viernes, 23 de enero de 2015

The best kept secret

“In silence it has been… because there are things that, to be reached, they must be hidden”
Jose Marti

It was a surprise for everyone. Inspired by the ideal of José Marti the Cuban government’s secret 18-month negotiation with the US thawing the longstanding stalemate between the two countries can be considered one of the best-kept political surprises in history. During the last few decades there have been several attempts at negotiations, which have failed in part because of the obstinate network of a hate industry, mainly based in Miami, that receives enormous profits to avoid it.  

Raul Castro will transcend to history as the Cuban leader who reached the historic agreement between the two countries. He did it fulfilling an explicit mandate since he was elected President of the Council of State in Cuba. Barack Obama will transcend to history as the first acting US President who was brave enough to recognize the failure of the isolating policy towards Cuba; the one who began to dismantle the bilateral relations that were based on Cold War principals, and the one who made significant steps to opening a new era in diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

The announcements made on 17 December 2014 had a historical meaning. The return to Cuba of the three Cuban prisoners who had fought against terrorism was a dream come true, after many years of pain and failed diplomatic insistence for their return. Besides the recognition of their unjust imprisonment – even the American judicial system recognized it – it touched a sore spot: the existence of terrorist groups in Miami who aimed to undermine Cuba’s government, have been both dangerous and hostile.  Their desires to destabilize Cuba’s Revolutionary government have brought about numerous deaths and indemnities to Cuba’s people during these 56 years.

The return of Alan Gross to the United States – a humanitarian gesture on behalf of Cuba, for what had become an impairment to the image of Cuba, due to the manipulation of international media – also calls attention to the subversive programs organized and funded by the US against Cuba factions over the past decades. These agendas were managed by the USAID. The resignation of its General Director on the same day of the announcements, speaks directly to this fact. 

The negotiated exchange of prisoners became a hotbed of news globally. The announcement of reestablishing diplomatic relations surpassed all expectations. This unprecedented moment marks the first time in Cuban history that the US government has made such an arrangement with the Cuban government – especially with a revolutionary government that has for decades been classified as “enemy”. With this new approach, Cuba has entered into a relationship with the US on equal terms, with no subordination, with respect to our independence, sovereignty and national integrity.

It would be naïve to believe that it means the end of Empire’s interfering nature. Obama’s speech was full of references to this fact, similar ideals that have been around since the origin of the Cuban nation and the creation of its Republic. The Guantanamo Naval Base – for example, the great absent on 12/17 announcements – is a relic from the Platt Amendment that remind us this more than a century later. 

Other changes announced, although they had less repercussion, called the attention on other myths and failed policies from the US:

-         To take Cuba off of the list of countries sponsors of terrorism was, perhaps, the easiest and most expected step, as it has been a systematic demand from Latin American countries. Besides, it looked ridiculous considering that today Cuba is the seat of the peace process in Colombia, the most important argument for the inclusion of Cuba in the referred list.

-         The acceptance of Cuba’s attendance to the next Summit of the Americas, in April 2015: more than a concession, it was actually a dilemma that the US government needed to solve as some of the countries in the region had announced they would boycott in the event that Cuba was not invited.  

-         To ease Cuba’s access to internet communication and its technologies – beyond the fears of some Cuban officials to allow such openness – the reality is that this connectivity needs the approval and participation of software and computer companies in the United States. They are the owners of this technology in this hemisphere and to date, they haven’t done much in this arena with regards to Cuba. 

-         The expansion of general licenses for travelers from the US and their access to banking and funds from US banks while in Cuba are an answer to many who have had their constitutional rights limited by prohibiting visits to Cuba.

-         The announced “update the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries” is an evident recognition to the extraterritoriality of some measures taken, after repeating once and again that it was only a bilateral issue. Among them, they include now the accessibility of Cubans to US services in third countries (banks, hotels, etc), to unfreeze accounts of Cuban nationals in American banks, and allowing the entrance in US harbors of ships coming from Cuba – if they were carrying humanitarian trade – which was one of the main sanctions of 1992 Torricelli Act.

It is amazing to see the wide range of reforms announced by President Obama. He said he did the maximum that he was allowed within the realm of his executive powers. However, the most important challenge is still in place: the embargo, the most rejected policy nationally and internationally. With the implementation of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, the embargo can only be overturned by an act of Congress.  

Obama’s call to the Congress for an “honest and serious analysis to lift the embargo calls attention to the necessity of making a proper decision in the face of two opposed positions: to continue favoring the group of people in Miami and Washington who receive benefits from confrontational policies towards Cuba, or taking serious steps to avoid risks in the US geopolitical perspective in the hemisphere, now when Russia and China are showing their willing of deeper engage with Cuba.
Moreover there is a growing number of US businessmen and politicians who realize the greater benefits in having an engagement policy, convinced that the sanctions affecting Cuba were against their own interests, in essence, shooting themselves in the foot.

There are still many questions pending about the implementation of the changes and there is a big challenge for both sides with how this relationship will be reestablished. Diplomatic links by themselves are not going to solve decades of lack of confidence and hostilities.

It doesn’t make sense now to question who won and who lost. Such a position only benefits those who are against the change. The wealthy and multimillionaire business – those people in the US who deplore Cuba – will do everything in their power to keep things as they have been for nearly 60 years. They have enough money, power and experience to attack anything that puts them in danger of losing grip on their old ways. 

Both sides, in the US and in Cuba, have won with the new perspectives because it is always better to deal our difference through engagement. There is the challenge and, finally, there is no other way than to confront it.

(Thanks to my good friend Byron Motley for his help in the translation process)

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