Omar Diaz de Arce* (Cafe Fuerte)
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.