By Alfredo Prieto*
HAVANA TIMES, April 19 — In the run-up to the Fifth Summit of the Americas, from Mexican soil and through CNN, US President Barack Obama sent a message to the Cuban government. He spoke almost in unison with his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who voiced the same tone during her trip to neighboring Haiti.
Later, the White House spokesperson reiterated what both pointed out were actions incumbent on Cuba if it wants dialogue with the giant to the north: it must grant freedom to the island’s political prisoners and to its press.
Prior to the Summit, the Obama administration announced a series of Cuba-related reforms, such as lifting restrictions on remittances and trips by Cuban-Americans, as well as proposals on information and communications—from cell phone services to satellite TV signals.
The good faith of these efforts can be measured through both the intentions and the outcomes. But here, it doesn’t take a political science graduate to recognize two qualities.
The first is that the notion of “the enemy” has surprising intransigence in US political imagery. The second—borrowing from Clausewitz—concerns the idea of politics being the continuation of war through other means. In this instance, there is growing consensus across the political spectrum that the strategy of force and coercion has not achieved its ultimate objective: to undo a régime whose nature is considered intrinsically perverse and that, consequently, should be “changed.”
This perspective is in line with the most orthodox principles of Anglo-American pragmatism. That view was always there, but now it is intensified, as if using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight.
This is because Obama’s measures have gone quite a bit further than those of the Clinton administration, which centered on its “People-to-People” policy. What unifies them is the narrowness of the sunbeam, not its horizontality. We should keep in mind, though, that they always proceed by not admitting anything as it is, but instead talk about how things should be.
Double Standard Isn’t on the Table
One of the implied problems is that the US’ famous double standard continues to raise its ugly head. It is clear, for example, that in its relations with the Saudis, the United States will never ask them to dispense with their form of government.
Washington will never make it imperative that they abandon Wahhabism, one of the expressions of Islamic fundamentalism adopted as the official State religion. Nor do they insist that Saudi women be allowed to exercise the right to vote, one of the defining components of democracy and civil rights. There is nothing original in saying that the explanation can be summarized in three key words: interests, oil and allies.
With Cuba, however, it’s different. The hand of Obama, gesturing with “critical and constructive commitment,” evidences the “Give me a sign” syndrome (to borrow from a popular Mexican musician of my youth). This means insisting on domestic reforms in Cuba that—as in all cases—are strictly the affairs of the people of any country. The old mole of asymmetry continues floating in the middle of the Florida Strait. This seems to be imprinted in the mindsets of all US politicians, be they hawks or doves.
At the Summit, prosperity and security were two of the nodal points of Obama’s address, but the issue of Cuba emerged as much or more than was expected, despite its not being officially included on the agenda.
Once again, the northerner experienced what it feels like to be in the minority, but this time not on Chicago’s South Side. This time he was in the other South, among a group of thirty-three other presidents where he was the only one who spoke standard American English. (The same situation had occurred with the previous US leader, but now it’s different).
In addition, Obama was the only leader who came with such historical baggage, a legacy and policies broadly rejected from the middle to the far south of the continent, and even outside of it. The leaders used words like “anachronism,” “lifting of the blockade” and “overcoming bi-polar logic.”
This time the leaders came from such spheres as social movements, indigenous communities, the ranks of enlisted soldiers, Liberation Theology, anti-neoliberal economic schools of thought and from the left press.
In the conference’s clamor, the US President said: “I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction (…) The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba.” I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day.”
To some, this was a response to proposals offered by Raul Castro during his recent trip to Venezuela for the ALBA Summit. “Dinner is served,” Walt Whitman once wrote. Meanwhile, I have to admit, I’ve never heard José Marti and his concept of the second independence ringing in my ears like they are now.
*Alfredo Prieto, Cuban Essayist and editor. He resides in Havana.