The Wall Around Cuba is Falling

Fernando Ravsberg*

The 5 Cuban agents who served sentences in the United States are considered national heroes.

HAVANA TIMES — I got wind that Cuba and the United States were exchanging prisoners while interviewing a group of medical doctors who left for Brazil this Wednesday. When I told them the Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States were on their way home, there was applause, cheering and plenty of tears.

Later, we would find out of the exchange between the two presidents, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, the opening of embassies in the two countries and, most importantly, the willingness to begin talks aimed at arriving at normal bilateral relations.

To say that all Cubans are happy about this would be too absolutist, but the truth is that I haven’t run into one who isn’t celebrating. People believe that the blockade is over and, even though this isn’t the case, it is true that important steps in that direction are being taken.

I immediately headed for the office of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban agents who had been imprisoned in the United States and was recently released. The atmosphere there was festive. For Rene, “this is a first step, the daring step that was needed to break the inertia.”

The Cuban agent acknowledges Obama’s merit, because “these steps run into opposition in US society and you need willpower and firmness to make headway.” Olga, his wife, wears a wide smile on her face. “I’m thinking about their families,” she says to me, as though apologizing.

The US Interests Section in Cuba will become the US Embassy in 2015.

I also feel happy – 5 people are seeing their families again after serving long prison sentences. In some way, all journalists working in Cuba have had contact with the relatives of the Cuban agents and those of US contractor Alan Gross.

To put an end to this situation with a humanitarian gesture that benefits everyone was a wise step by both governments. It is also a just step, as Washington and Havana were the ones that gave these people the clandestine missions for which they were ultimately detained.

A Good Start

A reciprocal humanitarian gesture will always be a good start if one is seeking a more constructive relationship. This is only a first step, but it was preceded by talks between the two presidents and accompanied by the re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

Obama’s pragmatism seems to have triumphed and his reasoning appears impeccable: “We can’t continue to do the same thing and expect different results.” The fact of the matter is that, with the “lever” of the economic embargo, 11 US presidents had been unable to make Havana budge.

Rene Gonzalez and his wife Olga moments before receiving the other agents released from prison.

For the first time in fifty years, the United States is seeking a different relationship with Cuba – but these are merely the first steps. I want to believe that we are seeing a new beginning and not a new strategy to achieve the old objective of destabilizing the Cuban government.

Will the covert operations that began in 1959 with the CIA’s Operation Mongoose and continue today under the USAID, which creates clandestine Internet networks, finances groups of young dissidents and persuades Cuban musicians to criticize the government in their songs, come to an end?

They may well come to an end, considering that the current director of USAID, Rajiv Sha, announced that he would be stepping down, saying that “with mixed feelings, I informed President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that I am stepping down in mid-February of 2015.”

Will Cuba cease sending agents to infiltrate the United States? Will Cuba’s discourse vis-à-vis Washington become more moderate? Will the “city under siege” mentality, which leads to an attitude of constant suspicion, change? Is Havana willing to make concessions?

Raul Castro has been inviting Washington to sit down and negotiate the very year he entered office. He has referred to Obama respectfully and, during his mandate, the constant rallying against the United States’ diplomatic headquarters in Cuba ceased.

A Mined Field

Obama and Castro surprised the world announcing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

After so many decades of conflict, the most difficult thing of all will be to achieve a minimum of mutual trust, indispensable if there is any interest in moving towards good neighborly relations. The train has just left the station and any misstep, misinterpretation or confusing declaration could derail it.

What’s more, there will be enemies lying in wait at every step of the way, ready to attack them to keep them from reaching their destination. To advance down this road successfully, we need capable, moderate, pragmatic and astute politicians willing to put the past behind them definitively.

But they won’t be alone. To get to here, they had the help of the Canadian government and Pope Francis. They will also have the support of the international community, which welcomes that the last flame of the Cold War be put out.

(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

47 thoughts on “The Wall Around Cuba is Falling

  • January 7, 2015 at 9:04 am

    mao said it too.

  • January 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    The relationships between the US and Puerto Rico and Cuba were different. During the Spanish American War, in 1898, US troops occupied both islands. Eventually, the US annexed Puerto Rico, and the people of that island became US citizens in 1917. The US never annexed Cuba (although there were those who wanted to). Instead, the US established a hegemonic power over Cuba, with laws such as the Platt Amendment, and by integrating the Cuban economy closer into the US economy. Cuba was not a US colony, but not exactly fully independent and sovereign either.

    For the record, and in case you accuse me of supporting this foreign policy, I do not. The Platt Amendment was a gross abuse of US power. While it was good of the US to defeat the Spanish army, which brought Cuba nominal independence, they were acting in US interests, not those of the Cuban people. Perhaps if the US had recognized the Cuban rebels earlier in their fight against Spain and provided military, economic and diplomatic assistance, the Cuban people would have defeated Spain themselves, without the negative effects of the US occupation. Cuban history would have been far different.

  • January 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    It was Lao Tzu who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” –

    Not Mao.

  • December 30, 2014 at 2:37 am

    So there is now another human rights violation in Cuba – the right to eat in a McDonalds. In a world where kids work long hours in sweatshops or down mines in highly unsafe conditions, don’t you think your priorities are a bit misplaced. You conservatives are a joke.

  • December 24, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Formerly the Platt Amendment was repealed (though not dropped – Guantanamo is part of it). However, Cuba remained a semi-colony in all but name, a bit like Puerto Rico.

    I agree that the hostility has been on both sides and I am so glad that things appear to be finally changing.

    Regarding the boat incident, the link you provide is dead and I’m a bit dubious about it since this is the only news outlet to report on it. But the issue of emigration is one that needs to be tackled as soon as possible. The Cuban Adjustment Act wet foot / dry foot only encourages illegal and dangerous emigration from Cuba. There isn’t any excuse given that Cubans can emigrate legally and safely through normal channels and it is as much the US pressing Cuba to curb these boats than from the Cuban side.

    This agreement hasn’t anything to do with human rights issues on either side. It is about normalising relationships between both countries and with Latin America. Todos somos Americanos.

  • December 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    John wrote:

    “sociopathic, …psychopathic, …unintelligent, …disingenuous, …unlettered drivel, …intellectual embarrassment, …not a happy or rational state of mind, …Alzheimer’s patients”

    That was perhaps a record for ad hominem attacks from you. What is it about the Left that they cannot debate facts in a reasonable manner but must always resort to personal insults?

  • December 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    The US recognized Cuba as an in dependent nation several decades ago, long before Castro seized power. The Platt Amendment was repudiated and repealled in the 1930’s.

    As for the aggressive relationship, it’s been a two way street. Both the US and Cuba have contributed to the hostility. I do agree with you, less hostility is better.

    However, there has been no improvement in human rights in Cuba. The Castro regime continues to press the Cuban people, as the attack by Cuban coastguard on a boatload of refugees a few days ago brutally demonstrated. The Castro regime remains intensely hostile toward the Cuban people.

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