By Luis Brizuela (IPS)

A couple in Havana watching a post-election appearance of Joe Biden. The US elections were closely watched in Cuba on the government controlled TV. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/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.

Tourists in Old Havana. The industry saw a big boom in 2015-2017. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

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.

Read more news and features from Cuba here on Havana Times.


10 thoughts on “Biden Could Relaunch US – Cuba Relations

  • Rohan.T:

    I can’t give you an answer to your question, but I certainly agree with your sentiments in that there are very nutritious food just lying around the Cuban countryside yet the food is not gainfully harvested and enjoyed.

    You provided an example. I will also provide an example. Those big bright yellow flowers emanating from the calabaza (Cuban squash, Cuban pumpkin) plants make for an excellent tantalizing pastry.

    All Cubans consume calabaza as it is a staple of their diet. The seeds are simply discarded in the trash, or thrown out the door and they end up on side streets around running water or anywhere where there is sufficient moisture and sunlight for the seeds to sprout and become full grown flowers. When the sun rises in the morning, the flowers’ yellow petals open up like arms wide open engulfing the sun. As the sun descends, the petals close inward and wrap around themselves waiting for the next day’s sunshine.

    In Italy, those flowers are gathered washed and let to dry. Then with some milk, flour and a few eggs, plus a little salt and sugar a batter is concocted with the chopped up flowers mixed into the batter. The batter is then deep fried for a few minutes until brown, then dried of oil, and then sprinkled with sugar and allowed to cool. The final product is just an excellent, delicious, dessert using free easily accessible obtained main ingredient – calabaza flowers – lying abundantly around every rural Cuban neighborhood.

    The reason why the Cubans I know do not try this delicious delicacy is not for lack of ingredients. Even when milk, flour and eggs are readably available, there is no will to try.

    I suppose if no one has shown them the efficacy, the simplicity, the nutritious quality some locally grown plants and foods around their very neighborhood have it is not their fault. Another very nutritious plant abundantly available and makes for a delicious salad is dandelion.

    I am speaking of the green leaves when the plant is young and begins to grow into a larger plant. Again, abundantly available but not ever used despite the leaves tremendous amount of nutrients and tasty with a bit of salt, lime juice, and garlic. Walk into any grocery store in Canada and you will see dandelion for sale. Yes, people do buy it and every medical authority will express the plants nutritious components.

    But, I suppose the very thought of eating “grass” turns off many people.

  • I love Cuba and people there. Although they don’t have much, most are very happy people. I don’t understand one thing. The Sea around Cuba is very fertile with lots of sea food, very fertile soil, hard working people and why they have to suffer so much? So many plants and produce they can consume but don’t. Example Murunga, very nutrition, plantain stemps but, they don’t use. They don’t know what are the food they can make from things available. Anybody can give me an answer please?

  • Obama’s initial entry into the Cuban Diaspora dialogue everyone surely seems to agree here was a positive move. He may have gone a little further than his Democratic political party really wanted. Even in the Democratic Party paying lip service to the Cuban situation was historically all they ever did. Particularly during presidential election time no amount of political rhetoric was restrained in advancing proposed Cuban policies. It was Obama who actually acted on all the pent up political rhetoric.

    Now, Obama’s Vice-President, Joe Biden, is President. He and Kamala Harris have a mountain of legislative work concerning internal American policies to administer quickly, such as the Corona virus, race relations, and many others to deal with before concerning himself externally with such other significant worldly issues as dealing with China and with tackling climate change to name two.

    Let’s face it Cuba is not a high priority but Cuba will probably be a legacy Biden does not want to leave on the back burner for too long given his nature and his reverent respect for Obama. Obama, Kamala, and Joe all read from the same page regarding human rights, civil order, democratic elections, and against totalitarian states’ governments. Did Biden not put Venezuela’s Maduro on notice?

    No doubt there will be a clash between the Cuban government and its communist ideological policies and the Biden administration. Like Obama, President Biden will need to walk a fine line in trying to instill some of its democratic policies toward the island. I can see President Biden sending his Vice-President Kamala Harris to the island as a good will gesture to initiate contact and dialogue. That is probably as far as it goes this round. As a good will gesture prior to sending his VP, the President elect will also undo all of Trump’s Executive orders towards the island thus opening up American tourism to the island, enhanced trade, and most importantly resurrection of remittances.

    How will the communist regime in Havana react, respond to the possible reopening of some meaningful dialogue between the two nations? Probably the same way the regime reacted to Obama’s foray on the island: with a great deal of skepticism. The governing elites will welcome with open arms the financial aid but will be totally closed to any possibility of more demonstrated democracy on the island, any American preaching about human rights, any outright thought of bilateral relations that does not give full control to Havana.

    So, the current situation under the Trump noose will soon disappear and that is a good thing for the Cuban citizens, the Cuban government, and the Democratic Party under Biden. However, moving into the foreseeable future, Cubans are smart enough not to get their hopes set too high because they have seen this movie before and the economic and political reality never seems to improve to such a state as to see ordinary Cubans feeling fully free and prosperous.

  • Edward,
    You’ve directed a comment toward me. Not quite sure what you mean. Please elaborate?
    I’ve been in Cuba during their elections. I’ve not forgotten.
    My view would be that Cuban elections are even less democratic than U.S. elections. Although paradoxically, a higher percentage of the population participate.
    None of this excuses the USA’s repellent policies toward Cuba which illustrate contempt toward the democratic will of the United Nations (yet another imperfect form of democracy).
    My hope is that President Biden will do what he said he would do and reinstate President Obama’s policy – this represented a more decent and less corrupt stance.
    This is what Cuba’s budding entrepreneurs overwhelmingly wish to see and these people need all the encouragement they can get. This viewpoint is shared by the representatives of pretty much all countries in the word (apart from the outdated collusion between the USA and Israel).

  • The 2020 US election is not over! Legal investigations are being carried out to determine who really won?

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