Cuba-USA Try to Skirt Dead Ends

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — According to Esteban Morales’ and Elier Remirez’ De la confrontacion a los intentos de normalizacion (“Cuba – US Relations: From Confrontation to Normalization Attempts”), Che Guevara was the first to approach the United States to propose an improvement in bilateral relations, in Uruguay, 1961.

Washington misinterpreted the proposal, thought that it was seeing differences within the revolutionary government and, instead of replying, wasted its time trying to find the crack in the leadership where it could drive a wedge between the rebels.

The affair didn’t end well. The Argentinean Foreign Minister was dismissed for aiding in the gathering, while Kennedy advisor Richard Goodwin, who met with Che Guevara, became suspect and was subjected to a Senate investigation.

Today, negotiations between the two countries have been set in motion by the US president himself. Everyone knew the economic blockade had failed, but Obama was the first to publicly acknowledge that the strategy would not succeed in overthrowing the Cuban government.

In addition, US negotiator Roberta Jacobson recognized that the embargo “isolated us from our democratic partners in the hemisphere and the world.” Europe votes against it at the UN and Latin America demands that Cuba participate at all regional gatherings.

Havana was invited to take part at the next Summit of the Americas (April 10-11), despite the White House’s opposition. Obama was left with only two options: to begin negotiations with Cuba or not to attend the gathering and give the floor entirely to the Cuban president.

In the Thick of Negotiations

Roberta Jacobson asked that the diplomats of the future US embassy be allowed to maintain the same relations they have with dissidents today.  Photo: Raquel Perez

As was to be expected, each of the two countries is trying to get as much out of the negotiations as they can at the lowest political cost.

The US administration seeks to improve its image in the region and favor its economic interests.

The idea seems to be aimed at allowing US entrepreneurs – oil and telecommunications companies in particular – to do business with Cuba, while Washington continues to offer Cuban dissidents political and financial support.

Mrs. Jacobson – probably under political pressure from her country – showed her cards at a press conference held in Havana, stating that Washington would employ a new tactic to pursue its aims of old.

The reply came quickly. Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal demanded that US diplomats cease to “encourage, organize, train, supply and finance” the opposition, while President Raul Castro demanded that the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base be returned to the country.

Despite all this, Havana needs to negotiate. A World Bank executive recently announced that the normalization of relations could increase foreign investment on the island from US $1 billion to $17 billion.

Removing Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism will eliminate part of the financial pressure on the country, and the repeal of the law that bars US citizens from traveling to the island as tourists would double the global number of visitors and the revenues of that industry.

Avoiding Dead Ends

If Washington makes rapprochement dependent on political changes in Havana, negotiations will come to a dead end, as has happened before. Josefina Vidal has already told the US that Cuba’s sovereignty and internal political structure “are not negotiable.”

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base. Washington immediately replied that the status of the base is not negotiable.  Photo: Raquel Perez

Negotiations will also stall if Havana makes the lifting of the economic embargo the condition for talks, as it has done on other occasions. If there is any hope of dismantling the blockade, it is precisely through negotiations.

The press frames the issue of human rights as one of the big debates, despite the fact that both governments know no agreements will be reached in this connection. Cuba is just as unlikely to accept the activities of dissidents as the US is to commit to eliminating police brutality.

Some politicians from the Cuban émigré community demand that Havana hand over fugitives from US justice like Joanne Chesimard, an African-American woman who was a Black Panther leader and is sought by US authorities for the murder of a police officer in the 1970s.

They seem to be unaware of the fact that an extradition agreement is reciprocal and would force the United States to deport many Cuban exiles accused of crimes, including Luis Posada Carriles, sought for the bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner that killed 73 people.

Economic demands constitute another hurdle. According to data from the US Treasury, there are some 5,900 suits stemming from US properties nationalized by Cuba, for a total value of some US $7 billion.

When this issue is placed on the table, however, Havana will likely demand to be compensated for the damages caused by the economic blockade and terrorist actions, valued by Cuban courts at around US $121 billion.

Josefina Vidal and Roberta Jacobson also need to keep multilateral issues (such as Havana’s alliance with Venezuela and Moscow) off the table, as discussing these would be as crazy as debating about the Pentagon’s actions in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Legacy

Understanding one another is a complex matter when the two parties have very different conceptions about human rights, highly divergent political systems, a vision of democracy without any common ground and politicians who believe they have the best social order in the universe.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro

As the secret meetings demonstrate, focusing on bilateral relations and areas of common interest appears to be the surest way of making progress. The two countries know this work, but pressures have been on the rise since December 17.

What’s novel about these negotiations in comparison to previous attempts is that the two governments have sat down to talk without establishing any prior conditions, on the understanding that exchanging points of view is the beginning and not the end of the road.

Raul Castro and Barack Obama have boarded a ship built in utmost secrecy over an 18-month period. They are sailing through turbulent waters and torpedoes are being fired at them from both coasts. If they manage to lead this ship to a safe harbor, they will have left behind a truly historical legacy.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.


23 thoughts on “Cuba-USA Try to Skirt Dead Ends

  • Free-enterprise capitalism such as we have, dies in about 15 years when all manufacturers/competitors are forced to go to smarter-than-human AI/robotics for their ENTIRE workforce .
    No human will be able to compete in any job with a super-human robot ( smarter than/stronger than /more efficient than any human can be. )
    Artificial(machine) intelligence is scheduled to surpass human capabilities by the early 2020s ( Moore’s Law is working just fine , thank you) .
    So I wouldn’t worry too much about the minor ups and downs of present-day capitalism were I you.

  • The United Snakes has one party: The Business Party which has a center right (Democratic) wing and a center-further right (Republican) wing .
    The fabulously wealthy capitalists (FWCs) in the USA support both party’s candidates about equally and the FWCs actually tell the to parties who to nominate -or they don’t get the money needed to win a national election.
    This is precisely the dictionary definition of an oligarchy .
    To love the electoral/government systems of the USA is to love totalitarianism .
    US government and media portrayal of its alleged democracy amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. .
    Some people want to run up and hug that pig.

  • Sorry to burst your bubble but the US doesn’t have a dynamic multi party system. It has a two party system with very little difference between either. Both would fit without any problems into the Conservative party in the UK and most other countries. There may be freedom of expression but what is the point – Americans all say exactly the same thing all of the time. For a good example look at your own comments. As for getting wealthy by ones own effort – this is a myth. Countries like Denmark have much greater social mobility.

  • The same way you insist on portraying yourself as making intelligent comments.

  • OK, I’ll take that.

  • Ugly record only his most loyal supporters can defend. W while not loved, carried a higher respect in Middle East and around world as strong leader. The next President inherets a mess. Likely reason Hillary has been taking so long to decide if she wants the job.

  • The U.S. currently has the most stable economy. Energy is cheap in America as is financing. With the geo political risk and rise of Islamic extremists all over Middle East the U.S. looks stable. Europe is an economic mess with the end of the viability of the welfare state model. The BRIC countries not doing as well as could be. Too much socialism in their mix.

  • Well said, the U.S. has little it needs from Cuba. It is mostly a polical issue. Obama has already gotten his legacy medal on this one. He can just let it play out slowly. History will site him as the then man that opened relations much like Reagan gets credit for end of Cold War.

  • The U.S. has a dynamic multi party system. Personal freedom of expression is out standing. The ability to get wealthy by ones effort is exceptional. I like the US as messy, unequal and brash as it can be. Heck of a cool place.

  • Raul should get what he can while Obama is still in office. Obama will do about as fair a deal as Raul can get.

  • Why do you insist on portraying yourself as an advocate for democracy ?
    You have no shame.

  • Be patient. Rome was not built in a day nor shall democracy become the norm in places unaccustomed to the rule of law.

  • I don’t see the situations in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, or Yemen as evidence of brilliant successes in Obama’s foreign policy.
    The trend is not promising.

  • No, really, I mean “falling apart”. Unlike the metaphorical predictions of the past, Cuban infrastructure is collapsing at an ever-increasing pace. In Havana, at least one building a week collapses, oftentimes taking lives with it. This was not intended as a prediction but a statement of fact. Given the age of the Castros, predicting their impending demise is also not so far-fetched.

  • The total collapse and “falling apart” of Cuba has been predicted daily for 55 years. It has only added to the mystique and eventual legacy of the revolution. But keep predicting, Moses.

  • The US economy is the most robust economy among all the large industrialized countries. Wall Street is at record highs. The USD is through the roof. Unemployment is lower than it has been in years. Yes, there are still weaknesses but if the US is not sound, tell me what economy is? Do your research before you spout off something stupid.

  • Well, let’s see. Cuba is falling apart….literally, and while the Castros are still in power, they are on their last lap and it doesn’t look good for them UNLESS the US throws them a lifeline. You know where I stand on that.

  • I don’t see it playing out that way. For all the right wing criticisms of Obama, NONE have come to fruition as originally feared. Obamacare did not destroy the economy. On the contrary, things are better than they they have been in 8 years. Benghazi, zippo. Syria, zippo. Ukraine, tentative ceasefire. Iran, ongoing nuclear talks. Obama starts off slow and shaky but he gets the last laugh. I am worried about his Cuba policy too but so far we not dead yet.

  • Obama wants a deal, any deal, and he wants it before he leaves office. This is for his legacy as the most “progressive” president ever Raul knows this which is why he will drive a hard bargain, piling on conditions and demanding concessions at a every round of talks. Time could be on the US side, except that Obama does not want to wait.

    At the recent Congressional hearings on Obama’s new Cuba policy, the top US diplomat to Cuba was asked which of the conditions specified in Helms-Burton for lifting the embargo have been met by Cuba. Sadly, Jacobson drew a blank. She had no idea what the condition were!

    This is the person entrusted to negotiate for the U.S. government and yet she was ignorant of the central law she was supposed to be discussing with her Cuban counterparts. That does not bode well for a robust agreement.

    Analyzer is correct. Raul will still be in office when Obama retires. Obama will have his precious legacy, Raul will have pocketed a raft of concessions from the U.S. without giving up anything. And the Cuban people will be screwed.

  • “Waiting Them Out” since 1959 by hiding behind the skirts of the world’s only superpower has been a brilliant tactic, hasn’t it, Moses?

  • Still living in your dream world and spewing irrational propaganda.
    Obama has little if any credibility and the US economy is far from sound.
    Raul Castro will still be around when Obama has the U Drive van to vacate the White House.

  • US-Cuban ‘negotiations’ are far more complex than Fernando has described. He fails to include the ‘time’ component. Obama can drag out negotiations for years. After all, what’s our rush. In April, Obama will be received in Panama as a hero. He has taken the first step. On the other hand, Castro’s clock is ticking louder every day. How much longer will the Venezuela gravy train continue? How much longer can the Cuban economy run on fumes? Growth in 2014 was 0.6%! The US economy is the most robust in the world. Capital flight to the US is nearly all-time highs. Dragging our feet with the Cubans costs the US nothing. The Castros don’t have more than 3 years to turn things around. I say wait ’em out.

  • Thanks Fernando for a most balanced and rational appraisal of the changing relations between the two totalitarian regimes.
    Well done.

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