Who’s to Blame? Fidel, Raul or Obama

By Circles Robinson

Havana bus stop. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 5 — A Newsweek web exclusive published Thursday alleges that Fidel Castro has taken back the reins of power in Cuba and pushed his brother Raul to a more ceremonial status.  It goes on to state that it is Fidel who opposes internal reforms in Cuba and also rapprochement with the US, while questioning President Raul’s decision-making authority.

As to any supposed differences of approach between Fidel and Raul, I’ll leave that for another day, preferring to concentrate here on the Cuba-USA rapprochement issue.

Both the Cuban and US governments have seen it in their interests to continue their adverse relationship. For decades Cuban leaders have ranted against the US blockade and used it as a catchall excuse for internal problems of all sorts.  Sometimes the justification is accurate, other times it’s a cover for a poorly designed economy and harsh internal controls.

The aging Cuban leadership, which is the generation that made the Revolution back in 1959 —including Raul Castro— clearly consider the ideas and strategies of Fidel Castro as near perfection; from the beginning of taking office as president, Raul said he would consult Fidel on all important matters.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, countless US politicians have received and continue to receive campaign donations from the powerful Miami exile community.  When asked why bills such as (HR874), intended to lift the travel ban on US citizens to Cuba are moving at a snail’s pace, friends in Washington repeatedly tell me that for the vast majority of congress people the island itself is of little or no importance.

However, as everyone knows, without money, and plenty of it, candidates cannot get elected or reelected.  And that is important to representatives and senators who know where their bread is buttered.

Latin America low on Obama’s priority list

President Obama would have won the US presidency without winning Florida, and from a political standpoint he appeared well placed to do what he had promised: to open a new chapter in US-Cuba relations.

Havana's malecon seawall. Photo: Caridad

However, 13 months into his presidency and with a prolonged battle on other fronts, led by health care reform, Obama seems content or at least unconcerned about maintaining the status quo with Cuba.  However, the fact that his stance continues to negatively affects US-Latin American relations, as Brazil’s Lula da Silva has repeatedly told him, appears of little concern.

Washington blames Cuba for the stand-off, saying it doesn’t want better relations and has increased repression on the island.  It points to restrictions on the Internet and private enterprise, continued imprisonment of some 200 dissidents, and restrictions on Cubans from traveling, among other issues.

Cuba, in turn, accuses the US of incessant meddling in its internal affairs, economic warfare, and refusing to sit down seriously at a level negotiating table to hammer out differences, or at least seek common ground to break the 51 years of negative inertia.  Common ground on issues like human and drug trafficking and terrorism prevention would be a good starting point, says Havana.

Hopes are waning

So has anything of importance happened over the last year?

Store window in Havana. Photo: Caridad

To date, two meetings were held on immigration and one on postal services (suspended for nearly 50 years), but no agreements were reached.

Obama did in fact allow Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba more frequently and send more money home.  But it’s important to note that these weren’t and aren’t the demands of the Cuban government, which centers its concerns on the economic blockade and its protracted damage to the country’s economy.

The travel ban on ordinary US citizens from visiting Cuba is also considered a matter between Washington and its people – not involving Havana, which welcomes visitors from all latitudes.

Cuba, on the other hand, seems expert on shooting itself in the foot providing easy excuses that give new ammunition to conservative sectors and Miami exiles eager to attack rapprochement.  I could list numerous examples but will only mention a few: the clamp down on blogger Yoani Sanchez, the situation surrounding US AID operative Alan Gross and the case of the late prisoner Orlando Zapata.

Some unconditional pro-Cuban government readers will say that all three are invents of the US government to attack Cuba, just as the Bush and Obama administrations have accused Cuba of everything from the ridiculous charge of sending spies to harm the US to being a terrorist state.

Which are true, which aren’t, that’s not the issue.

The fact of the matter is that under Fidel or Raul, Bush, Clinton or Obama, no substantial changes are going to take place until both sides see it in their interest to renew diplomatic ties and better relations.

If the Cold War spirit continues to prevail, Washington will wait for the Cuban leadership to die off, hoping for an opening to its unilateral wishes.  Meanwhile, Cuba will continue to resist, something it has done for going on six decades.

2 thoughts on “Who’s to Blame? Fidel, Raul or Obama

  • I would just like to give a little credit to Congressman Serrano. While a small clique of other congress members have taken on Cuba as one of their pet issues to some degree, they have left Serrano out. But Serrano is the only member who has accomplished anything concrete on this issue since this congress was convened. The language he added to the appropriations bill last year led to the OFAC regulation changes in family travel, definition of family, and relaxing of remittance and gifting rules. Unfortunately his language regarding the definition of “cash in advance” for agricultural sales was not interpreted by OFAC in the spirit he intended. It is too bad that just because Serrano is unwilling to tie his support for normalizing relations to the goal of bringing down the Cuban government by a new method, he is not given any media attention of credit for the biggest achievement in Cuba policy coming from congress in a very, very long time.

  • I applaud the balanced and fair interpretation of current U.S./Cuban relations as presented by Circles Robinson. In a pragmatic sense, he is correct. Until both nations view renewed diplomatic relations as in their nation’s best interest, both political and economic, there is little chance of positive forward movement.
    The positive movement within the U.S. Congress which I have witnessed comes from the major agribusiness states and the U.S. travel industry sector. In the current global economic recession there is new momentum to open new markets for both of these business sectors. I have worked for years with my own U.S Congressman regarding U.S./Cuba issues which resulted in his making a visit to Cuba. In addition, in December of 2000, I assisted my state’s Departement of Agriculture in taking its first agribusiness delegation to Cuba. I preceeded the delegation to Havana and worked with the host, Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce, in establishing the delegation’s agenda.

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