US-Cuba Relations After July 11th Protests

Protestor holds a blood-covered Cuban flag during the 11J protests. Photo: Rialta.

By Enrique Guzman Karell (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – The widespread and unprecedented protests that took place in different Cuban neighborhoods and towns on July 11th, has made the island’s international landscape a lot more complicated – a great deal more complicated – especially in its conflictive and important relations with the US.

What happened that day, as well as the Cuban government’s violent response, has put us before a particularly negative scenario, if we compare it to the situation before 11J.

Until this day, there were some weak signs in speeches and gestures, that seemed to indicate that the Biden administration was ready to begin a slow, but conscious process to reverse the measures implemented by Trump on the country in the past four years.

However, this inclination seems to be waning a great deal after state repression and the belligerent and clumsy discourse the Cuban government chose, to respond to the demands of the thousands of Cubans in the streets.

Whether this was the result of calculations and damage control, the lack of leaders’ talent and political flexibility, the little room for action in a rigid system or because they are resorting to what they know best and what they know they can do well: promoting fear and repression. The events of that day directly and automatically benefit hardliners in US-Cuban policy and leaves the government with very few powerful excuses to feed off a sensitive electorate that has mobilized, who might be against the immediate establishment of dissuasive measures towards Cuba.

In fact, there are signs of the complete opposite, and the US Government, with president Biden himself declaring that there is a “failed State that is repressing its citizens” in Cuba, is officially distancing itself a lot more from Miguel Diaz-Canel’s government. It comes with a warning, yet again and with greater emphasis, of the importance of respecting human rights, the right to peaceful protest and legal guarantees.  

Thanks to the protests’ high impact, not only has the US president come forward in recent days, but so have many national security advisors, senators Bob Menendez (the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a hardline Democrat when it comes to US-Cuba relations, who holds an important vote that counts for two) and Marco Rubio, congress members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, as well as other politicians and important figures.

It’s striking that clear adversaries in the local political game have come together and agreed on its stance to Cuba: solidarity and support for the Cuban people, condemning repression and a no-excuse approach to the Cuban government’s respect for the peaceful right to protest and rejection of violence. These statements are full of nuances, with a hint of this color and that (such as mentions of the embargo for example), but they all stem from the above as the main statement and undeniable principle.

It’s also interesting that the US is not paying a lot of attention to Cuba’s insistent accusations that the protests were organized or funded from abroad (which there is no proof of as yet, only rhetorical games, interpretations of events and collateral damage, excuses about the embargo or just propaganda).

One thing the US government has publicly stated is that it is seriously working to help the Cuban people and to provide society with free Internet (a proposal by Marco Rubio which will cost approximately 200 million USD, that many sources have claimed will be put into practice). All of this puts us before one of the most complex dilemmas of international affairs inherited after 1945: to what point does a State have the right to invoke sovereignty and national security excuses, if they then suppress the population to suit its interests, and are flagrantly violating its citizens’ civil and political rights?

To what extent does a State have unilateral rights over another recognized State? What are the limits of this complex relationship between state sovereignty vs. individual rights and safeguards? (It’s worth mentioning that this longstanding right and international order deserves an update, as it is rife with conflicts without a solution and they don’t always coherently respond to today’s problems).

Why did protests break out in Cuba?
The Cuban government does not recognize the legitimacy of the social uprising – which it considers a soft coup orchestrated by the US – nor does it recognize its responsibility in the growing hardship that afflict the Cuban people and led to the protest.

On July 18th, Special Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at The White House, Juan Gonzalez, announced that he had received instructions from the president to create working groups immediately, for reestablishing remittances and consular service. All of this is to directly benefit the Cuban people, he said.

In regard to Gonzalez’s statements, the first thing that draws our attention is the very idea of creating working groups when people imagined that these had already been created months ago (US-Cuba relations was being analyzed very seriously and in-depth, they kept saying at every level). It’s not clear whether the Biden Administration is looking to prevent a new migration crisis (a real national security problem in the US) no matter what the cost, to have a greater official presence in Cuba during special moments after 11J or whether they are trying to get ahead as much as they can, or contain an opinion, that it is behaving quite emotionally recently and needs more decisive action in the White House.

These many statements present us with another problem that entangles our immediate future even more: the more they speak or people speak in Cuba about these circumstances, the less space there will be for dissuasive measures or a rapprochement between the two presidents. The current US government needs political capital for many things and priorities, and there is very little room for action that could grant the reestablishment of US-Cuba relations if everything that comes from its opposing side does very little or nothing to contribute to this end and with Cuban-Americans’ heated public opinion now.

Perhaps the only categorical element or statement from important US authorities in the past week, has been the cutting rejection of the possibility of a US-led humanitarian intervention, or any other kind of intervention.

This new landscape seems to indicate that it isn’t a good time for those who had bet on the beginning of more beneficial and constructive US-Cuba relations, including the European Union and other key international actors. For example, on July 18th, it became known that Japan’s minister of Foreign Relations, Toshimitsu Motegi, canceled an official visit to Cuba during a tour of the region, which had been announced before 11J.

Here, the only exception will fall back on those who appear as the island’s strategic allies, Russia and China, who have at least closed ranks with the Cuban government in a less formal and public way, and they are a key defense in critical settings as the UN Security Council, as well as other international bodies.

We’ll have to pay close attention to how the delicate Cuban situation develops, as well as the stances the main global actors take, especially the US, and any initiative that may arise in multilateral spaces.

It goes without saying that it isn’t exactly a great time for the Cuban government right now. Amidst its greatest moment of economic, financial, commercial, epidemiological weakness, as well as its crisis of political and symbolic values that have upheld this system, we may be watching its most dramatic moment, its greatest challenge, after extremely clear national doubts and the deterioration that can be seen in its foreign relations.

The Cuban government is facing a kind of perfect storm in its domestic and foreign environment, which not even pro-government slogans will be able to help. In order to successfully navigate these waters, they will need positive and immediate results, political talent, bravery, critical analysis, objectivity, a great deal of flexibility and even humility with Cubans and those outside its borders.

Will they be able to do this? Do they still have time or has Time run out?

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

6 thoughts on “US-Cuba Relations After July 11th Protests

  • Hey Ben,
    A dear friend of mind called me from Cuba yesterday.
    He was enquiring about my health as I have recently been quite ill.
    He ain’t dumb. He ain’t privileged. He ain’t white. He doesn’t give a flying f**k about politics. Although he’s actually quite proud that Cuba isn’t a U.S. lackey state as are certain other smaller countries in the region but that’s about as far as his interest in politics goes.
    And he most certainly doesn’t approve of these demonstrations.
    He absolutely does not go along with these disruptions in this time of Covid.
    I’m certainly no Communist and neither is the friend I refer to, but I, like him, recognise a twisted irrational and corrupt U.S. policy when I f**kin come across one.
    I don’t know how well you know Cuba Ben?
    Or how many times you been there or how many years you spent there?
    There is a general desire in Cuba for some form of change for the betterment of the country. No doubt about it and quite right too as far as my opinion is concerned.
    I also am aware that this general desire applies to a great many parts of the world (including our home country).
    But I would suggest being watchful about jumping to certain conclusions.
    With respect Ben.

  • As other commentators here have said, it’s a shame that President Biden is not living up to his pre election pledge. Maybe he’s thinking about his second term. President Obama was on his way out when he reformed US policy toward Cuba so he didn’t have to worry himself with FLA Electoral College Votes.
    The USA does plenty of business with countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel etc…..
    These places, in their different ways, are way more ‘repressive’ than Cuba. But as always it all goes back to those FLA Electoral College Votes.
    It ain’t what I would call ‘democratic’.

  • Joe Biden ought to be ashamed of himself for promising the American people that he was going to get rid of the cruel sanctions that Trump instIlled. Instead he caved in to the right wing anti-Cuba extremists who didn’t even vote for him. He also went along with the Cuba hating Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Melendez. Who is the president anyway? I voted for Joe Biden, not Rubio and Melendez!

  • Precisely! Obama gave hope to all Cubans and it was translated into reality. Things improved for a short while. Then came Trump and the Republicans with Rubio and all the Miami Cubans supporting them. Life in Cuba collapsed. It is an insult that the Republicans and Miami Cubans claim that they have the best interest of Cuba in their hearts. Travesty. Cubans do not need to overthrow its government to have a chance at decent life. If only Miami Cubans would understand that – the political deadlock that is ruining Cuba would be so much easier to solve. However poor Cuba and Cubans are … the nation and the people are proud. They like to be proud. Such a shame that the Miami Cubans are ruining their own homeland. That they are hurting their own people. Shame!

  • I agree Curt .. having family and close friends in Granma province , i saw a change come once Trump got in, how he strangulated any vestige of hope in the Cubans with what he did.. Obama was reaching out , bridging, ready to agree to disagree and show by compassion and clear kind words that American politicians are not going to bomb the hell out of Cuba.. but with Trump came long and longer lineups and shelves emptied as never seen before on my multitude of trips there. Medicine and medical supplies dwindled. It is gut wrenching …. No one, and I mean no news outlet speaks about US willing to make deals, tourism and trade with the big evil doers…. Russia and China.. .Saudi Arabia to name some…. But a tiny island , like an old crocodile devoid of all its teeth, , .. the US is afraid of this?? their rhetoric about terrorists lurking on the island to get to US , about dead bodies on the street , murdered by cops, its all too much for any of us who have spanned Cuba over the decade…. Someone speak up to the Americans…. i shudder to think that they will somehow threaten Canada next if we do not stop seeing Cubans.

  • Anyone with a little bit of common sense knows that organized groups in Cuba, like the San Isidro movement are receiving funds from USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED). They are the ones who say they only want freedom, not food or medicine. They live much better than average Cubans. The others, who comprise the majority of the protesters in Cuba are protesting the blackouts and lack of food and medicine, caused by the US embargo and unfortunately, the incompetence of the Cuban government in addressing their agricultural problems. Dialogue between the US and Cuban government is the best way to address the problems in Cuba. After Obama normalized relations in 2014, me and many others who visited Cuba saw the positive changes and greatly reduced repression on the island.

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