The Next Cuban Revolution – A Call for Cultural Diplomacy

By Keya Guimarães

Photo: Carlos Vilá
Photo: Cesar Vila

HAVANA TIMES — Six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Hollywood responded with Night of the Living Dead, an instant American cinema sensation. Record audiences packed dark theaters to exorcise their fear of a Communist invasion through a Zombie apocalypse. Five decades later, many in the US Congress are still haunted by a Cold War clone in fatigues, ready to infect our politics and violate our society.

Yet as any exorcist will tell you, engagement, not containment, is the only way to get the ghost out. President Obama’s recent policies to normalize relations with Cuba are only a first step. Let’s bypass Congressional stagnation in lifting the embargo with flagship cultural diplomacy programming. Let’s show what’s possible so that the political architecture of Cuba’s next revolution won’t crumble like Havana’s fading façades, and with it, the promise of cultural and economic renewal.

Leadership from the State Department can build on rapprochement and produce programming demonstrating the bilateral benefits of the new Cuba. Cultural diplomacy means conscientious and consistent engagement between American and Cuban diplomats, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Partnership not paternalism, collective action not coercion, are the keys to successful cultural diplomacy.

Cuba’s blessing is universal literacy and long life; its curse has been the failure to make use of this extraordinary human capital. Even with minimal investment Americans will help ignite maximum dividends. Alternatively, continued isolation breeds insecurity. In a region increasingly characterized by instability, America cannot afford a failing state 90 miles from Miami.

Dynamic cultural diplomacy would empower American investors, innovators, and exporters; it would also give Cuban youth a reason to stay on the island and confidence in their future. First steps towards normalization have accelerated us to a critical crossroads, ascribing great urgency for a resolute policy. If Congress won’t act, diplomats must.

So, here’s what Cuba’s next revolution and US cultural diplomacy looks like:

  • Cuba’s new harbors become a hub for maritime freight transport in the Caribbean. American industry experts assist their design and development, ensuring safety, efficiency, and progressive environmental impact compliance.
  • Cuba’s farms generate sustainable sustenance; develop pioneering farming initiatives, and sup-port entrepreneurship. American agriculture initiatives help expand the 25% of arable land currently farmed.
  • Cuba’s medical expertise creates a thriving biotech industry; American innovation and investment foster a bilateral partnership benefiting both the Cuban economy and the advance of medical science.
  • Cuba’s artists and athletes share the passions of their American counterparts. Exchanges from baseball to skateboarding, poetry to jazz, fine art to gaming design, enliven both.

But how can we trust them? The island has two choices and Cubans know it: enter the global market, or continue to decay. Human rights will advance in response to international engagement because governments change when people change, and people change when dialogue begins.

Foto: Cesar Vila
Foto: Cesar Vila

Currently the island claims only 5% internet penetration. US investment in communication infra-structure would promote freedom of speech, democracy, and engage Cuban people with each other and the world.

As Cuba awakens to the global market pounding on the door, the balancing of cultural sovereignty and international investment needn’t be a nightmare. Environmental sustainability and cultural sovereignty is a central challenge in rapid development, which is why American diplomats should actively support a gradual and conscientious transition.

It’s time to leave dread and distrust to cult cinema, and construct a better policy through citizen-driven diplomacy. From athletes to artists, farmers to doctors, Cuba and America share the same greatest asset: our people. If the US Congress is still haunted by fear, US diplomats should lead this historic transformation, and allow Cuban and American solutions to emerge. Cuba’s next revolution is already here: just one more step and we are on the path to peace and prosperity, tapping the untamed potential of the Cuban and American people.
Keya Guimarães is a graduate student at George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs.

24 thoughts on “The Next Cuban Revolution – A Call for Cultural Diplomacy

  • Griffin – Its funny you say I know nothing about the reality of Cuba, but then say essentially what I’ve said. I agree with you. Cuba’s problems will not be solved by the US or other countries, nor by allowing US corporations to gain control over Cuba. Don’t know why you haven’t picked that up in what I’ve said already.

    I dont oppose capitalism. But there are many forms of capitalism. Cuba must move in some direction. The question is which direction is best.

    Bob – What really are you saying? Attack arguing is cute and all but if all you want to do is waste words telling me you think I’m stupid, it doesnt make you the brilliant one.

    Your tactic of inaccurately claiming I made a certain statement and then convicting me for it is a basic Bush / Broken Republican Party tactic. Please show me where I said it is my “concept that Cuba will do better long term by without US economic involvement”? What I have said is that Cuba will suffer greatly if it allows foreign countries, particularly the US, to gain imbalanced control over their economy. If you open the spigot to Global Capitalism you will drown. If you want to respond, at least get it right what you are responding to.

    You say that many things can get “solved by traditional US competitive capitalism.” We disagree. Why? Because the US does not export the same democracy and capitalistic system abroad that it evident domestically. History shows that the US interest is far from a “gentler and kinder” capitalism; its about control without concern to the impact.

    There are other economic approaches that don’t have to be “socialist” but do place a value on the greater good of the overall society. Under your logic, who cares about oil spills if the company makes money…or faulty safety bags in cars…or people who can’t earn enough to live. It is a government’s responsibility to balance its objective of both assisting business and the economy while also protecting its citizens, not just with armies. Its a fine line and its not an easy one to walk. But if that is not the goal, then you’re lost from the start.

    Look at the US now. What do you see? Certainly not a group of citizens who are happy with the current capitalism system.

    Talk about ideas from now on and stop hating so much!

  • The central problem of economics, everywhere in the world, is: how to utilize the great power of the market to advance human welfare. There are as many answers to this question as there are countries: China and Russia and Sweden and Kenya and the USA all have the market playing a major role in their economies, all ‘regulate’ it to one degree or another, and all have had successes and failures.

    There is not the slightest reason in the world for Cuba to blindly copy any other country’s system, even if it were possible, which it is not because every country has a unique-to-it mixture of productive possibilities and national cultures. Cuba could not be Sweden or SIngapore if it wanted to, because Cubans are not Swedes or Chinese.

    However … if you do not recognize that the market, uniquely, allocates resources in an efficient way … you are doomed. You will be like a doctor trying to cure an infectious disease without medicine. You might be able to make the patient more comfortable, but if you do not understand the cause of the illness, you won’t be able to create a cure.

    The market is the cure.

    But markets do not operate in vacuums. In fact they require a strong state framework to enforce contracts and standards and to take the decisions which are not best taken by thousands of atomized players.

    Many thoughtful socialists, even self-proclaimed Marxists, have, over the last few decades, recognized that the market must play a central role in advancing the welfare of the masses.

    The argument then becomes how to utilize it. But if its critical importance is not recognized, if it’s dismissed with Magical Thinking (the favorite Magic Phrase of the moment is the meaningless “Workers’ Control”), then your voyage to prosperity will be ‘bound in shallows and in miseries’.

  • Living part time in Cuba, I just do not see the Cuban people suffering from the constraints of the totalitarian system. They simply accept it as having advantages along with the disadvantages.

    Certainly the Cuban people would like to have a better economic situation. Every country’s residents do. But they seem to view the economics as secondary to their overall quality of life, which most seen to see as high.

    I view this as simply another “The US is always right. Cuba is different. Therefore, Cuba is wrong. They need to do it our way.”

  • What exactly is “Cuba as we know it”? I ask only because from what you have written it’s clear you know nothing about the reality of Cuba.

  • Joe & Bob,

    You are both missing the point: Cuba’s future rests on whether or not the Cuban people gain the opportunity to live and work as free people. Their problems will not be solved by the US, or China or Venezuela. The Castro regime should free the Cuban people from the constraints of the totalitarian system they imposed with violence.

    Or, the can sell the Cuban people down the river to the US corporations, which is what Raul is banking on today, and what the businesses backing Obama are hoping for. It’s sickeningly ironic that so many US liberals are applauding Obama for that.

  • Joe Smith: besides knowing little about basic economics, it appears you know nothing about current economics in Cuba.

    Ever shop at a TRD, the Cuban government owned department store? Prices are more than double that of the identical item in the US because there is no competition.

    Ever look at automobile prices in Cuba? Like over the equivalent of US$100,000 for a 3 year old car with 100,000 miles that was just taken out of a rental car companies. it is that way because only one entity sells cars and they have no competition. Or, $8,500 for a ’58 Chevy that was not running but had most, but not all, of the parts to assemble the engine?

    Ever tried to rent a car in Cuba? You will pay almost US$100 per day because there are only two rental car companies and they do not compete because the government owns them both.

    Ever waited in line for 45 minutes to do a simple bank transaction? Then when you got to the door of the bank found they were closing for an hour so everyone could go to lunch? You think that if this were the US or some other country that a competitor would open next door.

    Ever found a shortage of toilet paper for 6 weeks but that the government manufacturer was not concerned because there was no competitor to step in and fill the market need?

    These are just a few of the things that could be solved by traditional US competitive capitalism.

    And you are out of touch with reality if you believe that there is some gentler kinder form of capitalism where businesses operate for a social good rather than profit.

  • On the contrary, I have seen and heard your spiel before. It always begins with pointing out everything that’s wrong with capitalism. Guess what? No argument from me there. It then transitions to a kinder and gentler version that feeds the hungry, educates the masses, with free this and free that. But your albeit noble pitch never answers the only real question. …how do you pay for all that free stuff? I will put my kool-aid down if you put down your crack pipe.

  • Keya: you seem to imply that when it comes to diplomacy that the ball is in the US court. Diplomacy, like dancing, takes two partners. Each must be willing to set aside their own individual motivations and focus totally on resolution of the problem. I follow the current process closely but do not see the Cuban government displaying the commitment necessary to bring this diplomacy to successful resolution.

    President Obama made a small step towards this. Cuba’s response was not a reciprocal small step but the statement “you must end the embargo”

    Obama made anther small step. Cuba’s response was not a concession but the statement “you must end the embargo AND give us back Guantanamo”

    Obama made a third small step. Cuba’s response was simply “you must end the embargo AND give us back Guantanamo AND end the Cuban Adjustment Act”

    Now President Obama is traveling to Cuba to meet with President Raul Castro. It is interesting who is traveling to meet who. I fear the response will be no more than demands of what the US needs to do with no indication of what Cuba will do in response..

    Sadly, I am beginning to believe that Cuba’s motivations are not to end the hostilities with the US but only to use the potential of such as a bargaining chit with China and other foreign partners.

    I personally am leading a cultural exchange in Cuba which is totally supported by the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Yet there continue to be roadblocks put up by the old hardliners in the Communist Party.

    Two years ago, I was optimistic that the disputes between the US and Cuba were heading towards resolution. I am much less optimistic today based on the responses of the Cuban government believing they only see the hostilities necessary as an excuse for their failed economic model.

  • Joe Smith: There is room for debate about the current US economic system although most believe the arguments for the current capitalist system are dominant.

    However, your concept that Cuba will do better long term by without US economic involvement has about as many supporters as the old “earth is flat, not round” idea. Remember, no US business will invest in anything where their upside potential is limited while their downside risk is total.

  • Moses – 21st century capitalism is not about free markets and willing buyers and sellers; that’s Econ 101 textbook myth. There are many types of capitalism; we are in a Predatory Capitalism right now. Big chunks of money make connections, absorb assets and resources, break the laws,
    lobby for favorable terms, congest the courts, and generally create the most favorable conditions for Global Companies to dominate and dictate the market. Cuba is simply not ready to take on these machines. They are like an octopus, sucking the lifeblood out of a culture and country that is ill prepared to deal with a multitude of tentacles consuming them at once. Cuba needs to get back into a market based economy, which it hasn’t had for many many years. But not Predatory Global Capitalism. This is an issue being struggled with in many smaller, less developed countries and regions: Vietnam, parts of Mexico, even Iran (another country decimated by a US led economic blockade).
    Cuba needs capital, yes. But it needs it on terms that wont bring about the end of Cuba as we know it. I fear you’ve drunk the Kool Aid and are blind to the vices.

  • Not allowing foreign ownership in 21st century capitalism is foolish. Access to available capital is critical to Cuba’s future.

  • Everyone, including the other weirdos who support the Castro dictatorship on thus blog, but you call the Cuban government socialist. You, and your fantasy definition of a kind of socialism that has never existed, are all by yourself on this one.

  • Beyond food, shelter and security, human “needs” are too vague to base an entire economic system. After all, who ‘needs’ an iPhone 6? Yet, there is intrinsic value to a society that produces and sells such products. That anti-capitalism clap trap makes for a decent Hollywood movie but the real world runs on profit-driven business.

  • Cuba is not recognized as socialist by the left.
    It is only termed socialist by the government of the USA , the corporate and parroting corporate media ………and the unlearned
    You aren’t in the US government nor in the corporate U.S. media.

  • To support a system focused upon profit /money rather than human needs is immoral undemocratic and anti-Christian.
    And I’ve seen American bananas in your posts.

  • Moses – The US business system (call it capitalism) is rigged. Profit is about who is getting the money and putting in their pockets; it has little to do the “highest and best uses of resources.” Cuba wont be so happy when all the profits start to go to US businesses. We have far greater inequities here thanCuba has; we just have more profits to be unequal with. One thing Cuba has done right is not allowed foreign businesses to have controlling ownership of the island’s industries, agricultural, tourisms, and other businesses. Granted, Cuba has a long way to go to improve economically, but it wont happen if they give up control. You really think US business operates with values and concern for people? If so, you’ll love Trump as President.

    Griffin – I know Cubans could not own property for a long time…just didn’t think i had to say it. Cuba faces a tough dilemma with the disappearance of Venezuelan backing and the terms that China wants if it invests. The gov’t knows they need to do something….people are getting restless and connected and there’s a brain drain going on. They can’t just sit still. Obama reached out to Raul at Nelson Mandela’s funeral and Raul decided the US was the best partner going forward. I may not be an expert at the Cuban “system” but I can tell you how the American system will work if it is allowed to operate without regulations. Learn your history….look at all the Central and South American countries over history. American foreign policy is about spreading our business and taking profits home; the democracy line is just fluff.

  • You use the term “drain the profits” as if profit is a bad thing. Well, maybe to failed socialist ideologues profit is a bad thing but to the rest of the thinking masses, profit represents the best measure of ‘highest and best use” of resources. Unfortunately, Cuba fails to live up to the standard set to be a banana republic. Have you seen Cuban bananas.

  • Joe Smith does not represent all US citizens. I am quite proud of the attitudes I bring to Cuba.

  • Agree, engagement is the the better route. Cuba will not lose it’s identity nor in any way come under U.S. Control. Too much history now for a return to earlier designs. Also time for U.S. to give up on trying to dictate the governance change on Island. The Castro regime is going to pass shortly, biology is going to manage that transition. The good Lord will handle what’s coming to those with blood on their hands. A more open and engaged Cuba gives the people the best chance of deciding how they will be governed. The arc of history bends towards justice. Miami is not going to decide, let it happen.

  • The US businessman you quote is right, but for the wrong reasons. The Castro regime has forbidden the Cuban people from investing in land. They kept their cars running as the only possible vehicle for income.

    Raul Castro did not open up in response to Obama’s insistence. It was Obama who moved to open up to Cuba, in response to the deluded perception of a tropical socialist utopia prevalent among the American progressive movement, of which the US president is their paragon.

    You can scoff at the US tourist/businessman for not understanding the reality of the Cuban system, but what’s your excuse?

  • And why do you suppose Cuba has failed “to make use of this extraordinary human capital”? It’s because everything the Castros did has made their failure inevitable. Totalitarian communist dictatorships always crush human capital, along with economic capital.

    Obama’s new Cuba policy is not “citizen-driven diplomacy”. He has engaged directly and exclusively with the Castro regime. The Cuban people were not invited to the secret negotiations which took place over the 2 years preceding the announcement on December 17th, 2014. The Cuban people have been shut out ever ice. Cuban dissidents are now being crushed under an unprecedented wave of political repression.

    Key, as a student, you are obligated to examine the evidence clearly available and to incorporate it into your work. What possible data do you have to support the agenda presented in your article above? Repression is up. In 2015, the number of Cubans escaping the island doubled over 2014. The number of self-employed is down 20%. Tourism and revenues to the military-corporate complex which rules Cuba is way up. Why have you ignored the data?

  • dDetriot

  • I agree with you totally, diplomacy rocks and hopefully US/Cuba relations will grow exponentially.

  • Keya – To believe that US diplomacy cares about a “gradual and conscientious transition” is naive and ideological. Learn your history. Americas who are going to Cuba now are not like the Canadians and Europeans who’ve been going for decades without leaving their imprint. Americans don’t follow a live and let live lifestyle. We are loud, brash, complain when things are not up to our standards, believe in our superiority, and many Americans who’ve figured out how to get to Cuba in the past few years are there gold digging for opportunities. Get in on the ground floor to make your fortune Cuba is going to do what Cuba does. You can’t tell someone not to want an iPhone because the consumer values that come with it will rapidly change their country. But don’t encourage people with false visions of the American people in all their goodness trying to help Cuba develop in a gentle and kind way.. My God, we may elect Trump….we can’t get it together at home the country is so angry and nationalist. The people Cubans need to fear are the ones who’ve already brought “creeping capitalism” in thru the backdoor while
    the government was busy warning Obama not to “meddle in affairs.” He’s already done so without even being detected. The ideal of American consumer consumption is rapidly rooting itself in people’s minds, and who can blame them when the options are quite few. “Engagement” is a nice word for the policy of Tourists and Dollars.

    I sat next to an American businessman in a blue stripped suit at Jose Martin Int’l a few months ago was telling a junior female executive: “The problem with Cubans is that the don’t invest in things that appreciate, like land, They invest in things like cars that depreciate.” That’s a typical American attitude: Been to Cuba for 4 days and he has it all figured out. He goes home and tells his buddies he’s a Cuba expert. This businessman proceeded to tell the woman about his business in computer trucking. As soon as he got an order to move some item from Seattle to Kansas City, he’d get on his computer tracking system and within minutes fill the truck up with other goods all the way from Seattle to Maine. Sounds pretty good. You let guys like this loose in Cuba and they will run havoc. That’s the American to be afraid of. The ones who want to own the businesses and drain the profits and treat Cuba like any other banana republic. There’s no “conscientious” in American business….school’s out. Welcome to the real world.

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