Reading the Signs on US-Cuba Policy

Jesús Arboleya (Progreso Weekly)

Photo: Ania Krupotow
Photo: Ania Krupotow

HAVANA – On Nov. 8, President Barack Obama declared in Miami that it was necessary to “update” US policy toward Cuba.

Heads turned everywhere.

From my point of view, the purpose of Obama’s visit to Miami was exactly as advertised: to collect money and promote the Democratic Party campaign for the mid-term elections next year.

What’s relevant is that the place chosen for that statement was the home of the chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, and that the topic selected to attract the Cuban-American electorate was the need to transform US policy toward the island.

How times change! many might say.

Three days later, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed himself with the same language when addressing representatives to the Organization of the American States. In truth, he said nothing new, but the rhetoric itself indicates that the United States no longer finds it viable to maintain a policy that isolates Cuba from the continental concert and at the very least must offer hopes of the change demanded by the Latin American countries.

This, especially, as we look toward the 2015 Summit of the Americas, which many leaders said they wouldn’t attend if Cuba was excluded.

Then another Cuba-related event caught the attention of the media. On Nov. 26, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington announced the need to cancel its consular operations because no American bank — or foreign bank accredited in the US — was willing to handle its current accounts.

The reason given by those institutions is that the restrictions, controls and possible sanctions imposed by the U.S. blockade against Cuba make that activity much too complicated and dangerous.

Evidently, that problem is not in the interest of the US government, not only because it questions the administration’s ability to honor its international commitments in terms of diplomatic representation but also because its consequences can affect travel and contacts with Cuba, which, as we have seen, is the basis of this administration’s work with the Cuban-American electorate.

In an unusual decision, the US State Department on Dec. 3 authorized Cuba’s participation in the Caribbean Baseball Series.

Apparently, this event has nothing to do with the US government, given that American teams don’t participate in it, but the leaders of Major League Baseball worried about violating the blockade if athletes they had hired participated in it, so they ordered the tournament’s organizers to request the license.

Photo: Ania Krupotow
Photo: Ania Krupotow

It is no coincidence that it was the Department of State, not the Treasury, that issued the approval. The topic of a baseball tournament had become an international problem that forced the United States to intervene.

On the same day, it was reported that Alan Gross, a US subcontractor detained in Cuba, had written to President Obama complaining that the US government had abandoned him, even though (he claimed) he was carrying out missions for the US on this and previous occasions.

Sixty-six senators wrote to the President, asking him to do everything possible to achieve Gross’ release and assured Obama that they would support him in the effort. Meanwhile, Kerry said in Brussels that “something” was being done but that he couldn’t give any details.

The Cuban government, for its part, called again on the United States to negotiate a solution for this case, taking into account the humanitarian complaints of the four Cubans held for more than 15 years in US prisons, something the US government has so far refused to do.

The common factor in these news items is the demonstration that US policy toward Cuba has become a trap for the US itself, to the degree that it prevents the government from acting with the flexibility demanded by the political action, at both the international and domestic levels.

Even the Cuban-American far right disclaims the straitjackets it once helped to create. The Republicans would like to blow up the Cuban Adjustment Act, because it has become a factory of opposition to their line. The Cuban-American National Foundation, to a great degree the inventor of the Helms-Burton Act, now sides with the President in his call for a more “creative” policy.

No other US president has been in a better position than Obama to take steps to modify US policy toward Cuba, not so much because the American vision has changed (“the objectives are the same,” the President said in Mas Santos’ home) but because the actual conditions of U.S. politics so demand it.

What’s missing is the will to do what common sense dictates — although someone said that common sense is the least common of all senses.


12 thoughts on “Reading the Signs on US-Cuba Policy

  • December 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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    My Cuban – Canadian son says President Obama will offer Cuba an Olive branch to Cuba before the end of 2013.

  • December 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm
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    Don’t be so pessimistic. I am sure that Cuba ranks higher than……OK, I give up.

  • December 9, 2013 at 7:04 pm
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    Since you are happy to quote Amnesty International on Cuban issues, I suppose you also agree with them that Cuban authorities in Cuba must immediately and unconditionally release a political activist, named Iván Fernández Depestre who was imprisoned solely because of his political views. Can I assume that you agree with Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor for Amnesty International who recently said, “The Cuban authorities seem to be using every trick in the book to punish those who dare to speak up about human rights. They are even using a law that punishes potential offences on account of ‘antisocial behaviour’ to imprison political dissidents, independent journalists and government critics. It is a sad reflection of the state of the rule of law in Cuba, when people are convicted to prison terms not for what they have done but for what they might do.”

  • December 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm
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    Dan…”22 years of relentless pressure”? Are you in Colorado smoking ganja? The US has been and will be under no pressure to do anything regarding Cuba. China and the EU imposing sanctions on the US? Hahahahahahahaha…….

  • December 9, 2013 at 11:24 am
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    People are justly critical of Obama for ruling out an all too reasonable prisoner swap — Gross for the Cuban 5. Note that not even Amnesty International has questioned Gross’s conviction or called for his release, but they have condemned the Miami show trial of The 5 as a travesty.

  • December 9, 2013 at 4:06 am
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    It’s amazing how many people criticize Obama while defending a regime who arrested a man for doing nothing more than helping people connect to the internet. It is outrageous. He is basically a hostage of the Castros at this point. Heaven forbid Cubans connect to the internet where they aren’t fed communist propaganda 24/7.

  • December 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm
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    So, it has taken 22 years of relentless pressure by even their closest allies at the UN to get a US president to even pay lip-service in the vaguest possible language about their concerns over the US regime’s sanctions targeting every man, woman and child on the island. And maybe another 22 years to actually start talking about doing the right thing? I won’t hold my breath. Only meaningful counter-sanctions by the UN or their major trading partners can accomplish that. The US will do the right thing only if it just too costly to do otherwise. How about it, Europe and China? Care to put your money where your mouth is?

  • December 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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    Nor the LAST page, or any of the pages in between!

  • December 7, 2013 at 9:16 pm
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    Here’s a sign … Cuba walked out of WTO because they expected a new day with respect to trade policy, instead it’s still Ground Hog Bloqueo Day. Personally, i would have told the US delegates to go to hell.

  • December 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm
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    Alan Gross is not “detained in Cuba”, which implies he will be a little late returning home. Gross was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to a prison term of 15 years. If the Cuban government refuse to release him and force him to serve the whole term, Gross will die in a Cuban prison. Is Raul ready for that?

    As for Obama, he is in no position at all to make such a dramatic change in US policy with Cuba. For a lame duck president, already under pressure on domestic and foreign affairs, there is no upside and a whole lot of down side on the Cuban topic. US policy on Cuba is not a trap for the US. Getting dragged down into doing anything about it is. Cuba is way, way …way down the do-list of the President.

    Nice try. Nothing doing.

  • December 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm
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    Yeah, Sure.
    President Obama’s idea of a change in U.S.-Cuban relations would most likely be sending in some drones to kill Raul Castro and other Cuban leaders since, after all, they have been classified as a terrorist nation ever since the U.S. started doing that
    Given the numerous failed attempts to kill Fidel in some truly stupendously stupid ways that embarrassed the CIA and U.S. leadership when revealed , the new and highly efficient ways the U.S. now assassinates those who oppose U.S. imperialism have to be nearly irresistible to the Nobel Peace Prize president .
    The threat that a successful and democratic Cuban economy and society present to the capitalists who own the U.S remains just that and my bet is that any changes in the U.S. strategy of making life for all Cubans very hard, will be of little consequence overall.

  • December 7, 2013 at 10:21 am
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    However, the priorities of government in the US are rotating around health care reform, budget / fiscal deficit issues, immigration reform, and now adjustment of the minimum wage. Of course, each political parties attention to be re-elected overlays all of this.

    Unfortunately, the US relationship with Cuba does not appear on the first page of the priority list.

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