The official visit by US President Barack Obama to Cuba scheduled for March 21-22 can go down in history as a landmark event symbolizing the end of the Cold War between the two neighboring countries, which lasted over 50 years and poisoned the international political climate in the Caribbean.
Notably, Obama will be the first US president to visit Cuba in the past 88 years since January 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge Jr. went to Havana to participate in the Sixth Pan-American Conference.
I believe that the current visit by the US President should be considered (and evaluated) according to three dimensions: bilateral, regional and global.
Bilaterally, Obama’s visit should give an impetus to normalizing relations between Washington and Havana – a process that was launched on December 17, 2014 when the leaders of the two countries announced plans to put an end to years of hostility and fully restore US-Cuban relations, which were interrupted upon the initiative of the United States on January 3, 1961. The sides have accomplished a lot in the past 14 months. Diplomatic relations were restored on July 1, 2015, and embassies re-opened on July 20. At the same time, the United States has implemented decisions to ease the economic and financial blockade against Cuba introduced in 1960 (although it will take a few more years to lift it completely). In addition, direct telephone communication between the countries and regular flights were restored, and banking cooperation was re-established. Plans are in place (for the first time since 1959) to build a plant operated by the US company Cleber, which manufactures agricultural equipment for newly emerged private farmers. Washington's overriding goal is to use economic and financial tools to speed up market reforms in Cuba, pave the way for liberal political changes and get the country back into its orbit of dominance.
Importantly, Obama’s Cuban course and his intention to visit Cuba and hold talks with Raul Castro caused open discontent on behalf of the Republican anti-Castro hardliners participating in the presidential campaign, such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Given the unpredictable outcome of the presidential race, Obama is trying to take US relations with Havana as forward as possible in order to achieve a level of intergovernmental cooperation that would be hard for his successor to take down, if he or she ever wanted to do so.
Regionally, Obama’s attempts to build US-Cuban bridges is a key element of the United States’ strategy with the aim to re-introduce its influence in Latin America, where the trade, economic and political positions of Washington have eroded in recent years, primarily, under the pressure of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. By way of a reminder, Moscow has announced the establishment of strategic partnerships with a number of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, which Washington saw as an intrusion into its established area of national interests. At the same time, Cuba has for decades been a sore spot in inter-American relations; therefore, the White House believes that establishing a dialogue with Havana will eliminate obstacles on its way to establishing stronger and more focused cooperation with that region. In other words, the United States intends to play the Cuban card in its regional policy.
At the same time, the global aspect of the course on normalizing US-Cuban relations in the spirit of the strategic peacebuilding doctrine, which is part of a new National Security Strategy adopted in the early 2015, has become clearly visible. As is known, the latest revision of the strategy puts Russian aggression in Ukraine in the first place among the top threats facing the United States, followed by ISIS. Of course, the United States hasn’t forgotten about China and is concerned about its militarization. This outlook on the world determines the goals and objectives basic to US geopolitics. It includes (in accordance with the concept of strategic peacebuilding) the provision of strong and reliable strategic support, ousting competitors from the extensive Latin American space and making it part of the global US influence and its dominant presence.
Thus, the end of the Cold War between the United States and Cuba – which is certainly a positive development — may bring about a new, fairly dangerous geopolitical situation, including in the Caribbean.