Why Does Obama Want Diplomatic Relations With Cuba?

Omar Diaz de Arce*  (Cafe Fuerte)

Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama meeting at the  Summit of the Americas.
Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama meeting at the Summit of the Americas.

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I made some comments on a keen analysis written by my friend Haroldo Dilla, dealing with the possible re-establishment of relations between Washington and Havana. In my remarks, I stated that, as I saw it, Dilla’s formidable essay was missing only one element: the answer as to why Obama is offering Raul Castro the re-establishment of diplomatic relations at this moment.

The US president is a man of political vision and sensitivity and, much like Carter and Clinton back in their day, realized that the United States’ isolation in the international arena, particularly in connection with Latin America, could no longer be sustained by Washington. Not even the formerly docile OAS could convene a hemispheric meeting without including Havana in the gathering – and this year’s was to be held in Panama. This is to say nothing of the humiliating votes against the embargo at the UN.

Of Spies and Allies

I was witness to how Cuban intelligence used a Colombian to infiltrate the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), a practice that was very much in vogue for more than 50 years within international organizations and even the United States. A case in point is the much-talked-about Pentagon super-spy Ana Belen Montes.

From the perspective of US interests, the move is perfectly logical, no matter what Cuba’s current situation is. This global intelligence and diplomacy campaign served to pin Washington against the wall in the international arena. It involved the way in which Fidel Castro was able to approach and turn Hugo Chavez into an ally, giving him the podium at the Grand Hall of the University of Havana, where the leader spoke of revolution and his dreams of Bolivarian brotherhood as early as 1994.

Though Obama had barely paid any attention to Latin America, it didn’t take long for him to realize that something needed to be done to defuse such a volatile situation, at a time when the Chinese offensive was intensifying every day in the continent. That said, he had to maneuver in secret, for the project’s enemies were many and dangerous. Not even the Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the now maligned Senator Bob Menendez, found out about the negotiations, something which served to deepen differences between the two.

Following several months of negotiations, we arrived at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama (April 10-11), where a number of unprecedented developments were seen. First, the public, face-to-face meeting between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. The most striking incident was the attempt of Havana agents to break up the so-called “civil society forum.” Thanks to TV news coverage, we were privy to the violent “reprisals” against dissidents and members of the opposition that took place during the summit. It was a decadent spectacle that alerted the world – not only the Latin American delegations present – of the hypocritical double-talk of the Cuban dictatorship: praise for Obama on the one hand, and an open war against those who question the repressive, one-party system in place in Havana, allegedly as a means of defending itself against the “blockade,” as the propaganda frames the long battle against the embargo.

Yes to Some Things, No to Others

The new Castro policy made clear in Panama could be summarized in a single phrase: “we will budge in some areas, but not in others.”

At any rate, in his speech, Raul Castro offered listeners a history lesson that prompted an ironic remark by Obama (let us skip the rather regrettable remarks made by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa), a comment Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner didn’t understand, inviting Castro to devote a good part of his address to emphasizing his interest in history and lecturing others on the usefulness of learning its lessons.

Castro’s Most Eloquent Historical Reference

“On April 6, 1960, a little over year after the triumph of the revolution, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester Malloroy drafted a memorandum that is simply perverse – I cannot find a better word for it. This memorandum was declassified many years later. I quote some excerpts from it: “(…) The majority of Cubans support Castro (…) there is no effective political opposition. (…)The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship (…)it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba (…) denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

“When I arrived in Miami in 1991, the policy traced in this memorandum written by Mallory was referred to as the “pressure cooker” strategy, or, as Cubans say, “putting the jar under the flame until the bottom drops out.” Cuba, and diplomats at the UN, justifiably began to refer to this as a genocidal policy.”

A List of Grievances

As was to be expected, the general didn’t care to mention all of the brutal actions perpetrated by his brother, Fidel Castro, and by himself, since the beginning of the 1960s, actions which included the execution of military officers and opponents, numerous incursions by armed guerrillas throughout the continent, involvement in African wars that cost Cuba thousands of lives (and whose only aim was satisfying the ego of the top leader, though the pretext was the giving aid to peoples of other parts of the world), the introduction of Soviet nuclear weapons into the country (which put the very existence of the nation and perhaps humanity at risk), a revolutionary offensive that “nationalized” even the smallest food kiosks, the 10-million-ton sugarcane harvest which paralyzed the country from 1969 to 1970, innumerable plans dreamt up by the Comandante which failed miserably, the splitting up of Cuban families, the mass exodus of several generations of Cubans, generalized oppression and elimination of civil and political rights, the total censorship of the press and the suppression of freedom of expression, alliances with the worst dictatorships on the planet (Gadhafi, North Korea, Bashar al Assad, Ceaucescu, Stalinist Soviet leaders, etc.) and others which would simply make this list of grievances endless.

Raul Castro justifies the whole of this disastrous political and economic leadership as a legitimate means of defense against a policy that sought to overthrow the revolutionary government. This last part is true: the aim was to put an end to Cuban communism. But it’s evident the way to prevent this was not to raze the economy, infrastructure and population’s desire to live in Cuba to the ground before the Americans did, as a recent survey conducted on the island sadly revealed. We should also not forget that, on several occasions, Havana turned down Washington offers to hold talks, something which would no doubt have spared Cubans many misunderstandings and grievances.

This past Tuesday, President Obama took yet another step consistent with his policy of rapprochement with the hostile neighbor and approved the removal of Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Incidentally, George W. Bush took a similar step when he removed Gadhafi’s Libya and North Korea from the list, but it seems no one wants to remember that.

The decision also serves the purpose of depriving Raul Castro of reasons to stick to the discourse of confrontation and untie the Gordian knot of discord between Washington and Latin America. It is no doubt a clever policy serving the strategic steps being taken by the United States in the new stage of our globalized and interconnected world.
* PhD in Historical Sciences and former professor of Latin American Political Thought at the Faculty of History of the University of Havana. Currently resides in Miami.

22 thoughts on “Why Does Obama Want Diplomatic Relations With Cuba?

  • why the sudden interest in renewing relations with Cuba? Is Obama trying to boost points with minorities before he leaves office? Is this an attempt to just gain one more surge in approval from progressives?

    All told, it might be something bigger than that.

    Apparently one of the reasons the U.S. is reaching out is because relations between Cuba and Russia have been renewed as of late.

    The two nations have always been friendly with one another (remember the Bay of Pigs?), but just this July the Russians indicated they were going to reoccupy one of their former military bases.

    They claim the gesture is merely “symbolic.”

    But many don’t believe them.

    The Lourdes military base was once used to commit acts of espionage against the U.S. Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer admitted it might make sense the base could be used for purposes such as these again.

    Even a professor from Columbia University named Robert Jervis claimed the move was suspect since Russia would have the ability to use the base to broadcast information to their military allies.

    That’s not all that’s happened between Russia and Cuba in the past year and a half.

    In February of 2013 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was said to have inked a deal where Cuba would receive 8 jets from the Russian military. Not to mention just this past August Putin visited Cuba and even did Castro a favor by forgiving him 90% of the war debt owed to Russia, rumored to have been around $90 million dollars.

    Putin even managed to secure the rights to drill off shore from Cuba for oil reserves…

    Stephen Cohen who is the professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University said what Putin has done is “a reply to Obama’s notion that Russia could be isolated, by saying, ‘Hey, here we are back 90 miles off your shore with a big greeting, and we’re going back into economic business here.’”

    By all appearances it would seem Obama’s not trying to win any popularity points here, but is embattled in a sparring match with the Russian President.

    Is the President trying to protect the country for once?

    Or is he embroiled in an even deeper conspiracy?

    It takes two parties to keep a dysfunctional corrosive relationship.
    And Cuba is as much to blame as the US.

    Fidel Castro is legendarily stubborn and anti-American to his marrow.
    35 years ago peace overtures from US President Jimmy Carter were rebuffed by Fidel Castro with extreme prejudice.

    Carter was left like a jilted bride on a wedding day.
    And Fidel laughted a lot.

    And it lead to a new sour Cuban Cold War with chilly relations on both sides with Icy Reagan Revenge.

    Cuba was a client state of the Soviet Union and had cash and fuel subsidies to float their anemic economy. And keep Cuba independent and a thorn in American security.

    However in 1989, the Soviet Union fell and the lifeline collapsed.

    Fortunately a new Sugar Daddy arose in Venezuela, with petroleum reserves larger than Saudi Arabia. It delayed the fall of the Cuban Economy for the past 25 years until the death of President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Economic Collapse of 2014.

    Now Venezuela is imploding and bankrupt and all fuel and cash subsidies have ended.

    The Cuban Regime is starved of cash, energy and patronage and is 6-12 months away from economic collapse.

    Today because of Fracking the United States is the largest producer in the world of petroleum and natural gas. And Canadian tar sands more than doubles the reserve.

    Cuba wants and needs this energy lifeline.

    Maybe President Castro see the United States as a White Knight Savior who has lots of Black Gold?

    Political Policy is depended on Energy and Oil.

    Fracking has collapsed the price of oil and decreased the power of oil rich countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran.

    Cuba could have opened up 35 years ago in the Carter Administration…Ask Jimmy Carter about this fact!

    Fidel had a 50 year grudge.
    Fidel is still Fidel.
    Obama is not an exceptional diplomat nor particularly interested in Cuba issues, but he is pragmatic.
    And he saw the Cuban Economic Collapse as a unique once in a lifetime opportunity as Venezuelan Patronage imploded.

    And above all fracking gave the United States the economic and energy leverage to tempt Cuba back into normal relations, normal trade and energy importation to a nation nearly as desperate for energy as dark, cold, North Korea.

    Oil makes the cars , buses, and factories run, and runs the electrical grid and the internet! Oil is the blood of any global competitive economy.

    Oil makes for strange bedfellows:
    Cuba-Soviet Union

    Now Cuba has new found admiration for America.
    Could it be they like American democracy and freedom?
    Or that the Pope pulled a miracle from his magical hat?
    Or that fracking has made America the world’s #1 producer of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

    My conclusions:

    Why did Cuba open up? Why now?

    The Cuba’s answer was and is oil, and for America? new place to make business at lowest prices, more oil and last but not least: no russian neirbhood!

    and.. what’s in for the Cuban people? lots of Capitalism junks to buy, more tourism (mostly sex tourism, as in Thailand) and hey! the mighty globalization! who would become their primary nightmare later on, and much, much more! such as earn a wage of 2.000CUC and doesn’t reach the end of the month for the new high prices!

    But hey! finally Cuba people will archive freedom! they will join those countries as part of “United Slaves of America”! Later they will also join the PAN-American plan (as stated in the “Kalergi’s plan” google for it), already well used in europe today)

    So Cuba people: Smile! have a Crystal and enjoy the future colapse of your beautiful Country for more CUC’s, trash tv’s, trash foreign music, forced immigration, femminism, junk food and an iphone! /sarcasm

  • HOLD YOUR CARDS CLOSE TO YOUR VEST.PAITIENCE and PRAY .Keep your word always diversification on your own terms and always move forward on all fronts with the spirituality that has kept Cuba above water and ground.
    keep the faith.
    Thank You

  • Here’s an excellent analysis of the new US policy toward Cuba as it relates to the changes Raul Castro has been introducing over the last few years:

    “The Worst of All Possible Cubas”

    “Three distinct patterns of transition out of communist rule exist: Russian, Chinese, and East European. The new American policy dooms Cuba to the worst of the lot.

    President Barack Obama’s decision to recognize Raúl Castro’s government seems destined to produce exactly the type of post-Castro transition in Cuba that would be most inimical to American interests. It paves the way for a takeover by a military oligarchy-turned-business class that exists only because it has shown unswerving loyalty to the Castro family and its anti-American communist cause. It tilts the future of Cuba’s political economy toward a well-known post-totalitarian type: authoritarian kleptocracy.”


    Interestingly, the author of that piece describes the transition in much the same terms as I have been using since Obama announced his new policy in December. Under Raul Castro, Cuba is changing from a Marxist-Leninist system to a corporate-Fascist system. And the US under Obama is helping to pave the way.

    The terrible irony is that the Leftist commenters here at HT are cheering on Raul & Obama while the Cuban people are being sold down the river.

  • A handful of brave Cubans who dare to submit critical but measured articles to HT does not make Cuba any less a repressive regime. These writers have lost jobs and suffered other indignities because of their sacrifice to write the truth. Cuba IS a failed State. Perhaps not from your comfy Vermont perspective but to most Cubans living in Cuba, Castro-socialism has FAILED. As bad as you believe things are in Mexico, there are Cubans escaping to Mexico every day, and not the other way around. Your dislike of the US has distorted your common sense. If life in Cuba was good as you make it seem, you would be living there.

  • if that really were true, most Cubans living in Cuba who write for the Havana Times would be either quaking in their boots or writing from Miami or some other foreign venue. Instead, they continue their critical commentaries from Cuba. If your harsh policies came to fruition, then Cuba would be another failed state, like so many others in which the U.S. has intervened. Also, the surrounding alternatives, such as Mexico and most of Central America, where, in the words of Hobbes, “life is brutal, short and unpredictable,” the alternatives are even less appetizing. There are worse alternatives than the so-called Chinese model. Besides, it won’t be the Chinese model, it will be part of the revisions of that ongoing model which is the Cuban Revolution.

  • …and what idiot wouldn’t oppose limiting a US citizen’s freedoms (freedom to inspect the success/failure of it’s government’s policies). How stupid was that?

  • Because it is the right thing to do! It’s that simple.

  • Tyrants can smell weakness. Obama’s weakness of character and policy has emboldened enemies and frightened allies.

    I don’t know of anybody who advocates sending US troops into Iran or Ukraine. For several years under Obama, the US did have troops in Yemen. Only a few weeks ago Obama was touting Yemen as a success story of his foreign policy in the Middle East and model for how to deal with ISIS. Then the Iranian backed rebels over-ran the Yemeni capital and the US troops had to scramble. His deal with Iran will ensure the Ayatollah’s get their nuclear weapons, which in turn will set off an nuclear arms race in the region.

    On Cuba, Obama has given Raul everything in return for nothing. The Castro regime feels comfortable enough to increase their repression at home, and even take it on the road to Panama.

    Will Obama say anything about this latest example of police brutality against an unarmed young man?

    “28-year old Cuban, Yurinierki Martinez Reina, was shot in the back for attempting to flee the island for a life of freedom.

    Martinez Reina, along with a group of friends, was caught building a small vessel to leave Cuba near Menendez Beach in Matanzas.

    They began to run, as a Castro regime security official, identified as Miguel Angel Rio Seco Rodriguez, began shooting at them.”


  • All of you are more or less correct. Yes, Obama seeks to fortify his legacy. His detractors would have US troops in Syria, Ukraine, Iran and Yemen. I support Obama’s more diplomatic approach to resolving the world’s problems. For Cuba, I prefer a more hardliner approach but I realize that would be inconsistent with Obama’s approach elsewhere. The Cuban people, whose flaccid resistance to Castro tyranny has contributed to their condition, must also step up to help demand their freedom. They must generate their own “Tiennamen Square” protest. Obama can’t do it for them. Rather than focus on only Obama, people who want greater freedom for Cuba must encourage our Cuban friends and family to do more to press their government for greater freedom.

  • High level democrats have been opposing the end of sanctions to Cuba. Obama hid the negotiations from his own chairman of the foreign relations committee.; the democrat Bob Menendez.
    Democrats are divided. Obama is just pushing through a lot of unsavory measures favored by the left wing of the party so Hillary won’t have to do it. He thereby goes against the national consensus given the recent republic victories. In essence he uses the powers given to him to bypass the legislature. What he does is despicable.

  • Your point, while valid, does not negate that of Qubaqus. Yes, many Democrats (but not all, as Senator Menendez will tell you) have called for a change in US policy toward Cuba. But Cuba has hardly been an important issue in the US political agenda (aside for Cuba junkies like us). No, Obama could have ignore the issue for the last 2 years of his presidency, and nobody in the U.S. would have remarked on it.

    Which raises the question: why?

    And on that point, Qubaqus is 100% correct. Obama wants a legacy achievement, a Nixon Goes to China thing, for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

    That singular goal explains not only why he did it, but also why he has not demanded any concessions from Cuba in exchange for his capitulation.

    Raul gets US tourists and cash, his regime gets a lifeline and Obama gets his progressive legacy. The Cuban people get squat.

    And when he visits Havana sometime soon, he might even get his own Che t-shirt. Won’t that be nice.

  • No argument there.

  • Bullshit. Democrats have been pressuring him to lift the embargo and as he draws near the end of his presidency, he can get a lot of stuff done. Yes, he has been strategic in what he chose to accomplished first. Republicans are criminals and we need to prosecute them for their crimes. I’m not an Obama supporter – just look as his continued war mongering – no better than Bush in that area.

  • Yes, it is time to get past Batista era. If judged against a standard of could it be better for average people, the answer yes it can. Taking the US embargo out of equation will make things clearer.

    A natural evolution towards a more practical economy should take place. This does not mean US corporations running amok. That is a false choice used as a scare tactic by the forces that don’t want to evolve. It is not 1898.

  • Obama did this for twisted reasons: to create some kind of “legacy” and to help his protege Hillary.
    Obama has been a total disaster in international politics. Chavez, Putin, …. all sensed that Obama was weak and forged ahead to pursue hegemonic dreams regardless of the effect on the peoples of their respective countries.
    Under Obama the influence of the US in international policies decreased. “New isolationism” and “appeasement” were the guidelines of his policy it seems.
    The man is a disaster.

  • …yet I don’t ever recall entire Cuban families ever risking their lives on the high seas to escape Batista. Ummmm

    Regardless, its been almost 60 years, more than half a century, since Batista ruled Cuba. Yet supporters of the repressive Cuban Communist dictatorship are still forced to pull out the Batista card because they have no other cards to play

  • What you fail to understand or accept is that most Cubans live in fear of their government. You are confusing fear with support.

  • It’s not Obama

  • Yes, terrible things have been done in the past. The Castro’s will feel a certain amount of vindication. But would keeping the Castro’s out in the cold another decade do any good to the current people of Cuba ? What good comes of extending a 56 year old embargo now ?

    Opening relations improves the U.S. standing with the region. That is a plus. It gives the Cuban people an economic boost now. And we are more likely than not to see a further moderation in the state control as long as they don’t feel threatened.

    At 88 and 83 the Castro’s have had their run. It is a remarkable story of taking control and hanging on even as they made one mistake after another on the economy. We don’t need another failed state in the world. Letting Cuba evolve naturally into a mixed economy serves all. The politics will evolve over time with the forces of history deciding the fate of the regime.

  • What you fail to understand, like the Miami anti-Castro fanatics, is that Cubans support their government, even with its imperfections. It is a vast improvement over U.S.-supported and corrupt Fulgencio Batista.

  • Keep in mind:

    Obama’s opening to Cuba will reward mostly Raul Castro


    “…But we shouldn’t assume that more tourists will automatically result in more money for everyday Cubans. That’s because Cuba’s military literally owns and controls the tourism industry. Not the government that funds health care and education. The Cuban military. One military-run company, Gaviota, owns a third of all hotels in Cuba and hosted half of all Canadian visitors last year. Gaviota’s parent company, Gaesa, controls currency exchange and foreign transactions. When a tourist spends Canadian or American money in Cuba, they’re helping fund the Cuban military….”

    And Raul Castro ran the Cuban military way before he assumed his brother’s throne.

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