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).
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?