Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES, January 26 — I am among those who are saluting the recent decision by President Barack Obama to take another step to bore through the embargo/blockade. In this case it involves the easing of some restrictions on travel and remittances.
However I am also among those who consider this inadequate. In this sense my position resembles that of the Cuban government, which said more or less the same thing (“It is correct but insufficient,” stated the minister of Culture) – but only seemingly.
I believe that I resemble the millions of people who relate closely to the issue of Cuba and who have been able to surpass the straightjacket of political revanchism. These people understand that this road leads nowhere, and that no matter how much it alleviates our resentment — probably justified — we end up aligning with the authoritarian Cuban political elite.
I would probably resemble Obama more if he could say what he sincerely thinks. Because, after all, Obama is one of those millions of people that I just referred to, except he’s the president of the United States. As such, he deals with the issue like one manages a business: on the basis of costs and benefits (and there are very few immediate benefits to offer the American political consumer).
In the first place, Cuba is not economically attractive enough. Secondly, the Cuban leaders have not wanted to give up anything in exchange for a more relaxed climate – absolutely nothing (unless one considered it something to indecently send into exile several dozen political prisoners who were convicted without legal guarantees in 2003 and to keep a dozen others imprisoned who refused to leave the country in which they were born).
I believe, as a lucid Republican friend told me recently, that the Cuban leaders are going to have a lot of time on their hands to regret for not having taken advantage of the favorable situation of the first two years of the Obama executive with a Democratic congress.
But the recent step by Obama is positive, because anything that tends to erode the worn-out policies of dispute is positive.
The embargo/blockade is a failure, and it has been a failure for five decades. I understand that many émigrés continue to support this policy, since the embargo has been the price that anxiety has paid for the impotence produced by the continuation of the Cuban regime and estrangement.
I even understand that many others see the blockade/embargo as a repugnant “open sesame” of mercurial and political ascent in the heart of a wrongly exiled community. But it is a total failure and it will continue to be so. Worse still, it is a counterproductive measure that ends up reinforcing what it seeks to eliminate.
It has not achieved any political change in Cuba, and it has served the post-revolutionary elite to justify internal repression before the public, presenting each critic, dissident or opponent as an anti-national alien.
It has been the leitmotiv in justifying the tremendous economic errors produced by voluntarism, bureaucratic centralization and overpowering estatizacion (nationalization). And it has been, finally, the perfect argument for this elite to demonstrate themselves as being the guarantors of national survival. The embargo/blockade has been the touchstone of a concept of being under constant besiege— under which defense is worth every sacrifice — around which whole generations of Cuban have been educated.
It has been necessary for the Cuban elite that Fidel Castro has devoted himself with a crusader’s passion to undermining each attempt to eliminate the embargo/blockade, from the times of Ford to the present, including the years of Carter and Clinton. The embargo/blockade has been his oxygen tank, his red badge of courage, the justification for all the failures and abuses.
If I were the president of the United States for one day (I imagine myself with absolute power to do things), that very same day I would eliminate the embargo, return the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba, put the five spies [Cuban Five] on an airplane bound for Havana (at least those who weren’t convicted of murder) and I would send an emissary to speak with rigid Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to reestablish full diplomatic relationships in less than 24 hours.
It’s true, like some people say, that this would be celebrated by the occupants of the Palace of the Revolution as a great victory. And it would be fine if they did, drinking until dawn and taking lots of photos. They’re going to have their fifteen minutes of fame and several hours to contemplate their navels.
The question is what they will do the day after, when it’s necessary to govern without being able to fall back on the external enemy. I don’t doubt that they’ll invent new dangers, but these will be decreasingly believable. They will also talk about persistent economic problems as being consequences of the blockade, but for how long? They’ll continue to say that the external enemy exists and that to differ is to ally with it, but it will no longer be visible. They will be obliged to abandon the sure, monolithic discourse, without fissures, and make unaccustomed use of the word “maybe.”
Obviously, in same way that the embargo/blockade is not the culprit behind the serious economic problems of Cuba, nor does it justify oppression and authoritarian policies; nor will its elimination automatically generate solutions to those problems, be they to the left or right.
But unquestionably the measures generate a less polarized and less tense setting in which the internal actors and those in the diaspora will be able to win autonomy and have an impact on the changes desired.
There is one last reason to salute Obama, and I will always salute any step in the direction of eliminating the embargo/blockade. The embargo/blockade, regardless of its half-century-old origin, is a mechanism for political intervention. To support the embargo and its use by Washington as a political weapon is to recognize the right of the United States to be an internal actor in Cuban politics. The national historical experience indicates that this political interference has frequently been a source of trauma and destabilization against our nation.
We need to advance toward the Republic of the future recognizing that in this globalization process, aseptic nationalisms are hindrances to life. In a globalized world it is indispensable that national governments give up significant degrees of sovereignty, but they should do this through sovereign decision-making endorsed by democratic referendums.
Particularly so in its relationship with the United States, Cuba must identify sophisticated focuses that allow it to optimize the benefits derived from the relationship and that point toward the final goal: the well-being of the entire Cuban community, including both those directly residing on the island and those of the diaspora who are indirectly connected.
My fear is that none of this will happen with the outdated Helms Burton Act, which in the end is what this is all about.
HT Translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.