Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 31 — I saw the Cuban foreign minister’s speech on television last week as he urged the United Nations to vote against the blockade/embargo.
He spoke vehemently about injustices, abuses and Cuban patients without medicine or equipment due to the lack of access to the US market.
What caught my attention was that he didn’t move a single muscle in his face, like Peter Sellers in the memorable Being There (1979).
However, despite his lack of expression, I agreed with the conclusions reached by the foreign minister and with those who voted against the embargo.
But my agreement didn’t come from the official’s argument or his impassive face, but for very practical reasons having to do with the future of my country – a future that’s probably not the one the chancellor imagines.
To give one example, the minister said the blockade had been a failure, but I disagree. On the contrary, I think it’s been quite successful.
It’s true that it failed to overthrow the Cuban government, but it’s also true that it has decisively contributed to the emergence of the worst underlying trends that every revolution experiences: economic mediocrity while allied to the Soviet bloc; the authoritarianism of a strongman embodied in Fidel Castro; delusional nationalism, and a frantic extremism that led Cuban society to a state of social straitjacketing and an unbearable lack of freedom.
But above all, it made the island indigestible for Latin American societies, which while still faced with the horrifying neoliberal dictatorships of Pinochet and Videla could not be convinced that Cuba was the way to go.
Therefore I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the blockade/embargo was an important ingredient, though not the only one, in the defeat of the Cuban Revolution and the establishment since 1970 of a Thermidorian regime entrenched in so-called “real socialism.”
The island’s post-revolutionary history, which started between 1965 and 1970, demonstrated a perfect coexistence between the embargo (and all of the hostile US policies) and the Cuban leaders supported by the Soviet Union.
I would argue that the embargo and Western hostilities were as important to the survival of the political regime as were the Russian subsidies. They were the precise arguments used to suppress critical dissidents, crush diverging opinions, imprison individuals and even have them shot.
These elements formed the cornerstone of an anathematizing line that described everything different as being part (consciously or unconsciously) of a supposed imperialist conspiracy. This is why the Cuban authorities, especially Fidel Castro, did everything possible—from African wars to the “inadvertent” shooting down of planes—to quash efforts at the normalization of relations that came from the White House.
Obviously I’m not saying that if the embargo/blockade and all the hostile policies contained in the Helms Burton Act disappeared then political and ideological manipulation by the Cuban political class would cease, and much less am I trying to imply that this would automatically initiate the transition to a democratic system.
But I do hold that the work of the boys in the ideological apparatus would become much more difficult, just as it would be more difficult to talk about hostile interventionist agendas. Moreover, it would be that much more unlikely that the part of the population that still constitutes a sector of solid support would continue imagining the struggle as being one against imperialism, which in reality it has never seen and has no idea of what it will be like in the future.
In short, the embargo is now a rusted out piece of the Cold War, a medieval reliquary of the Truman and Monroe doctrines. For years it has only served to polarize and rarefy the Cuban political stage. Its removal would open a refreshing window in a room full of smoke.
Even the most skeptical would agree with me that (speaking of a Cuba that is now moving more than ever before) it would be worth experiencing new situations without the stifling burden of the embargo.
At least this is understood by the majority of the people in the US, almost half of the Cuban immigrants in the United States (especially the young), by much of the opposition on the island and of course the overwhelming majority of the island’s population. The blockade is a political hostage of minorities.
Another consideration is what it means for the future of Cuba to continue supporting the embargo as a political instrument of the United States to influence the course of events over the island.
Frankly I’m not among those who believe that the reason for the blockade/embargo was the confiscation of US assets. That is an infantile argument in light of everything that has happened.
In any event, I think the lifting of the blockade/embargo should be subject to negotiation involving compensation for confiscated property to entities or individuals who at that time were US nationals. But I also believe that there should be a clear willingness on the part of the government of the United States to gradually agree to normalization without political conditions.
It’s a very complex issue because if it’s true that globalized world relations (unequal ones) between states involve demands made for concessions of sovereignty, then in the case of relations with the US, our problem does not dissolve in global geopolitical considerations. That has been the situation ever since we were a republic, and it will be so in the future no matter who heads the government or what political beliefs they proclaim.
This is why to justify the US plan to change the political course of Cuba through unilateral policies is to acknowledge it as playing a role as an actor in internal Cuban politics. This would mean returning to the point of interventionist departure that caused so many frustrations in the pre-revolutionary republic – ones that eventually led to a revolution (the ideological component of which was precisely radical anti-American Cuban nationalism).
In any case, I have always believed that the embargo/blockade and all of its legal structure, summarized in the infamous Helms-Burton Act, persist simply because there are no compelling reasons against them.
The Cuban economy is a disaster, Cuba’s politicians are octogenarians and Chavez becomes suspiciously volatile. Therefore the US players feel it’s better to wait and see what happens before making decisions that could mean losing some votes in the strategic state of Florida; otherwise they would be seeking the intractable hostility of the Cuban-American legislators.
But this impasse could be changing with the prospect of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Though we know that exploitation and extraction will take a while, it’s likely that the mere detection of crude in marketable quantities and quality could change the whole scenario. Cuba could move into a position in the financial market and even into the light of a contemplative attitude on the part of the huge oil consortiums.
Or, for geopolitical reasons, when the United States sees itself required to secure its southern border against the wiles of narco-traffickers displaced by a Mexican War, it could suddenly discover that the Cuban military has become one of its most trusted allies in the region.
That’s why I’m against the blockade/embargo. Like Bruno, the island’s unperturbed foreign minister, but at the same time different from him, I do not look toward it lifting this as a means of perpetuating an authoritarian political regime, but as an avenue of change for the well-being and happiness of the masses of Cubans.
This would be movement in a direction of no more ideological controls, nationalist agitation or mandatory political frameworks. But also without international interference imposed upon us as the “indebted gratitude from such powerful neighbors,” as Antonio Maceo once said.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.