By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – Unilateral complaints to the Biden Administration about the ongoing revision of US-Cuba policy, haven’t stopped rolling in. They are coming from influential academics, humanitarian NGOs, and philanthropic business owners. They all stand together in the pro-engagement lobby.
Their proposals are echoed on social media, under an attractive rhetoric of reconciliation and depolarization. They are also moving forward with caravans on US soil promising idyllic bridges of love.
The current Democratic Party government is being accused of following a stance as if hostages to Cuban-American voters and continuing with Trump’s measures. Bothered by the symptoms, they aren’t taking the time to stop and assess the root cause.
Doesn’t the Republican Party radicalization of this electorate (especially among the younger and depoliticized voters) not reveal a rejection of the status quo on the island, that affects their relatives and their own rights as emigres, more than any ideological influence left over from Trump’s era in power?
Plus, is the current revision of US policy towards Cuba by Biden not just electioneering? Do they hold so little esteem for the political experience and democratic values of a Government that so many voted in?
In their skewed view, engagement promoters dismiss any responsibility the Cuban government has had in the current paralysis of bilateral relations.
By the way, why don’t they take into account the fact that the Cuban government hiked up repression against all forms of activism (including moderate efforts that were then advocating for a rapprochement), paralyzed reforms (against their own official plans and the advice of native economists) and supported Maduro and his regime entrenching themselves in Venezuela, creating a humanitarian crisis within the region, at a time when Obama had good intentions? If they are going to make demands in the name of what is fair and humane, wouldn’t be it more coherent if they were demanding this from both sides?
Critics of the White House don’t seem to recognize situations that have resulted from the Cuban government’s actions, that clash with the principles of the current Administration and its room to maneuver. Actions which even go beyond strictly bilateral relations, as they complicate the geopolitical and humanitarian situation in this hemisphere.
Isn’t the Cuban government’s attitude similar to that of its allied governments (such as in Nicaragua or Venezuela), determined to sabotage any proposal of improving their relations with the US, if this implies improving human rights for their own citizens?
Hasn’t support for Maduro and strengthened relations with Putin not been made clear by the Cuban government, in statements and practical actions, in recent years? How can this be ignored, when they say that the Cuban government has played no part in the geopolitical situation that has eaten away at regional democracy, recently?
In simple terms: Havana has its fair share of responsibility in its current relationship with the US, in civic, economic and geopolitical terms. Blaming everything on Trump’s legacy – no matter how terrible it might have been for domestic and foreign affairs, as well as the US’ reputation – is naive to say the least when trying to explain the main reason for the crisis that affects ordinary Cubans.
Those of us who have the privilege of having a scientific background, access to information and freedom of speech in an open society, can put forward a better view about the Cuban crisis. Putting its people at the heart. And in the meantime, assessing how to deal with the main reason for the decline in their current situation.
Those of us who have relatives and friends living on the island know that the vast majority of their problems don’t stem from the restrictions that come from Trump or Biden’s measures, but rather from Castro and Diaz-Canel’s decisions.
I could write a long list of the everyday problems of our fellow Cubans here, all of which stem from how the Cuban elite ruling the country use available resources and administrate people’s rights.
To give you some figures that are accessible to everyone and as evidence, I checked what the National Office of Statistics said about hotel investments in 2020 (in the middle of the pandemic) at the expense of social spending.
I looked at statistics (and forms) of repression against hundreds of citizens who made peaceful demands for their rights. Furthermore, I analyzed what the Communist Party leadership pointed out in their concept paper emitted at its last congress in April of this year. None of this has to do with Trump’s or Biden’s “incentives” or “restrictions”.
Within the pro-engagement establishment, the island’s population seem to just be a backdrop against which Cuban issues are discussed. An uncomfortable factor that they only approach (and invoke) from a place that resembles charity, resignation or cynicism.
Ironically, they resemble their sworn archenemies. The people asking for a total embargo (without suffering the same fate as those affected) and those who talk about relaxing every sanction against the Castro hierarchy (without holding them responsible for the national crisis) share a common stance. They both ignore the same victims they invoke, allegedly to defend them.
There is room for a more intelligent, democratic and firm policy. Biden’s government might now include Cuba in its global donation of millions of vaccines, helping to fight a pandemic that is getting worse on the island, every day. It could also help to reestablish consulates and revise current restrictions on remittances. All of this would be a unilateral humanitarian stance, that would benefit the Cuban people.
However, in addition to the above, it’s also politically pragmatic and ethically correct, to hold onto and extend sanctions to Cuban officials and institutions that violate their citizens’ human rights.
Pushing a multilateral agenda (involving democratic governments and organizations in Latin America and Europe) to accompany civic groups on the island, would also help this. Especially if they focused on young people, Afro-descendants, activist women, and artists, who are now fighting for a country worthy of living in. One where their interests and rights can be promoted, in the same way the pro-engagement lobby is fighting for their own, without suffering criminalization or being banished into exile.
The current revision of US policy toward Cuba reflects a stance in line with the Biden Administration, that is geared towards the multilateral and comprehensive defense of democracy and human rights. As no (foreign or domestic) policy can exist without a balance between the pragmatic and the law, any policy that harms the Cuban people needs to be revised, as they are the hostages of a ruling elite.
However, casting the Cuban government’s responsibility into the shadows, while restrictions on their citizens’ rights are being extended (not only for political reasons) as they persist on a failed economic policy amid the pandemic, is analytically false. It also shows no solidarity with a people who have been victimized by authoritarianism for 60 years. Lies and a lack of solidarity are reproduced time and time again within the pro-engagement lobby’s circles.