The fundamental question that those of us interested in the wellbeing of the Cuban people should ask ourselves is: how will such measures affect Cuba’s internal blockade.

Pedro Campos  

HAVANA TIMES — A New York Times editorial published on October 12 urges President Obama to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba – something that is beyond the scope of the embargo provisions and which falls within his presidential prerogatives – with a view to improving international relations with Latin America and setting in motion new forms of interaction with the island and its internal situation.

The US embargo (which some call a blockade) has thus become the center of all debates about Cuba’s problems once again, when many of us know that the main blockade, the one we need to lift once and for all so that the Cuban people and economy will be able to improve their lot, is the internal blockade, the one imposed by the Party-State on its citizens and which thwarts the development of their economic, political and social initiatives.

The fundamental question that those of us interested in the wellbeing of the Cuban people should ask ourselves is: how will such measures affect this internal blockade which is ultimately what keeps Cuba in chains (not the other, the external one, something which those who insist in maintaining the trade embargo agree on)?

Raul Castro’s reform process does not suffice to eliminate the internal blockade we Cubans are subjected to. Its extension and progress, without current obstacles, could however gradually lead to its dismantling and ultimate elimination. Its stagnation and ultimate neutralization by conservative forces within the Castro government would indeed be the worst thing that could happen to Cuban society today.

US policy does not determine but does have an impact on the correlation between the forces at play within the governing elite and, generally speaking, within the Party-government and Cuban society as a whole, as well as among those who support the deepening and broadening (to varying degrees) of the so-called “updating of Cuba’s economic and social model” and those who merely aspire to maintain only the semblance of this process to keep the old, hyper-centralized system in place.

Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba’s National Assembly in 2013. Photo: granma.cu

Between the Two Castros

It is no secret that there exists a kind of “friendly” arm-wrestle – a permanent conflict arising from disagreements between Cuba’s historical leader, Fidel, and his brother, the army general Raul – as to the form and content Cuba’s domestic and foreign policy and the structure of the country’s economy.

It is easy to demonstrate that the first speeches pronounced by Raul Castro after he took office and the spirit of renewal of the “reform process” have not been adequately embodied by the application and the results of the policies implemented.

The most visible cause of this is Fidel Castro’s gradual recovery and his attempts at taking back the limelight.

The evidence for this are his “reflections”, his continuous public and media appearances, where he is seen receiving foreign personalities, and in the systematic praise for his thoughts and figure in the Party-controlled press – so frequent that they outnumber Raul’s public appearances and speeches, even after Fidel “retired and asked not to be called ‘Commander in Chief’ any longer.”

Are we expected to forget Raul Castro’s “glass of milk” speech and the suppression of his remarks by Granma, as well as everything that entailed?

Raul may have replaced the members of Fidel’s administration, but the traditional Fidelistas still remain within the Party leadership, particularly in the Party Secretariat, headed by Machado Ventura, the man in charge of all the Party’s concrete activities, the appointment and dismissal of cadres, propaganda and others.

This is the main Party structure responsible for keeping the positions of the “historical leader” alive. The second-in-command within the government, Diaz Canel, is not the second-in-command within the Party, Machado is.

Today, we bear witness to how Cuba’s critical economic situation, caused by the limitations of the “reform process” and its inability to overcome the stagnation produced by the near-absolutist model that was in place for nearly fifty years, is prompting a mass exodus of Cubans towards the United States through all imaginable routes.

The authority of these Party structures, at the top of the ladder, next to Fidel, but beneath Raul, was evident in the debates during the 6th Party Congress, which were manipulated by Party bureaucrats against calls for a free and democratic debate at the base level.

The general, Fidel’s brother, who knows Fidel better than anyone and was appointed by him, has had to govern in his shadow, with that particular handicap, caught between advancing his “reforms” and avoiding a confrontation with the leader – hence his increasing moderation and fewer and fewer public appearances.

Raul has been clear in his intentions of a rapprochement with the United States, while his brother, now recovering, does not miss an opportunity to try and distance himself from them as much as possible.

This, which could also be interpreted as the “good cop, bad cop” routine, could have served to achieve such a rapprochement if only it had been adequately encouraged, if Washington had been more consistent in its first appraisal of what Raul Castro’s ascent to power meant.

It is therefore worthwhile to recall that, at the time, the United States demonstrated much interest and willingness to work with him and his military officers, and rumors were even leaked to the effect that Washington was convinced the tough hand of the military and their “reforms” would prevent future migratory avalanches, the main concern weighing on US-Cuba relations.

However, the United States did not take any significant steps to help the Raul Castro government in its reform plans, steps that could have strengthened the General’s position in the Cuban government’s internal correlation of forces.

More effective support and the lifting of other important sanctions stemming from the blockade-embargo could have tilted the internal balance of power in favor of Raul’s reformers and allowed them to develop their “updating process” better – and, eventually, other democratic “reforms” that could have entailed deeper changes in the mid-term.

It’s possible the United States considered that the transfer of power was merely nominal and that “only the television had been handed over, without the remote control.”

Such developments could serve to appease those who blame all of our misfortunes on imperialist aggression, which is one of the fundamental pretexts with which the economic disasters of the State-command economy, the repression of the opposition, the absence of democracy and the lack of civil and political liberties and rights are justified.

Today, we bear witness to how Cuba’s critical economic situation, caused by the limitations of the “reform process” and its inability to overcome the stagnation produced by the near-absolutist model that was in place for nearly fifty years, is prompting a mass exodus of Cubans towards the United States through all imaginable routes.

The proposals now advanced by the New York Times may be coming a little too late, but, as they say, “better late than never.”

Should they yield results, they would have the immediate effect of easing tensions between the two governments and, without a doubt, many of those desperate to leave for the United States might consider that it is more advisable to stay a little longer, to see the concrete results of this rapprochement.

At the same time, it would suggest that the Obama administration is not chiefly responsible for maintaining the blockade-embargo, but that Congress is. It could clear the way towards the elimination of the embargo, inasmuch as it would entail previously removing Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism and make other positive relations between the two countries possible.

Such developments could serve to appease those who blame all of our misfortunes on imperialist aggression, which is one of the fundamental pretexts with which the economic disasters of the State-command economy, the repression of the opposition, the absence of democracy and the lack of civil and political liberties and rights are justified.

Most importantly, it would imply a measure of US support for Raul Castro’s updating process. The “reformist” current could be thus revitalized and the complicated balance of forces within the Cuban government could be tilted in its favor. Raul, in turn, would be unable to ignore such US gestures and would be forced to act accordingly. One development would prompt others.

The issue can be approached from many other perspectives. As far as Cuba’s internal situation is concerned, these are the ones I consider most important.
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31 thoughts on “US-Cuba Relations and the Internal Blockade

  • No further relaxation is merited. Every “easing” has been replied to with more repression.

  • Not true. You misunderstand. Any company doing business with Cuba can not use equipment with more than 10% of its component parts that were made in the US AND then do business with the US government. Your Nikon camera example is either a lie or someone else misunderstood the law as Nikon cameras are sold in Cuba everyday. Canada and Mexico do business with Cuba. Are you suggesting that these NAFTA countries are prohibited from doing business with the US. Their largest trading partner. Really?

  • I was in Cuba a couple of months ago.

    The reason why Sweden and many other nations hardly trade with Cuba is that Cuba has very little interesting to sell (nickle, tobacco, rum, ..) and is a notorious bad credit risk.

    Export insurers – including those of last resort and state owned – hardly cover receivables from Cuba. That puts lots of companies off from trading with Cuba.

    The way the regime treats foreign investors is another reason why few inward investment is happening (see the case of Michel Villand, the French partner of Fidel Castro from 1994 to 2007 “Pain de París” in Cuba).

    I live in Sweden because I wanted to be free and couldn’t be free in Cuba. I had no rights. I could not express my opinions. Working was not rewarded, only subservience was however inefficient the subservient idiots were. Sweden gave me a great second home and a passport that I can freely travel with.

    As far as the embargo goes: Sweden doesn’t trade with Cuba. It is far away from Cuba. The US is a lot closer and the risk that unscrupulous investors would ally themselves with the military oligarchy to create a new “maquiladora” country are very high.

    I believe that lifting the embargo has no real benefits for the US and would be very detrimental for the Cuban people as it would remove an important incentive to change from the Castro elite. You look at a “wrong” picture (see my previous post). The big and moral picture is not to reward the Castro military elite and not to help them consolidate what they stole from the Cuban people.

  • The US does not fine “third countries”. The OFAC does fine corporations who do business with the US government who have chosen to violate US law by doing business with the Castros. It is our sovereign right to do business with whom we please. If a company chooses to do business with the Castros, as many do, they are free to do so. They may not however, at the same time, do business with the US government. There is nothing illegal about this business practice. As an American, I do not want my tax dollars supporting a totalitarian regime like the Castros. To this end, petroleum industry products and services, subsidized by my taxes should be used to sustain the Castro regime. I consider the 10% measure quite liberal. Likewise, any financial institution worldwide which uses US currency should not be available to tyrants like the Castros. If Cuba wants to take out a loan in Russian rubles or Chinese yuan, they are free to do so. But US dollar-backed loans should be off-limits to Castro bullies. And so on. First, the Castros must send Alan Gross home. Second, the Castros should release ALL political prisoners. Third, the Castros should allow freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and legalize all poltical parties. Fourth, the Castros themselves should retire. At this point, the President of the US will have been given enough political space to maneuver and would send the Secretary of State to negotiate with Cuba for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the understanding that open and independent elections authorizing political parties will be scheduled to take place. At this point, the US Congress would have no choice but to repeal Helms-Burton. The problem with your strategy is that it is one-sided. You have the US making all the substantive changes with Cuba’s response as vague and noncommittal. Your plan is politically unrealistic, especially for a powerful and democratic nation like the US.

  • Yes, the Castro elite is developing from a “state capitalist communist elite” to a “capitalist elite” without the communist excuse.
    They dictatorship was “red fascist” = Stalinist since inception.

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