Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Are Barack Obama and Raul Castro backtracking like crabs? That is one of the tacit concerns of the majority of Cubans today. The phrase alludes to the typical way in which these crustaceans move, giving the impression that they are walking backwards.
In Havana, the accusing finger is being pointed towards the Cuban president. We must bear in mind the unquestionable asymmetry between the two countries and the fact that these negotiations are a matter of life and death for the island.
Here are some comments people are making:
“Things are getting uglier in Venezuela every day. In the end, there’ll be a problem they’ll use to justify going back to square one.”
“These people are never going to negotiate with the Americans.”
“Don’t even dream of seeing changes. We’ve got the Guantanamo Naval Base, the blockade and many demands in between. It’s all going to be pure talk.”
“The Americans want democracy, political parties, freedom of the press, you’d have to be a fool to think they’re going to go for that here!”
Skepticism constrains the popular imaginary, accustomed to a kind of visceral trench mentality (to say nothing of the anti-Americanism that has been inculcated into us for more than 55 years). To make matters worse, the top leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro, recently reiterated that he is entirely suspicious as to the intentions of the powerful northern neighbor.
Will Raul Castro overcome this apparent “crab syndrome”? Will Obama catch some of this malady as well?
We have to look at this from Washington’s point of view, for the controversial presidential decision to declare Venezuela a threat to US national security has an unquestionable connection to Cuba.
Maduro is Chavez’ adoptive son and a political step-son of Fidel Castro. Cuba heavily relies on supplies from this powerful oil-producing country, tied to it through a rather fragile deal nourished by Cuba’s cheap and qualified workforce. While Chavez was able to win numerous elections thanks to his charisma, the opposition still managed to secure a considerable number of votes and even obtained two resounding “no’s” with respect to the government’s future plans.
The late Venezuelan leader managed to forge a civil-military alliance to a great extent on the basis of his military background and the popularity among the masses he achieved. His successor constantly invokes this legacy, but he won the election by a very narrow margin of votes. The internal situation is becoming more complicated every day, and it is hard to imagine he’ll be able to win another election.
Why is Obama giving the former Caracas bus driver a presidential decree that proves very convenient in terms of uniting the people against a foreign aggressor, securing the right to govern by decree and steering people’s attention away from the country’s growing internal difficulties?
Cuba may be the answer. Faced with a Republican majority in Congress, and the conservative majority in government in general (to say nothing of public opinion), the Emperor must maintain a tough-guy image: if he loosens the screws on the Castros, he has to tighten them somewhere else, and where better than in Venezuela, where Cuba’s Chavista step-sons govern?
I advance this hypothesis in light of the inexplicable contradictions in the policies of Obama, who apparently did eat crabs: on the one hand, he will soon be removing Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism (where Cuba should never have been placed). On the other, he is demonizing Maduro’s government, calling it a threat that no one can see.
Luckily, this may simply remain talk – though sanctions against Venezuela would complicate Cuba’s internal economic situation even more. It’s already been fairly complicated since the price of oil dropped to nearly half the value predicted for this year. President Maduro’s laundry-list of complaints will surely lengthen to infinity…
All the while, members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) naturally kicked up a fuss in Caracas, attacking the United States on the eve of Summit of the Americas (April 10-11), where Obama and Raul ought to shake hands, at least for diplomatic reasons, possibly with embassies reopened.
Will the “crab syndrome” deal Cubans a lousy hand?
I don’t believe it will. Slowly but surely, as the Cuban president likes to say, we will have our embassies, even if we are haunted by the specter of a declaration attacking the US government every morning in Havana.
Raul Castro is shouldering a heavy, historical burden, inherited from the obsessive intransigence of his older brother in all things having to do with the United States. He is surrounded by government officials educated with such premises. He is also called on to represent the spirit of a leader that history has declared undefeated, so he will find it impossible to change the political discourse, even when his pragmatism leads to surprising developments, such as the secret negotiations whose results everyone (and Cuba in particular) anxiously awaits.
We will continue to read the same, hackneyed phrases in Granma year after year. The Cuban revolution will continue to make its age-old demands while people on the other shore will continue to make noise over nationalized properties, dissidents who endure repression and other curtailed freedoms. We will continue to see the game of politics, a dangerous game, for crabs – those obstinate creatures – lie in wait on both shores.
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]