Obsolete US Policies Hinder Cuba’s Democratization

Pedro Campos

Portales de la calle Reina. Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Historically, the Cuban leadership has fallen back on the nationalist argument that invokes the imperialist blockade, acts of foreign aggression and the support the United States offers many government opponents on the island to portray itself as a kind of David, combatting a gigantic Goliath, and to maintain a “besieged city” policy towards a hyperbolized external enemy.

The Machiavellian aim of this has been to maintain internal cohesion and obedience and to justify the permanent harassment of dissidents and all those who do not agree with official policy, no matter whether such disagreements stem from anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist positions like those of the broad-encompassing socialist and democratic Left.

Thus, the United States’ interventionist policies of aggression, threats, blockade and isolation vis-a-vis the Cuban government, designed to impel “a transition towards democracy”, have in fact always helped Cuba’s leadership strengthen its centralized power and stood in the way of democratization on the island. They have also helped improve the Cuban government’s regional standing and isolate the US government internationally.

The recent Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States attests to this. While the Cuban State offered “signs” of pluralism and regional tolerance, the United States showed itself lacking in both, incurring the isolation that Washington has sought to impose on Havana.

While the leadership’s efforts were being acknowledged by all other governments in the continent (with the exception of the United States and Canada, which were not present at the summit), many members of the opposition and dissidents were being jailed and suffering different forms of repression for attempting to hold a forum to discuss democracy and human rights issues in the country.

Politologist Manuel Cuesta Morua, the social-democratic leader of the Grupo Arco Progresista (“Progressive Arc Group”) and one of the organizers of that forum, was detained in order to keep him from participating in the gathering, and released after being accused of “divulging false news to the detriment of world peace.” The authorities argued that a number of articles and pieces the government opponent and academic had written on Cuba’s racial problematic “distorted Cuban reality and the work of the revolution towards racial equality.”

Havana bus stop. Photo: Juan Suarez

Criminal charges could well be brought against several million Cubans who have a different conception of that reality and that work “for distorting Cuban reality and the work of the revolution,” as the Cuban government understands these. Some are speaking of an imminent “black spring” on the island.

In short, the United States’ policy towards Cuba has proven counterproductive – and this is something many international analysts with different political stances agree on. It is more detrimental to the interests of the US government than those of the Cuban leadership and hurts the people of Cuba most of all, as it has been used, internally, to justify repression and the economic absurdities of the government, a government which has more or less successfully presented the contradiction between the two countries as the chief cause of Cuba’s problems.

In fact, the US blockade (or “embargo”, if you wish) has been the Cuban government’s most important ally in its repression of dissents, divergent forms of thought and in its efforts to prevent the democratization of Cuban society.

I am by no means saying that imperialism is solely responsible for Cuba’s tragedy. Elsewhere, I have written and demonstrated that the one thing to blame for the catastrophe is the neo-Stalinist economic, political and social State monopoly capitalist system that has been imposed on Cuba in the name of “socialism.”

Individually, the “revolutionary” leaders, who live like millionaires, untouched by the poverty in which the vast majority of Cubans subsist, have not in the least been affected by the blockade, whose burden – invariably – is laid entirely on the shoulders of the Cuban people.

Since US policy towards Cuba is aimed at demonstrating the unviability of “socialism” – a “socialism” that has never existed – the United States has cared little about the concrete results this policy has on the Cuban people. This is why I refer to this policy as “criminal.”

Because of its own policies, the United States has forfeited the possibility of directly contributing to eventual democratic changes on the island and limited its ability to participate in Cuba’s potential economic lift-off.

Many Cubans are convinced that, even though the lifting of the blockade restrictions that are still in place could be portrayed as a political victory of the Cuban government and help it economically in the short term, it would also immediately and significantly affect its ability to maintain its current monopoly over the country’s politics and economy and make it more difficult to justify any form of internal repression. In the mid-term, it could also become an important factor in a democratic change that will allow us to overcome current circumstances.

Some reactionaries from the new Cuban Right in power may try to do everything in their power to keep the blockade in place, in order to continue justifying absolute control over the country and acts of internal repression. The United States, however, should pay no attention to such a potential move.

We know the kind of pressures brought to bear on Washington from the traditional Cuban right based in that country, the significance that Florida voters have and how strongly US leaders condemn the model of government and State established in Cuba.

President Obama recently declared there was a need to “update” the United States’ policy towards Cuba. The conclusion of the 2nd CELAC Summit and the events that took place around it constitute a good moment for US Democrats to undertake such a policy re-evaluation, considering that, in the time left until the next US presidential elections, an effective change of policy towards Cuba could help the island’s process of democratization (not so any kind of continuation of current restrictions).

That would imply defeating the policies defended by Cuban-born Republican congress people and securing more votes for the Democrats in Florida.

That the complete lifting of the blockade will not result in a real or virtual annexation of the country that could be in the interests of the traditional or new Cuban Right, where there is no shortage of people willing to sell the country piecemeal in exchange for being allowed to remain in power, will depend on all Cubans who defend freedom, independence and sovereignty.

27 thoughts on “Obsolete US Policies Hinder Cuba’s Democratization

  • February 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Normalising relations and removing the embargo/blocade gives the Cubans the space to find their own path and decide their own constitution, economic system, media etc, not one that is forced on them by the Helms Burton. The key to the whole issue is self-determination. If we take the example of Northern Ireland which was very different but I think is still relevant. Peace was achieved in great part by the UK government apologising for past aggression and categorically stating that it was up to the Irish to decide their own future as well as removing offensive sections in the Government of Ireland Act. What is needed is for an American president to do something similar regarding Cuba.

  • February 17, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I fully agree with Pedro. The blockade is a huge mess: Millions (not all!) of Cubans pay an awful price, not for the embargo, but for the result of it, which is, that it is the dictators’ in Havana strongest argument for the miserable situation, for repression, daily humiliation and abuse.
    Lift the embargo would bring the leaders into major troubles and I bet, within less than a year, the dictatorship would be gone.
    I have been many times in Cuba over the last 25 years. It is THE tragedy of these people that they pay the price for some crazy, corrupt ideologists. 3 generations have been burnt. What for? For some crazy guy’s ideology…and good life.
    The REAL problem of Cubans is: NO future. It is a horrible situation for them. The embargo keeps it going. Gives the “leaders” the best argument for the disaster there.

  • February 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Griffin, can you not read? US consumers might benefit from cheap Cuban assembled products…yes, that’s possible too. But more so, the CELAC member nations would be the primary and rapidly growing markets in the western hemisphere that will open up to the US when America is aligned with Cuba economically post embargo.

    YES, I DO advocate lifting the embargo so that US corporations can invest in “assembly” factories set up to exploit cheap Cuban labor. To be clearer, the “manufacturing” of products for further assembly will be accomplished domestically within the US…providing much needed new jobs there too. And YES, the Cuban regime elite will continue in power and become even wealthier…that’s a given, and will transpire regardless of US involvement or not.

    What will the Cuban people get? Meaningful employment, a growing economy, and economic trade with the rest of the world that will open the doors to a higher standard of living, more social independence, and inevitably, more freedom of expression to put pressure on the Cuban regime elite to further modify their socialist government policies. The old adage… “you have to walk before you can run” will apply. And YES, there will be no where for the Cuban government to hide, post embargo, because they will no longer be able to use the embargo as a means of justifying there restrictive policies to the world…AND to the Cuban people. The US government and corporate America will certainly be in a much better position to exert their influence for more radical change with a Cuban government tied economically for everyone’s mutual benefit.

    Griffin, you seem appalled that the US government, corporate America, and yes, even the Cuban government should align themselves together to exploit cheap Cuban labor. But this is not new…it’s been going on for decades elsewhere in the world. And where this has been done, the standard of living of the exploited workers has risen significantly, and more freedoms have been realized. China is the latest success story. And Cuba has the potential to follow their lead if provided a level playing field and the mutually beneficial economic alignment of the US (as also done with China) to move them into the 21st century on many different levels.

    Cutting through the BS…what’s your alternative? Keeping in mind of course that nothing else has really worked. Moses indicated earlier that in order to suspend the embargo, there has to be something of value for America in return. Cuba’s value to America is there…it just takes forward thinking to buy in to the potential and realize the bigger picture, complete with the inevitable benefits for all to realize in the many years to come. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. That old adage has never made more sense, especially when Cuba no longer poses any kind of a threat to America. Cuba only poses a threat to those who cannot and will not accept that democracy (as we know it) will not take root in Cuba by force or economic exclusion.

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