Cuba’s Tantrum Foreign Policy

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso 

Cuban assembly line workers. Photo: Samantha Levins

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 27 — Raul Castro has stated that one of his main priorities is to restore the country’s international economic credibility, something I find quite reasonable.

But if the general/president believes that this will be done simply by paying on the nation’s debt (as is suggested by his government’s diplomats), then he’s as mistaken as they are.   Unless one has an ocean of oil or a billion inhabitants, international credibility is not precisely an economic matter; rather — in the loose sense of the term — it’s eminently political.

It is achieved when there is the political acceptance of the subject (the country in this case) that would otherwise always be obliged to move to the frayed fringes of the market and deal with its worst exponents.  This demands policies — demonstrative and convincing ones — that show the country will adhere to a series of clear and predictable rules.

During the Soviet epoch this was no problem.  The political relationship with Moscow guaranteed Cuba’s insertion in a market that was depreciated and not very technologically demanding yet secure enough to guarantee its survival.  Since 1990 this has completely changed.  The world is no longer the same.

But putting aside the specific policies with respect to the ALBA countries (those for which substantial subsidies indispensable for their survival are guaranteed), there is nothing new in Cuban foreign policy.  This situation, I can add in passing, puts society perpetually at risk of an economic hecatomb similar to the one we experienced in the 1990s (euphemistically referred to as the “Special Period”).

Cuba and the Obama administration

An example of this inertia is the manner in which the case of Obama has been managed.  At the personal level, the American president is an enemy of the blockade/embargo (as was Clinton), yet heads of state determine policies by interests, not by convictions.

In his first two years, Obama took steps to eliminate all the restrictions put in place by his predecessor, to the point of leaving the situation at a level slightly superior to what Clinton had left it.

A realistic and truly nationalist policy (meaning one that benefited the Cuban nation) would have been to shuffle the dominos in order to stimulate change.  But nothing was done.  In return, Obama only received all types of principled kicking and screaming in the name of “national independence,” including with the matter of the five Cuban agents (Cuban Five).

Mechanic. Photo: Byron Motley

With this, the Cubans lost the opportunity to improve (and possibly normalize) relations with the most powerful country on the earth – one where 15 percent of Cubans live and enjoy the most wealth (except for perhaps the military/technocratic elite who have enriched themselves inside Cuba), representing an indispensible market for the takeoff of the Cuban economy, and who are ultimately much closer to the island than God.

In a documented article, Eugenio Yañez reported in Cubaencuentro on the trip to Cuba by former New Mexican governor Bill Richardson, a member of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and someone who has always been interested in ending the blockade/embargo.

His intent to mediate the controversial case of Alan Gross should have been an opportunity, but it turned into a problem as Richardson had to leave the island under the criticism of a talkative official who proclaimed — with the audacity that’s generated by that mixture of power and ignorance — that “Cuba is a sovereign country that doesn’t accept blackmail, pressure or arrogance.”  The functionary then proceeded to call Richardson something like a muckraker.  More kicking and screaming.

But things aren’t going any better for us with Europe.  The governing Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE) has done everything possible (and perhaps more than what was possible) to obtain the elimination of the symbolic and ineffective “Common Position” of the EU towards Cuba.

Its acquiescence has been so unshakable that it conspired with the Cuban government and island’s Catholic Church to facilitate the release and exile of dozens of prisoners and their families.  They then smiled so much that it was necessary to relieve the foreign minister of his functions.

In return the Spanish government has itself received some harsh screaming.  One such incident occurred when a minister appeared before parliament highlighting the positive changes taking place in Cuba, but adding that he was worried about human rights.  “Once again,” reported the unvarying official Granma newspaper, “it can be verified that there are no ostensible differences between some people who under a ‘socialist’ label express their total connivance with the anti-Cuban rhetoric promoted by the Popular Party of Jose Aznar.”

Later the Cuban government stripped all privileges to report from Cuba from Mauricio Vicent, a journalist for El Pais who had been characterized by his unquenchable optimism about the positive evolution of the island.

Normalization the Chinese way  

Obviously not all of this is about taking blind swings.  The government is trying to normalize its relationships with everybody, but by the Chinese road.  Relations with liberals are always sprinkled with thorny issues – ones like human rights and democracy.  And that is particularly troublesome for a political elite that believes in absolute ownership of an issue that in all truth belongs to society as a whole.

Construction workers. Photo: Samantha Levins

That’s why seeking to motivate the most prosaic sides of the right, which — given its invariably pro-market orientation — is less finicky about overlooking those thorny issues if economic dividends are involved.

Let’s not forget that under the mandate of a dumbfounded George Bush, business with Cuba increased progressively.  Likewise, under Aznar, Spanish investment on the island was experiencing moments of glory, which caused a sickly anti-Castrist crusader like Valladares to reproach the socialists’ weaknesses and promise to correct the situation when he came to power – or something like that.  I imagine that the managers of the Melia hotels must have laughed till they dropped in their tropical paradises.

And for this the Cuban Government has some potential incentives.

One is oil, for which drilling from a semi-submergible platform should begin in December.  And if the petroleum appears in sufficient quantities and quality, I think the blockade/embargo will be exposed to a bigger hole than anything Obama could have done in the years of his stressful administration.

Another incentive is the market that Cuba is opening up for the tourist sector, whose marinas, golf courses, cruise-ship ports and five-star hotels are multiplying along the coastal strip from Mariel to Varadero.  From here, the technocratic/military elite led by the Castro clan are looking anxiously to the north and are making an appetizing invitation to the hotel lobby, which is only waiting for the moment when American tourism is allowed in Cuba.

I believe Castro’s calculations are off target in thinking that all this is converging around the reestablishment of the island’s international credibility.  But I am sure that it’s a morally untenable situation.

For weeks Cuba has been supporting and praising Gadhafi’s criminal bands.  It doesn’t matter how capricious NATO military intervention has been or how insecure the Libyan rebels have behaved: we have openly supported a regime whose shamelessness has surpassed the limits of the world political brothel.  Moreover, we ended up voting in the UN along with some countries that it would inadvisable to sit down with for a coffee at noon.

Although Cuba’s foreign policy is adopted in the name of unyielding nationalism, it’s a certain kind of nationalism: an autarchic breed in which the nation and its people are ultimately reduced to a political system and an elite led by a family clan.

On the other hand, if by nationalism we understand the preservation of sovereignty articulated from democracy and for the general good of the Cuban people, then it’s necessary to do many things all over again.

The Cuban political class has the opportunity to begin doing just that, but all us Cubans, before the observers in Washington or Madrid, require clear signs that they’re thinking of the nation in a different manner.  Not as a fiefdom, but as a republic “for all and for the well-being of all.”


5 thoughts on “Cuba’s Tantrum Foreign Policy

  • John,
    I fully agree with your criticism of capitalism. I do not believe though that our choices are limited to capitalism and pseudo-socialist police states. The Cuban leadership (effectively a very narrow band of people with a C in their surname) do whatever they do for one reason, self-preservation. In a truly socialist society the excesses of Fidel Castro’s playboy sons would be public knowledge and they and their father would be held accountable.
    Supporters of the Castros say that the Cuban people should have the right to determine their own system. That must include the right to reject socialism no matter what well-meaning foreigners want them to choose. In 2003 three young black men were executed by the Cuban state which goes to show that the leadership has always been prepared to defend its position of privilege at gun point.. If as now they choose to halt executions it isas a result of a cost benefit analysis.

  • Hubert,

    It is not people like me who have waged war on Cuba’s revolution.
    My prejudice runs to U.S aggression in the world that results in the retention of capitalism at gunpoint.
    This central strategy of U.S foreign policy results in the deaths from poverty of tens of millions of people in the world every year.

    If you’d like Cuba to jump into capitalism; a capitalism that has become ever more feral than it was in 1959 then shame on you.

    Democracy is an integral part of socialism and Cuba falls short in that area.

    Nonetheless, not many citizens of Cuba undergo the torture of capitalist produced poverty that we see in other countries with similar economic conditions.

    Were you the mother of this child would you be so anti-Cuban?

    Get a little perspective would you?

  • I believe that the Cuban government must be more realistic and less doctrinaire and dogmatic. The most important of national independence is the welfare of their society and that has not been achieved. Cuba deserves another destination. congratulations to the writer for such a brave and concise piece of thought

    I believe that the Cuban government must be more realistic and less doctrinaire and dogmatic. The most important of national independence is the welfare of their society and that has not been achieved. Cuba deserves another destination. congratulations to the writer for such a brave and concise piece of thought

    The main guarantee for the Cuban national independence and the full exercise of sovereignty must be freedom and prosperity of the population. Enough talk of aggressions and blocks. The Cuban government has always sought to justify these aggressions internal repression. The Cuban people deserve a better future.

  • Bravo Haraldo!
    Also, John, shame you did not allow your porejudices to fully comprehend the article. The Cuban people will continue to suffer because of people like you. The Libya issue along with Iran, Syria, Sri lanka and many more examples exposes the phoney claims of solidarity.

  • Rubbish.
    The sole objective of the United States foreign policy vis a vis Cuba is to destroy the socialist economy.
    No number of friendly gestures or capitulation short of jumping back into the societal horror of feral capitalism will appease the Empire.
    The U.S. has maintained its 50 year war against Cuba for just this reason.

    The U.S. maintains good relations with China not because China has improved its democratic processes or its human rights record but because it has done what the U.S. insists Cuba do and that is revert to capitalism.

    You should have noticed that The Cold War did not end with the collapse of the Soviet union.

    To not understand this and to not put this fact first and, in this case, to totally ignore this fact in any consideration of potential changes in the relationship between the two countries is just begging to be disappointed.

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