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17D: Sequences and Consequences, Part II

This article was originally published by Temas on its blog Catalejo.

Click here for the first part of this series.

With the aim of furthering our understanding of the United States-Cuba relationship, Temas submitted a brief questionnaire to a select group of researchers in both countries. The questionnaire sought to explain the challenges of 17D, the day diplomatic relations were restored, and its possible sequences in the short- and mid-term. The publication of this series was initiated on Catalejo, Temas’ blog, the eve of the 54th anniversary of the severing of diplomatic relations. Below, we repost a few of the responses.

TEMAS: The exercise of politics in the United States and in Cuba was conditioned by a permanent confrontation, the use of coercion by the former, and the situation of fortress under siege by the latter. How much will this panorama change with the new relations? What paths should be taken to make them progress; at what paces?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY: Both presidents have begun the difficult process of vanishing from each country’s political culture the stereotypes with which the majority of the population has been seeing the other. For most Cubans, the United States is an imperialist power that has traditionally opposed national independence and, therefore, everything coming from the northern neighbor must be seen with distrust. On the other hand, for the majority of North Americans the Cuban government is a horrible communist dictatorship that constitutes a latent threat for the United States. Those stereotypes have generated distrust and limited progress towards civilized relations.

This step is the first in a long road that should lead to the construction of spaces where mutual trust and the will to cooperate for reciprocal benefit should prevail. Those spaces already exist but are insufficient. The goal is to institutionalize them through formal agreements, something that would have been impossible without diplomatic relations.

Progress should be made in every possible direction and to do so, the example set by both presidents and their negotiating teams should be followed. Diligence and creativity are key in identifying all that can be of benefit to us in the economic, political, cultural, educational, and scientific fields. Obama has less than two years left in office, and we cannot rule out the possibility that a candidate opposed to normalization in U.S.-Cuba relations might win the 2016 elections.

RAFAEL HERNANDEZ: The reestablishment of relations is a great step forward because it means that diplomacy will play an unprecedented role from now on. But upgrading the interest sections to the rank of embassies, and standardizing the mechanisms of diplomacy are steps that by themselves don’t put an end to other tools of manipulation such as economic pressures, military and security devices, or political-ideological rivalry. There is much work to be done in all those areas for dialogue to prevail and, above all, to overcome the major obstacle, which is not the economic blockade, but the legacy of mutual distrust. Obama and Castro lack the time, the political resources, and the strategic and economic interests that would allow the forging of a bipartisan policy towards China and Vietnam.

Both leaders must go forward by means of specific agreements that will not require a green light from Congress, particularly in terms of travel, commercial, and financial transactions licenses. Nevertheless, a viable agenda would include much more. Besides direct mail, telephone, and Internet communications, there might be exchanges of radio and TV programs; updating the migration agreements, shutting down the program to lure Cuban doctors, allowing for the return of Cuban migrants will also be important.

Agreements on interception of drug-trafficking, naval, and air security, coordination between the armed forces and the coast guards, control of epidemics, protection of species, hurricane relief, preservation of the shared environment, and academic and cultural exchange are examples of some of the topics that must be addressed in order to deepen relations. Both presidents have two years ahead of them to go beyond the point of no return, which would amount to building a strong bridge that is too expensive to blow-up before they conclude their mandates.

TEMAS: How would the new policies interact with the intra-hemispheric relations of both countries? What changes might be generated in this scenario with respect to the present-day context?

CA: I prefer to call them “inter-American relations.” Perhaps this term is part of the stereotype that we have to overcome. The steps taken by both presidents — and I stress by both — mark a radical transformation in inter-American relations defined as the relations between Latin American and Caribbean countries with North American countries of Anglo-Saxon origin, such as the United States and Canada. The Latin American and the Caribbean left now faces an important challenge. This conflict of over half a century is a part of the imaginary of resistance of popular forces. Now we see that the United States is capable of changing their policy vis-à-vis towards the oldest of the progressive revolutions of the continent. How do we interpret this?

The first reaction that is already apparent, even in Cuba, is to say that nothing has changed and that the struggle continues, but under new forms. The alternative analysis, to which I subscribe, starts off from the belief that what has happened is a symptom of change in the United States, and we must take advantage of this change to further our interests. Let us remember what happened when Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Carter adopted positive changes in their relationships with the region: the “good neighbor” policy, the Alliance for Progress, and the hemispheric defense of human rights.

The United States is immersed in a clear process of imperial over-dimension. It will not cease to behave accordingly, but let us not forget that this is not “a unique rational act.” Confronted with this loss of might, a sector of the elite in power has been changing its international behavior. There is also the danger from another sector that continues to call for unilateral and coercive policies such as the embargo. The United States is not going to disappear as a country. It would be utopian to pretend that they will not play an important role in international relations. We should assist in the process of re-adaptation while not allowing unipolar behavior and aggressions.

RH: This is not the hemisphere of the Alliance for Progress, whether for the United States or for the south; communism is no longer “the threat,” and counter-insurgencies and the north’s economic assistance are no longer “the solution” to the problems in southern hemisphere. Today, the U.S. is more concerned with inequality, poverty, social exclusion, corruption, and stability, as well as with the development of regional and sub-regional integration projects such as MERCOSUR, UNASUR, and CELAC, and independent global strategies like the BRICS and the G-20. Furthermore, the U.S. no longer places all its eggs in the basket of a unilateralist north.

In spite of Obama’s call for leaving behind the legacies of “communism and colonialism,” what has been surpassed to this moment is the Cold War anti-communist phobia of the days when the current governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Uruguay, would have been labeled as “Marxist” at the service of “extra-hemispheric powers.” Meanwhile, the governments of Brazil, Chile, Argentina would have been questioned because of their commercial preferences with China, which is “extra-hemispheric” and “communist,” on top of it all. Even though there are no other ruling communist parties, and the Cuban political system does not enjoy the sympathy of many governments, this hemisphere is more comfortable with the island than with the United States. In fact, the U.S.’ presence at the Panama Summit will be precisely the result of that hemispheric gravitation, not of a decision or a concession by this country. The option of not attending the summit due to Cuba’s presence would have been costly and would have weighed on Obama’s decision to place all of his Cuban chips on the move of Dec. 17th.

The United States might take advantage of the summit not only to present their usual list of demands on human rights and democracy, but also to offer something new, such as respect for Cuban sovereignty and their commitment to cooperate with Raul’s government without giving in to pressures or to provocations by the enemies of peace with the Island. They might propose that Cuba adheres to all the multilateral agreements that exist with other countries in matters of drug-trafficking and crime control, hurricane relief, communications, the environment, etc., and this would create strong intra-hemispheric pressure on Cuba. This new attitude, as opposed to the fossilized ideological wrangling, would reap more fruit from their recent Cuban sowing, enable Raul to speak more in tune with Dec. 17th and demonstrate before the hemispheric forum the country’s’ determination to avoid unnecessary confrontations and provocations such as the ones being mounted right now by the enemies of dialogue, including the so-called “Cuban civil society” political groups and their promoters.



Temas is a Cuban magazine that seeks to provide a space for critical reflection and debate regarding cultural and social thinking in contemporary Cuba.

Carlos Alzugaray is a former diplomat and educator and is currently a member of the editorial board of Temas.

Rafael Hernández is the editor of Temas and Senior Research Fellow at the Centro de Investigación de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello in Havana.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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