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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In short….you are promoting a Cuba controlled by a military elite that uses it’d population as cheap labor to bring in hard cash. How despicable. I too wish to end the now obsolete policy of the embargo. But I see a different result. Cuba is not China and the Castro regime never truly trusted anyone outside it’s now small octogenarian circle of revolutionaries. True some neo Cuban Castro fascists have risen from the lower ranks, but they lack the charisma needed to lord it over thepopulation. Instead I see a temporary leadership void filled by the military aand then an implosion from within. …….My humble opinion on course

  • That is total rubbish. Over seventy dissidents signed a petition against the embargo, including Paya and Yoani Sanchez. It is only a few cold war dinosaurs that support it.

  • Oh, I see. You advocate lifting the embargo so that US corporations can invest in factories set up to exploit cheap Cuban labour, the Cuban regime elite will continue in power and become even wealthier. US consumers will benefit from cheap Cuban products.

    And what do the Cuban people get? According to you, they don’t deserve democracy or human rights. They get to be slaves forever.

  • You contradict yourself. In an earlier post, you admit that lifting the embargo will not bring any pressure on Cuba to democratize. Now you claim it will “leave no room for the Cuban government to hide”. Hide what?

    Given that the Cuban rulers have a monopoly control of the Cuban economy, lifting the embargo will only serve to bring the elite even more wealth and power. Raul Castro stated the economic reforms he is introducing will not include any political change: the Cuban Communist Party will maintain an absolute monopoly on political power in Cuba.

    If, as you insist, the embargo has helped to keep the regime in power and that lifting it will bring about profound political change, then why does the regime campaign so hard for the embargo to be lifted?

  • Where Pedro wrote: “That would imply defeating the policies defended by Cuban-born Republican congress people and securing more votes for the Democrats in Florida.”, it reveals a lack of knowledge of the US political system.

    There are currently 7 Cuban-American members of congress, including 3 Senators and 4 Representatives. Four are Republicans (Ros-Lehtinen, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, & Mario Diaz-Balart), and 3 are Democrats (Robert Menendez, Joe Garcia & Albio Sires). Of these seven, only Albio Sires and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are Cuban born. Four are from Florida, two from New Jersey and one from Texas.

    In other words, there is only one Cuban-born Republican in congress. The Democrats Senator Menendez and Albio Sires remain strong supporters of the embargo. Only Joe Garcia, a representative from Florida’s 26th congressional district supports lifting the embargo. It’s important to note, his district is not a majority Cuban-American area.

    Clearly, the Castro regime and their apologists have identified the Democratic party as the most likely to support lifting the embargo. However, the Cuban-American Democracy Caucus is bipartisan and continues to support the embargo and works to promote democratic change in Cuba.

  • You are scary funny. Believing that the Cuban economy would be a “great success” is hilarious. No one who knows anything about Cuba, even Fidel, believes that. He said himself that Cuban-style socialism does not work. If I am scared of anything is that there are people like you walking free on the streets with driver’s licenses and kitchen knives.

  • As usual JG, claiming something will be a success when all the evidence and past history point quite the other way. Cuba is incapable of even producing milk in quantity, putting the lie to Castro promise of putting a glass of milk on every table. And failing on the little things, what leads you to believe they would succeed at the big things.

    The failure, incompetence, and repression inherent in the communist system is why I, my family and millions of more Cubans have fled since 1959

  • Yesterday’s Sun -Sentinel ( Florida paper) carried the results of a recent Florida poll and the majority of those polled called for an end to the embargo.
    The United Snakes has no right to tell the Cuban people or any other country what kind of government, economy or society they will have .
    Your hypocrisy is showing.
    I have always claimed that the U.S. MUST maintain a stranglehold on Cuba’s economy or it will become a very successful one and thereby set a good example for all other countries who seek the answer to the deep and incurable poverty caused by capitalism .
    If you think about it, there is no other possible reason for the embargo .
    U.S. foreign policy has always been predicated on forcibly maintaining and extending capitalism
    through simultaneous destruction of any and all movements towards a socialist economy .
    This most often involved installing a capitalism-friendly dictator and never -N-E-V-E-R a democratic government .
    You cannot have it both ways .
    If you claim that Cuban-style undemocratic socialism CANNOT work because of human nature or other inherent faults, then why do you need the embargo ?
    Let the Cuban economy fail of its own deficiencies.
    Of course , you and I and the GOUSA all KNOW that Cuba’s economic system and its society would be a great success absent the effects of the embargo which since its inception has cost the Cuban economy some 1trillion dollars and Cuba is surviving.
    Imagine what 1trillion would do for the Cuban society.
    Of course you’ve already imagined what the end of the U.S economic war would do for the Cuban economy and society.
    You’re running scared now and your rhetoric is getting shrill as you grasp at straws. .

  • Griffin,
    U.S. foreign policy was never intended to support or install democratic societies.
    Since 1918 and the U.S./European invasion of the Soviet Union , U.S. foreign policy has ben centered around preventing socialism ( democratic economy) and enforcing capitalism which is entirely totalitarian .
    I think the Cuban people should decide for themselves what kind of society they want and not have what the government of the U.S. wants forced upon them which is the purpose of the embargo.
    You support capitalism which is totalitarian and not democratic .
    You support the GOUSA which is oligarchic , totalitarian for that reason and not democratic.
    You support U.S. imperialism because you support the embargo and U.S. imperialism is anti-democratic, totalitarian .
    So……you are talking out of both sides of your mouth when you talk about democracy as something good.
    On top of that, if you think U.S. foreign policy is intended to help anyone but the wealthy of the United States, you’re ignorant of U.S. foreign policy history.

  • Who said anything about Cuba becoming a democracy? That’s not the kind of political change I was eluding to. Ending the embargo on Cuba will certainly help to promote change for the better at all levels in Cuba, but their current political system will survive…all-be-it with more positive adjustments made to effectively do business with the world.

    If you want to know what Cuba would be like 10 years after the suspension of the embargo, take a harder look at China. When the US lifted their embargo on China, they didn’t become a democracy….no, they became one of America’s largest trading partners. Their cheap labor has helped them to rise to economic world domination…with more than a little help from the good ‘ole USA. Little Cuba will follow in China’s footsteps to become the go-to center on America’s doorstep for all forms of manufacturing assembly. Cuba’s “American made”, but Cuban assembled products, will then be distributed to the rest of the CELAC membership nations throughout central and south America. Cuba will be America’s “in” to help insure lucrative trade within those markets, and to help America compete directly with China too elsewhere in the world. In effect, America will soon need Cuba’s cheap labor to compete within the western hemisphere and beyond. And of course, the Cuban people can only benefit from the explosion of economic activity on their island sponsored by America as well.

    Now don’t tell me it’s not possible without the Cuban government system first becoming a democracy. History dictates otherwise, and the model for Cuba is there and waiting for all participants to flick the switch to green. But it has to start with the end of the embargo first. To continue to believe that leaving the embargo intact will bring about democracy in Cuba is merely a pipe-dream. The reality is that America stands a much better chance of influencing change in Cuba when they are economically tied to a mutually beneficial future together.

  • Right. Because when the US lifted their embargoes on China and Vietnam those countries quickly became democracies. So it’ll work just like that in Cuba, too.

    There are two groups if people who will benefit from lifting the embargo:

    1. The Castro regime.
    2. Cynical Americans wanting to business with the Casteo regime.

    That’s it. The Cuban people will get screwed. Is that what you want?

  • Let’s deal with the absurd premise of the above essay right away:

    The US embargo is not the cause of the lack if democracy in Cuba. Neither is it the cure. The lack of democracy is the direct and premeditated result of the policies and actions of the Castro brothers. They never wanted democracy and they did everything they could to prevent it. Period.

    If Cuba will ever become a democracy it will have to come from within. The people will have to reach out and build it. Until then, stop whining about the USA.

    Oh, and there is no “new Cuban right” in power. Raul & his clique have been in power from the beginning. They have always been the power at the core of the revolution. Nothing has changed, it’s business as usual, only more so.

    Raulismo is Fidelismo without the charisma. That’s all. Deal with it.

  • What a load of BS! Obama is “pulled over the coals”? In your dreams maybe but in the real world nobody puts pressure on him about little Cuba or anything else for that matter (except Michelle). Who told you this crap? Where did you read this? Sources please!

  • I have heard this argument before. Let off on the pressure on Cuba to allow the regime to rise or fail on its own. This is no fricken’ high school science experiment! To allow the Castros even a moment’s breathing room will result in the further repression and even possible loss of lives of innocent Cubans. The dissident community has largely come out in SUPPORT of the embargo. Giving the Castros a “level playing field” implies they will play fair. In 55 years they have never played fair with the Cuban people. There is no reason to believe they would start now.

  • No, I’m a realist. I realize that meaningful change cannot happen until we have a level playing field. I realize that ending the embargo will leave no room for Cuban government to hide. I realize and understand that ending the embargo will ignite a domino effect of change within Cuba…economic, social, and inevitably, political. I realize that the embargo has done more to keep the Castro’s in power than it has done to support the Cuban people. I also realize that you’re not as bright as I thought…because the obvious seems to be far too much for you to comprehend.

  • The US is picked up on the issue of the embargo constantly. Whenever there is a meeting with Brazil, South Africa or any developing country Obama is pulled over the coals about it. He is embarassed by it, he is sick of it and wishes he could ditch it unceremoniously.

  • I am thinking people. People like Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was summarily arrested prior to the CELAC summit, like dozens of other Cubans, in the Castros attempt to diffuse the opposition’s plan to hold a counter-summit. I also think about pro-democracy activists Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (“Antunez”) and his wife, Yris
    Perez. On February 5th, Castro’s thugs brutally arrested Antunez, threatened
    him, and seized numerous items from his home. To this day, Castro’s thugs
    continue to surround his house. Antunez is on his fourth day of a hunger and
    water strike to protest these egregious human rights abuses. People like you live comfortable capitalists lives and find the cojones to criticize the very system that has provided you with your comfort. You are worse than a hypocrite.

  • I see the situation quite differently than those who focus on the embargo as the indicator of US – Cuba relations. I see very significant changes on the part of the US in the last six years. I see almost unlimited ability of US residents to travel to Cuba, some 600,000 of us last year. Any American who cannot find a way to travel independently to Cuba simply is not thinking very hard. I see some $5 billion in remittances, predominantly from Americans, direct to the Cuban people. This amount is 4 times the total payroll of everyone who works directly or indirectly for the Cuban government. I see the US selling food and medical items in amounts limited only the Cuban inability to pay for them.

    I see the Cuban government being forced to reactively implement economic reforms and still becoming economically insignificant to the Cuban people as a result of US aid. Granted this aid is not distributed equally but the impact as indicated by improvement in Cubans lives and the number of private businesses financed by US remittances is driving changes.

    While not dismissing Cuban government political repression, we must acknowledge the primary deficiencies of the Cuban people are economic. Their number one needs are breakfast, lunch and dinner not the right to politically protest. I see beginnings of improvement in Cuban people’s everyday lives driven by weakening government power as a result of the US influence.

    There will always be the naysayers who point out that the once totally empty glass still remains half empty rather than now seeing it half full. My continuing frequent visits to Cuba cause me to believe changes in US policy are having a real potential for benefit to the Cuban people in spite of the majority wringing their hands about not being able to buy a Cuban cigar in the US because of the embargo.

  • It is the inability of the Cuban regime to change that is the true obstacle to democratization in Cuba. Democratization would bring the end of the embargo.
    Every concession the USA has done has been met with more repression. The softening and lifting of sanctions on the sale of products like food, medicines was answered by the black spring. P2P travel and liberalization of remittances and family travel is met by mass arrests.
    The Castro regime is the problem.

  • Did it ever occur to you that many of those Cubans who are attempting
    to leave Cuba are doing so because of the intolerable conditions created
    in large part by your cruel and inhuman policy towards Cuba? Once
    again, if we all had a level playing field to work with, post embargo, then we could talk
    seriously about the deficiencies and the conditions left standing by
    Raul and his government. But as long as that embargo remains, both sides
    will use it to their advantage to explain away and justify their
    opposing rationals and positions for a continuation of the status quo.

    your movies, your cars, your computer operating systems, etc. mean
    nothing in the face of injustice. Why you would mention these tangible
    items as some kind of support and justification for all of your
    governments criminal and inhuman policies is absolutely bizarre. It just
    proves how out of touch you are with what really matters in this world.

    You can’t have it both ways….you can’t condemn the Raul
    government on one hand…while also sitting back contently and turning a
    blind eye to YOUR governments role in the injustice affecting 11
    million Cuban people, AND a blind eye to YOUR governments ability and
    potential to help end the suffering by doing something positive for
    every man, woman, and child on the island…your in-laws included. The
    embargo hasn’t done anything for anyone other than create serious
    hardship for the innocent people of Cuba. And it will continue to do
    so…while you mock Raul…as if that will really accomplish anything. THINK PEOPLE instead of politics.

  • The human rights of Cubans are far more affected by the repressive tactics of the Castro regime than the impact of a mostly ineffective US embargo. Everyday Americans have felt no pressure from anywhere around the world to alter our attitudes and policies with the Castros. No lost business deals, no mass street protests, nothing that reflects your comments.Other than the handful of Castro sycophants who surf the web, there is no ongoing outcry. One day a year, the UN votes overwhelmingly to oppose the embargo and then it is goes back to business as usual. Accusing US policy of arrogance and then watching our movies, buying our cars, using our operating systems on your computers, connecting on Facebook sends the US a mixed message of your sincerity. You are “hearing” a desperation that does not exist. I could not be more calm and reassured about US policy towards the Castros. I read all the rantings that your side floods the internet with and then the hard evidence of balseros continuing to risk their lives to leave Cuba convinces me that reality and your hot air are two very different things.

  • Moses, you couldn’t be more wrong. Almost everything that you wrote is delusional nonsense. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. The U.S. is continuously purported by you to be a beacon and inspiration for human rights. Time to put up, or shut up. The lives of 11 million poor Cubans are hanging in the balance. I think Pedro’s article has made it quite clear what needs to change first. The human rights of 11 million Cubans are still being directly and indirectly violated by an antiquated, cruel, and criminal policy of the U.S. government.

    “The reality is that Cuban issues matter little to most people around the world, even less to Americans.” I have news for you….the world DOES care about Cuba…and the longer the U.S. continues to show indifference to world opinion concerning your government’s role in the continuing violation of Cuban human rights, the more the U.S. will be relegated to rogue-nation status on the world stage. When the embargo ends, putting all issues on a level playing field, then, and only then, can we have a serious dialogue about what else, and what next, has to change. Until then, the embargo will remain a counterproductive relic of the past serving only the rich and powerful on both sides of the Florida strait. It will remain as the perpetuation of American arrogance that is recognized by everyone around the world, and including a rapidly growing number of your countrymen.

    Right is right, and wrong is wrong. As world opinion continues to shift further to Cuba’s defense, I’m wondering what side you’ll be on? I’m wondering how much “crow” you’re going to have to eat. You’re already spitting feathers, and sounding more than a bit desperate to minimize the obvious and embarrassing situation the U.S. has created for itself regarding Cuba.

  • To be clear, lifting the embargo requires a vote in both houses of a dysfunctional Congress and the signature of near lame-duck President. Politics is based on addition, not subtraction. To lift the embargo, Congress must ADD political benefits-votes, money, or power. Not SUBTRACT. What benefits are there to most Americans by empowering the totalitarian and tyrannical Castro regime? By Pedro’s own assessment, there would be a short-term economic and political benefit to the regime and their repressive policies. To an octogenarian Cuban leadership, the ‘short-term’ is all they are concerned about. On the other hand, the economic impact made by 11 million poor Cubans on the US economy is less than a rounding error. Our status on the international world stage is neither enhanced nor impeded by improving US Cuban relations and to capitulate to the Castros communist regime is domestically political suicide. Pedro’s analysis is based on the common worldview held by many Cubans which posits Cuba at the center of the universe. The reality is that Cuban issues matter little to most people around the world, even less to Americans.

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