By Luis Brizuela (IPS)
HAVANA TIMES – The triumph of Democrat Joe Biden in the US presidential elections opens the doors to the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, deteriorated during outgoing President Donald Trump´s administration.
Biden, Vice President to Barack Obama (2009-2017), assured during the campaign that if he reached the White House, he would return bilateral ties to the point where he left them. However, he said he will maintain the embargo and insist on human rights, a sensitive and controversial issue.
Cuban Sociologist Reina Fleitas reflected on the possibilities. “If they stick to that promise, it will surely be beneficial because Obama initiated a more cooperative policy. However, he did not lift the embargo, which was not in his executive power. But many politicians promise and don’t comply, or do so partially, forcing us not to create false expectations.”
According to Fleitas, “our hope of improvement is influenced by Biden’s return to a policy of international cooperation with China and Europe. Everything he does in favor of improving internal or international relations can positively impact us.”
Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales considers that with Biden “a scenario of improvements opens up in bilateral relations.”
The expert on US-Cuba relations told IPS that although they should “relax the pressure (from Washington), the burden of wanting to control the island, which has been the intention and destiny of every US policy, will never disappear.”
The Democratic administration will represent an opportunity “to push forward the project of economic reforms in the country. Ultimately, it is in the United States where the policy towards Cuba must change. However, it is not negligible what Cuba can do to change that policy, ” Morales added.
Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris has pointed in that direction in her statements against “the failed trade embargo” against Havana. In her view, it must be replaced by “a more intelligent approach that empowers Cuban civil society and the Cuban-American community to promote progress and freely determine their own future.”
Due to the impact of the results on the island, the US elections were followed with special interest by Cuban citizens, especially among the youth, we noted in different spaces.
Meanwhile, the Cuban government reacted to the declared triumph of Biden with a moderate tone, but reaffirming its will for dialogue.
“We recognize that, in their presidential elections, the people of the United States have chosen a new course. We believe in the possibility of a constructive bilateral relationship respectful of differences,” wrote President Miguel Díaz-Canel on twitter.
Relations with the United States are a matter of national security for Cuba after a dozen administrations have tried to overthrow the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro (1926-2016), who declared himself a socialist two years later.
Historical evidence confirms that since the 18th century the US tried to annex or at least dominate the island politically and economically. The two country are separated by only 90 nautical miles, about 167 kilometers.
Such eagerness was alerted by the Cuban national hero José Martí (1853-1895). To this day, any attempt of interference or pressure from Washington is considered a threat to the ideal of independence, national sovereignty and self-determination.
The elections took place while in Cuba the authorities are promoting a socioeconomic plan to reverse the effects of the pandemic. Likewise, to re-boost the stalled economic reform program approved in 2011. If successful, it could renew the interest of foreign investors among other multiple effects.
The Trump administration turned its back on nearly twenty agreements in mutually beneficial areas, adopted since December 2014. They came after the reestablishment of ties between the governments of former Presidents Obama and Raul Castro (2008-2018).
The never verified acoustic incidents, reported publicly for the first time in August 2017, served Washington to justify the withdrawal of most of its diplomatic personnel and to close the consular services in the Cuban capital. This stopped the issuing of visas and the family reunification programs.
The White House also blamed Havana for its roll in the Venezuelan crisis. As a result, it intensified the embargo applied since 1962. It also tried to cut off the island’s main sources of financing and fuel.
Analysts consulted by IPS agree that Cuba will not be among the top priorities of the Biden administration. They note the complex problems it will inherit from the current government, such as exacerbated political polarization, economic crisis, tensions with Washington’s main allies, and poor internal management of the pandemic.
Biden will also have to deal with a Senate under tight but probable control of the Republican Party, where it will be very difficult to pass any legislation in his favor. That political force is already preparing for the mid-term legislative elections in 2022 and the presidential elections two years later.
Although the US president holds the executive privilege to ease certain sanctions against Cuba, only Congress can repeal the set of laws and provisions that support the embargo.
Obama publicly acknowledged that the embargo was an anachronism. During his last two State of the Union speeches, in 2015 and 2016, he called on the legislature to lift it.
Since 1992, with the almost unanimous support of the United Nations General Assembly, the Cuban government has demanded and end to what is known on the island as a blockade and classified as an act of genocide aimed at causing hunger, despair and a social outbreak.
“I feel optimistic after hearing the conciliatory tone of Biden’s first speech as president-elect. Perhaps it is in his hands to eliminate restrictions on the travel of US citizens to Cuba. Although the reforms on the island must go hand in hand,” said Serguei Martínez who works as a tour guide in Havana.
“I want there to be peace and reconciliation, for Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Straits to come together. That no pretexts are sought to avoid moving forward. Instead of distrust and accusations, both countries coexisting as good neighbors,” said Elsa Batista, who runs a cafeteria in Holguin.
During his visit to Havana in March 2016, Obama said “Cuba’s future must be in the hands of the Cuban people.”
The authorities on the island denounce that various US organizations and agencies maintain programs and initiatives to subvert the internal order and encourage regime change.
During the Obama administration, direct commercial flights were established to several Cuban provinces, and cruise ship docking was authorized. Travel licenses were expanded, and US visitors to the island rose to 620,000 in 2017, according to official figures.
During the diplomatic thaw, the small private sector flourished. Before Covid-19 it constituted around 13 percent of the workforce in Cuba.
Oniel Diaz, founder of the autonomous consultancy AUGE, the triumph of Biden “is extremely welcome news for the entrepreneurial community.” He said it has been “one of the Cuban sectors hardest hit” by the politics of the Trump administration.”
In September 2019, an AUGE investigation revealed that 73 percent of Cuban entrepreneurs wanted to resume normalizing relations with the United States. Moreover, 69 percent want an end to the embargo, while 40 percent aspired to access training programs in the neighboring nation.