Changes in Cuba Meet with ‘Buts’ from US

Fernando Ravsberg*

John Kerry´s arrival at the State Department could mean changes in relation to Cuba
John Kerry’s arrival at the State Department could mean changes in relation to Cuba

HAVANA TIMES — President Barack Obama has just announced that US citizens will be allowed to freely travel to Cuba. The measure was adopted in response to the immigration reforms implemented by Havana on January 14.

Actually this news isn’t true, but it could be if there were serious attempts at rapprochement. It wouldn’t be bad policy to take simultaneous steps, especially since it’s been shown that only one side demanding changes doesn´t work.

Even if complete understanding isn’t finally achieved, at least there would be gains for the two peoples – for Cuban’s (who now have the right to travel abroad) and for Americans (who would regain the freedom to visit Cuba without having to seek special permission from Washington).

In few countries do visitors from the another country feel so much at ease. Culturally, Miami is almost a province of the island, it’s a place where Cuban visitors feel at home, while Cuba has become one of the safest countries for US citizens.

Despite the historical bilateral political confrontation, on the island itself there are not the anti-American sentiments that abound in other countries. “Yumas” (“Gringos”) are treated with warmth and can walk the streets without any fear.

The arrival of John Kerry to the State Department could be a good omen. People continue to note that this American politician, a Vietnam veteran, was one of the promoters of restoring and normalizing relations with that Asian nation.

In the case of Cuba, he requested investigations into the funds that Washington grants to Cuban exiles to overthrow Raul Castro. He even dared to question the multi-million dollar federal government funding of TV Marti, a station that no one on the island can watch.

I imagine this isn’t a case of Kerry supporting Cuban socialism; rather it seems he’s bothered by seeing so much taxpayer’s money being spent on programs that produce the opposite effect of what is actually intended by Washington.

Apparently the Democratic senator believes that isolation isn’t an effective tool for affecting change on the island. On the contrary, he believes that visits by millions of Americans could eventually cause more openness.

The visit to Cuba by a retired Americans couple would hardly cause an uprising, but its upshot could be the expansion of internal debate on the island.
The visit to Cuba by a retired Americans couple would hardly cause an uprising, but its upshot could be the expansion of internal debate on the island.

It’s hard to know if he’s right, but after 50 years of a failed policy, it wouldn’t hurt to try new methods. I really don’t think gringo tourists will serve for political proselytizing, but putting an end to foreign aggression would contribute to expanding internal debate in Cuba.”

Undoubtedly the confrontation with the US is one of the factors that has prevented debate in Cuba. Few people on the island are willing to join Washington’s positions. Some don’t want to be accused of being mercenaries, but others stand opposed to the US purely out of nationalism.

The Cuban Revolution is not the cause but the result of Washington’s policies toward Cuba for centuries (i.e. the “ripe fruit” doctrine, the exclusion of the mambi independence fighters from the declaration of independence, the Platt Amendment, military invasions, etc.).

Ironing out these rough edges will take more than a visit to Havana by a retired couple from Michigan. What will be needed is the two countries approaching each other step by step, with each making small concessions, with each advance without waiting for the other country to be the only one that comes closer.

It’s true that Obama lifted the restrictions that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had applied to travel to the island by emigrants; he also made it easier to send remittances. But no other moves have been made, despite Cuban society having carried out significant transformations.

The United States is missing opportunities. Cuba’s economic opening (with self-employed workers, the redistribution of land, access to foreign capital for agricultural development, etc.) deserved an answer that could have been some sort of easing of the embargo.

Likewise, the mass release of political prisoners was left without a practical response from Washington, though for years the release of these prisoners was one of the main public demands of the White House.

Now Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, simply recognizes that immigration reform is positive, though she immediately disqualified the island by stating “Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries in the world.”

Each new change weakens Washington’s arguments in its confrontation with Havana. The arrival of Kerry could lead to rapprochement, or at least the renewed production of “buts” for questioning the reforms with greater originality.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

6 thoughts on “Changes in Cuba Meet with ‘Buts’ from US

  • Ah, but the Rubber Barons have bounced back!

    But you are wrong. American can go to Cuba. Legally, an American can go if for “purposeful” travel. A young man named Graham Sowa who writes columns here on HT is from Texas and is attending a medical school in Havana.

    Illegally, you can fly through Mexico, Canada or Jamaica. Cuban immigration will not stamp your passport and your government won’t prosecute.

  • American Citizen can not travel to Cuba, this is a discrimination against any Citizen of the United States, and I as Dual Citizen, SWISS-American can not believe what the American Government wishes to accomplish. This is Slavery in its highest form. The Spanish-American war is over (over 100 years) and the Rubber Barons are dead! The Revolution has produced many good things, bad also, and we are on the way of a better future on the Island. The mistakes of the last 100 years can not be solved in one year. To the issue of Alen Gross he is a Spy and should serve his time period!

  • Your argument that the US does not need to “respond” to Cuba is true but is close to justification of might is right.

    I don’t agree that US congress would be compelled to do anything if the
    Castros scheduled multiparty elections etc. To start with the Helms
    Burton act specifies a number of criteria including that a transitional
    government needs to be set up, that it can’t be led by a Castro and that
    a market economy needs to be set up, that compensation needs to be paid
    for nationalization. So plenty to quibble about.

    The most
    likely outcome will be that congress will defer a decision until they
    see who wins the election. The pro-US candidate will be claim that he or
    she can end the embargo if elected. If they don’t look like wining they
    will be persuaded to withdraw claiming that the election isn’t fair not
    enough exposure in the media. Any excuse for the embargo to remain.
    These are all things that happened in Nicaragua. The only guaranteed way
    the embargo will be dropped is if the pro-US party comes to power. All
    this is a huge interference in Cuban internal affairs and would
    seriously invalidate the vote.

    I do agree that Cub should release
    Alan Gross unilaterally. Though he did break the law I think his
    punishment is overly harsh and there are strong humanitarian reasons for
    releasing him. Too many things in the relationship between Cuba and the
    US are based on “if you do this we will do that”.

  • Fernando, didn’t you get the events out of sequence? Soon after Obama entered office he announced steps to increase remittances to Cuba, to ease some sections of the embargo and make travel by US citizens to Cuba easier. It took several years for Cuba to respond with these very tentative steps. The shoe is still on Raul’s foot.

  • The US does not need to “respond” to Cuban immigration and economic reforms. Codified in US law are political reforms which would belie a more open and democratic Cuba. Had the Castros scheduled elections, authorized multiple political parties, and legalized independent press, the US Congress would be compelled to repeal the embargo and lift travel restrictions. At a minimum, the Castros should release Alan Gross to provoke an in-kind response. Changes in Cuba to date, while important to many (not all) Cubans, do not meet the standard for real changes in US-Cuba relations.

  • Lets see how the new “changes” in the migration laws put forth by the Castro “government” really work in the next few months! If they are really what they claim to be then Obama should lift the remaining travel restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba! Interesting that this flagrant human rights violation by the Castro brothers against the Cuban people for over 50 years should be seen as some “magnanimous” gesture!

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