How and Why is the United States Returning to Cuba?

By Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The United States is about to re-open its embassy in Havana having been granted none of its demands: Cuba still has a socialist system governed by the Communist Party, dissidents continue to be outlawed, there are no multi-party elections, the bulk of the economy is State run and confiscated US properties have not been returned to their former owners.

In the words of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, “The Obama administration has handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing.” The question is: could Washington have gotten any concessions from Havana?

President Obama has demonstrated pragmatism by accepting the failure of the blockade on Cuba. However, once that is admitted, it is impossible to then sit down at the negotiations table to impose conditions on the island, something which also didn’t work at the end of the Vietnam War.

If US diplomats fleeing from Saigon offers us an image of the United States’ greatest military defeat, the reopening of the embassy on Havana’s Malecon ocean drive symbolizes the failure of Washington’s economic war against the Cuban revolution.

The struggle against the blockade is a political banner that has served to mobilize the population in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

Both Vietnam and Cuba paid an extremely high human, material and social cost. It would have been deluded to expect otherwise from a conflict between two small and poor nations and the greatest technological, economic and military power of all time.

In Cuba, the plan was to bring about hunger, misery and despair to push people to overthrow the revolutionary government. In 1960, a partial embargo was decreed. In 1962, faced with Cuba’s unwillingness to budge, it was extended through a ban on the sale of food and medicine to the island.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States approved the Torricelli Act, which bars US subsidiaries in third countries from having business dealings with Cuba. In 1996, in the midst of a brutal economic crisis, they completed the fence with the Helms Burton Act, which applies sanctions on companies from other nations as well.

Cuba’s strategy was to hold its ground, turning the struggle against the blockade into a political banner to unite revolutionaries, marginalize the opposition and win over international allies. In addition, the blockade began to be accused of being the cause of all the country’s ills.

In the early years of the revolution, the United States set out to isolate Cuba internationally. Though they achieved this at first, the Cuban government gradually began to win over allies. Finally, Washington was left alone in its defense of the economic embargo on the island.

The confrontation between Cuba and the United States reached such dimensions that it brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

Latin America unanimously decided to invite Cuba to the 2015 Summit of the Americas and did so against the express will of the White House. Obama had two options: change his policy or walk away and leave the podium to Raul Castro in Panama.

Barack Obama was not “soft-handed”: he took the blockade to the extreme before proclaiming its failure. He even sanctioned companies that sold Cuba medical equipment and was the president who applied the largest number of fines on third country banks.

When he saw that the blockade was not brining Havana to its knees, however, he decided to forego a policy that was undermining US interests. He didn’t even have the support of his NATO allies, the European Union or Latin America.

Obama did not take this step without first gaging what internal repercussions it would have, uncertain whether most of the US and Cuban-American electorate would back him on it. That said, he prepared public opinion for the decision by skillfully using the media.

The US press agency AP was “leaked” information revealing the failure of USAID covert operations in Cuba, and The New York Times published a series of editorials preparing the terrain for the policy change vis-a-vis Havana.

Obama’s strategy was impeccable. A mere six months after making his conversations with Cuba public, and despite the war unleashed by Congress, polls reveal that 72% of US citizens support the new policy.

With such support behind them, the Democrats have nothing to fear. Their plan appears to be to erode the embargo until it has become an empty shell. All the while, the Republicans are fighting public opinion and the business community tooth and nail.

The United States broke relations with Cuba more than fifty years ago and is today reopening its embassy on the island without having achieved any of its objectives.

US citizens are already travelling to the island thanks to the fact their own government is allowing them to break the law that forbids tourism in Cuba. All the while, entrepreneurs are being encouraged to find the embargo’s legal loopholes to invest in and trade with Havana.

Obama has not been converted to socialism. What he’s doing is placing his country’s interests above those of the anti-Castro community, having already spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money to secure an endless catalogue of defeats.

The US president is proposing a different policy, an invasion of tourists and businesspeople that will gnaw at the foundations of the revolution. He is also doing this at a key moment, in the midst of a generational change in the government and Communist Party leadership.

It’s hard to predict whether this new strategy will prove more effective, but Barack Obama will be remembered as the first president who, with respect to Cuba, understood what Einstein meant when he said that, in order to get different results, one must do something different.
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(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.


17 thoughts on “How and Why is the United States Returning to Cuba?

  • September 16, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    I just saw your comment — is there more information about that school online?

  • August 18, 2015 at 9:22 am
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    Hola (hello in Spanish) MacDuff, I see you are up to the same old tricks that do not work as you have no right or authority to disqualify anyone for any reason but that’s what you do when you have no answer and no smarty pants come back against Dani, My friend John the Anarchist, Cubasí or me, your Cuban nemesis

  • August 18, 2015 at 9:16 am
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    And OJ didn’t do it…

  • August 17, 2015 at 2:40 pm
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    Please verify!
    Negotiations between the US and Cuba began in June 2013 in Canada. How where and when were the Chinese involved?

  • August 17, 2015 at 11:44 am
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    China told both the US and Cuba to get their act together or else !!!

  • August 17, 2015 at 7:45 am
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    Can you send me its name or a link to it?

  • August 17, 2015 at 12:03 am
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    It’s a consistently regular contribution as the contributor has only academic knowledge of Cuba and has never been there. His main angst is about the USA where he lives.

  • August 15, 2015 at 7:39 am
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    good one.

  • August 15, 2015 at 7:38 am
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    there is a school in cuba that the chinese attend and have for a long time.

  • August 15, 2015 at 5:49 am
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    What is the real reason that the USA wishes to reopen relations with Cuba? Do they have an ulterior motive? What do they want?

  • August 14, 2015 at 9:15 pm
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    Parts of the economy has been monetized. But large elements remain bureaucratic barter based. Once all the economy is managed via money, it will be more efficient. This goes for both state and private coopertives. Reducing goods and services to a monetary value makes it much easier to operate an economy where a market plays a part in allocation of resources.

  • August 14, 2015 at 12:11 pm
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    There are two words because they define different things – you may describe that as semantics – and similarly your logic could be applied to cat and dog.
    The term blockade means just that and embargo means what it says. Free speech is only meaningful if used properly. I have to agree that for Fidel Castro, two words defining two different political views are meaningless as he wrote in Granma some 4 years ago that to him, socialism and communism are the same thing and in Cuba are described as “Socialismo”. It displays the arrogance associated with Fidel – and perhaps be others who think that they can simplify language by misuse.
    I did not originate the word embargo for the action taken by the US (YOUR) government – the Act did!

  • August 14, 2015 at 10:36 am
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    I suspect that fear of the growing prsesence of China in Cuba and Latin America may have also been on President Obama’s mind when he decided to move on Cuba,

  • August 14, 2015 at 3:41 am
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    Once again a hard hitting article by Fernando is trivialized by a semantic debate on whether to call it an embargo or a blockade. The term blockade is used in the metaphoric sense as US policy blocks trade between Cuba and other third countries ie “prevents goods … from entering or leaving”. It isn’t a total blockade but then it isn’t insignificant either. If you prefer to use the term embargo to minimize this international aspect then go ahead. But allow people who prefer the term blockade also the right. It’s called free speech.

  • August 13, 2015 at 6:27 pm
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    You’re bringing up one of the worst days of my life, October 24-October 28, 1962 Carlyle.
    We literally didn’t know if we’d wake up each night we went to bed. There are many theories why Castro got so insane but I’m too tired to even try to figure that out again. Embargo, blockade yes again it was and still is an embargo. I agree with you that the embargo should
    end but everything takes time with this change from both sides. One thing that I’m getting is a clearer picture of life inside Cuba. The media from the US is definitely making there presence
    known and the interviews with average Cuban’s is an eye opener. One thing I get is that regardless of how poor this country is no one who I saw on TV today would live anywhere else but Cuba. They admit it’s totally tough but they love their island and families, health care and schools. They’re totally upset with wages and lack of internet and cell phone service and costs. Do you see that response where you all live Carlyle?

  • August 13, 2015 at 12:09 pm
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    For professional journalists, the use of language plays a critical role. Fernando Ravsberg knows this, but fails to adhere to its proper use.
    Ravsberg knows that in English there is a distinct difference between the words embargo and blockade – as indeed there is in Spanish,however he as a professional journalist chooses misuse – thus lowering his standards and demonstrating disrespect for both language and accuracy.
    Again, for the record and to correct Ravsbergs misuse:
    embargo: an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country
    blockade: an act of sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving
    Oxford English Dictionary.
    There was a brief time when the Castro family regime in collaboration with its Soviet ally threatened the US and the World with nuclear war, when a blockade was placed upon Cuba and which was removed when the nuclear missiles were returned to the Soviet Union.
    Otherwise, since 1960 there has been an embargo.
    I personally have been opposed to the embargo as it has proven to be an asset for the Castro family regime which has cleverly used it as an excuse for all its own incompetence. But the embargo is what it is, an embargo.

  • August 13, 2015 at 11:05 am
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    Cuba has a state capitalist economy.
    It is capitalist because the central characteristic is its top-down TOTALITARIAN structure
    It is not socialist because there is no DEMOCRATIC worker control from the bottom.
    The answer to all the problems are democratic social, economic and electoral structures and not totalitarian free enterprise capitalism or the eminently corruptible multi-party electoral system owned by big money people which so many wish to impose upon Cuba by force.
    Lastly, USAID is a branch of the U.S. State Department that goes around the world doing good things to support democracy and capitalism.
    And the Pope is a Muslim
    And Bill Cosby is innocent.

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