other way for other countries who are equally or worse than Cuba, not to mention doing our own self-examination on human rights. The problem for our political leadership is the perception that somehow this hardline Cuban American money and small voting bloc is worth far more than the honor and reputation of our nation within the community of nations, and trashing American constitutional principles of freedom of travel for our citizens. President Obama as then Senator Obama, was a leader who understood this and opposed the Cuban embargo and travel restrictions. But then this constituency flashed the cash and its votes and everything changed in 2008. Next week, the elections will remind us of the consequences of selling out our principles and the urgent need to take a stand, whatever the position is in the sea of political mediocrity that is Washington DC. President Obama must return to the core values of what we understood him to be as a leader, not as he has performed in the last two years as President. For example, he talked about a new relationship with our neighbors in Latin America where our imperative should be to lead our neighbors by our example and not by the imposition of our values or views upon them. Latin America wants partnership with the United States, not marching orders from it. The opportunity for President Obama will still be there. It is now up to the silent majority to finally organize politically and reach him, just as the opposition did.
Returning to the concept of mutuality now, I personally believe Cuba's government is an example of socialism gone wild to the extreme, creating an unsustainable socioeconomic failure that all Cubans themselves question, even Fidel Castro. However, in light of my own views, I also recognize that Cuba is an independent, sovereign nation with a right to make its own mistakes and to decide its own destiny, just as I believe is the same for the United States. If you ask a Cuban living on the island what kind of system they would like, most will tell you they want change in their system of government with pluralism and civil liberties, but they do not want to become another United States. At their core, the Cuban people love the American people but they do not want to be just like us. They want to be well uniquely, Cuban. The Cuban people culturally, are among the proudest and most stubborn of the Latin American peoples. We have not been successful in humiliating Cuba to change. Our only hope and possibility is to positively influence them to change. There is a Cuban wisdom that says, "Todo se consiga por la buena" - "Everything is possible [with me] by the path of goodness [with sincerity]"
It is time to put this wisdom to the test. It begins with mutuality...
- Tony Martinez
The Language of Concessions
La Alborada - October 28 [nuevas@earthlink.net]
When governments that do not get along decide to improve relations, they use a certain diplomatic language: confidence-building , thaw, rapprochement, détente, mutual interests. They focus on points of coincidence on the way to resolving points of divergence, as the US did with China and Vietnam. "Concessions, " which also means "we win, you lose," is not a term to use in public if better relations between the US and Cuba are the goal.
The exchange of cultural groups between the US and Cuba, and the visit of some US school teams to the island, have been welcomed by citizens on both sides, but little progress has been made otherwise since the Obama administration took office. (Allowing family travel was an electoral tactic to seek votes from, among others, the Cuban American National Foundation.) There could have been by now an agreement on direct mail, hurricane tracking, coral-reef management, or narco-trafficking. There could have been a public announcement of cooperation in helping Haiti. None has materialized.
Cuba, of course, must do its part in negotiations, but the Cuban government has announced its interest in improving relations so clearly and repeatedly that it is not likely the principal obstacle to progress. The US, for its part, wants Cuba to make "concessions" before progress can be made.
The target is never specified, and all change is deemed insufficient: it's the moving goalposts. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sat down to discuss disarmament, real progress was made. Told that Gorbachev had made more concessions than the Soviets had made in 25 years, Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz responded: "Fine, let him keep making them. His proposals are the results of five years of pressure from us." The pressure on Cuba, however, has gone on for more than 50 years, without results.
Cuba does not pose a military, territorial, or security threat to the US. It does not attempt to overthrow the government of the US or sabotage its economy, while the US does attempt to do both of those to Cuba.
Cuba does pose a threat in the ideological realm, what both Fidel Castro and George W. Bush called the Battle of Ideas, but that is like the Marketplace of Ideas on an international scale.
The US claims to be motivated by concerns about human and civil rights, a hugely hypocritical position that need not be detailed here. The fact is that the US assumes the right to determine what is best for other nations, like neoliberal economics and military training at Whinsec/School of the Americas. The concessions sought from Cuba mean that it should become more like Honduras or Colombia, and hold elections like in Mexico, where any party can win the presidency except the PRD.
Cuba does not, and realistically cannot, demand concessions from the US such as a reddress of the historical injustices committed against Native Americans, health care for all citizens, an end to the now-permanent wars, or the prosecution of war criminals and criminals on Wall Street.
There is one thing that Cuba does want: an end to the blockade. From the US point of view, the trade-off is this: you dismantle the system you have built, and we will consider lifting the blockade. Given that the purpose of the blockade is precisely to dismantle Cuba's system, that is not much of a proposal, nor a basis for negotiations.
It's not hard to understand why the US government insists on concessions from Cuba. The blockade is already in place, and the US need not do anything while it waits for the expected concessions. A better question is why that approach is shared not only by the Executive and the Legislative branches but also by the media and political observers, including some who oppose the blockade.
They accept certain postulates and a given vocabulary: that the US defends civil and human rights, always to improve life in other nations, and that Cuba needs to meet high standards of behavior as defined by the US. By natural right, the US may impose sanctions on other countries as it sees fit, and countries like Cuba, lacking such authority, should comply with the same.
Although the concept rejects any notion of equality of states --the US does not make concessions- - a false balance is created between a unilateral blockade rejected by the rest of the world and the determination of the Cubans to go their own way. That the vast majority of Cubans oppose the blockade does not matter to the US.
The US is not likely to become socialist soon, nor will Cuba soon be capitalist. If there is a real will to improve relations, the first change should be in the way that the relations are conceptualized. Both countries should accept each other as they are, and negotiate on that basis, replacing the "superior/subordinate" model with one of two countries tied together by history and geography but separated by different concepts of social organization.
If, on the other hand, the blockade is to continue until one or the other changes from socialist to capitalist or vice versa, we'll long be hearing about how it's up to Cuba to lift the blockade and about how whatever it does is an insufficient concession, or no concession at all. If that remains the case, improved relations will not be achieved any time soon.