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

  • March 3, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    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!

  • March 3, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    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’.

  • March 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    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.”

  • March 1, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    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.

  • March 1, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    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.

  • March 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

    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.

  • February 29, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    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.

  • February 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    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.

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