The US-Cuba Convergence: What Are the Expectations?

The US approach should be understood under the Obama doctrine of "smart power." The indiscriminate use of hard power between 1960-2014, through military threats and pressure, did not yield the expected result: achieving success in subduing Castro and the Cubans. The resumption of diplomatic relations does not mean the end of the blockade.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba in August for the opening of the US Embassy there. The issues to be discussed during this visit remain top-secret, but keeping in mind the idea behind the US military strategy, it's likely that Kerry will publicly advocate for expanding the human rights of the Cuban opposition and freedom of the press, as conceived by the United States. Private talks, however, will focus on US pressure on Cuba for not reopening the signals intelligence collection facility at Lourdes, and Guantanamo, which will remain in American hands. These are the main conditions for lifting the embargo.

The US approach should be understood under the Obama doctrine of "smart power." The indiscriminate use of hard power between 1960-2014, through military threats and pressure, did not yield the expected result: achieving success in subduing Castro and the Cubans. The approach that Obama is choosing allows the US to begin a formal relationship with Cuba after years of isolation, to reactivate its embassy in Cuba and to put forward official programs with the open support of the State Department and USAID.

The resumption of diplomatic relations does not mean the end of the blockade. The results of the recent Congressional mid-term elections in the US, and the favorable result for the Republican Party, make it very difficult to disassemble the entire legal structure of the blockade in 2017, as Obama announced. The political forces represented by the Miami Cuban opposition, both Democratic and Republican, are against the reopening of relations. Andres Oppenheimer, a representative voice of this opposition, has stated , “inviting Cuban dissidents would be a way for Obama to correct the mistake made by breaking the old American promise not to make an agreement with the Cuban regime without consulting the peaceful opposition." The dissidents were taken by surprise when Obama announced his plan to normalize their relations on December 17, 2014. They lost political influence internally and the ability to claim even a minor role in the outcome of the negotiations.

In a telephone interview with Oppenheimer, known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas said that so far, neither he nor any of his fellow peaceful opponents, have been invited to the ceremony on August 14. If Kerry invites the peaceful opposition, he said, it would be the first time he can remember that high-ranking Cuban officials and opponents would participate in the same social event. Thus to completely lift the embargo, Kerry has already declared that it will be a long and difficult process, where Cuba will have to agree to America's main conditions: not to reopen the signals intelligence collection facility at Lourdes, and for Guantanamo to remain in American hands.

For its part, the Cuban government is requesting exactly the opposite: to cease hostile radio transmissions to the island, to end the blockade and to clear out Guantanamo. It said that Cuba has already liberalized its economy, has entered a phase of complex transformations, has achieved a monetary unification exchange and a new wage and price policy, and is taking advantage of the new law on foreign investment and the creation of the Mariel Special Development Zone, with Brazilian investment, which is expecting new foreign investment.

Now, as result of negotiations, the countries' bilateral relations have come to include measures developed through Obama's executive order that nullify several restrictions on trade, travel and banking exchanges that had been in place as a result of the US blockade for decades.

Among the major changes: the export of certain goods to the Cuban private sector will be allowed, in particular, construction materials and equipment and telecommunications systems, along with trade in agricultural goods and further facilitation of trade in medical goods. In addition, US banks may open accounts in Cuba, and travelers, business people and those making remittances can use credit and debit cards. Also, licenses will no longer be necessary for private sector sales to Cuba or for sending materials to civilian organizations on the island, along with donations to certain sectors.

The role of Raul Castro has been fundamental to this approach for its policies of economic liberalization, but this country does not present the threat of the second half of the twentieth century. The Cuba of Fidel and Raul does not currently support and train subversive guerrilla organizations. The last remaining ones in America, the Colombian guerrillas (FARC-EP), are at an advanced stage of a peace agreement with President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos.

This US strategy toward Cuba reflects the multi-pronged diplomatic approach of the Obama Doctrine. On the one hand, the conciliatory action that has allowed for reestablishing relations with Cuba, along with the insistence in Congressional circles on the suspension of the blockade, above all to allow American capital once again enter the Caribbean island, which is looking for foreign investment. On the other hand, the US is maintaining a military policy, as expressed in its greater presence in the Caribbean, particularly with the mobilization of troops in Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras) and South America (Chile, Peru and Colombia) in close cooperation with NATO bases in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire and Malvinas.

The Obama administration has reiterated that this strategy is driven by the promotion of a consistent American target: change in Cuba. A statement from the White House on starting the process of normalization with the implementation of these measures firmly states its belief that allowing increased travel, trade and the flow of information to and from Cuba will enable the United States to better promote its interests.

For this purpose, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an American government agency, is looking for a contractor to recruit, hire and manage a network of journalists across Cuba. Political analyst Tracey Eaton, on his blog, "Along the Malecon," wrote on April 12, 2015 that these journalists "must be able to generate original stories, which are subject to approval by OCB prior to work on such stories commencing, and establish a network of sources both in government and outside official channels in order to report on a wide variety of subjects. Stories regarding politics and economics are of particular interest as are those of the dissident movement. The stringers must also be able to identify and cover stories related to civil society, social issues, sports, arts and entertainment; Stringers must have a mobile phone and know how to communicate via SMS, and how to send pictures and videos.” This information leads one to believe that a color revolution is already being planned in the US strategy toward Cuba.

Finally, in the geopolitics of the region, the United States is very concerned about the presence of new actors such as Russia and China. Barak Obama's government (2008-2016) and its Security Doctrine of "smart power," has led him to advance destabilizing actions against Honduras (2009), Bolivia (2010), Ecuador and Venezuela (2014), in an attempt to limit the impact of the post-liberal and anti-hegemonic model launched in South American integration.

In fact, the enemy is no longer Cuba but Venezuela, which, through its oil policy, has had a great impact on the Caribbean. In this regard, Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes that “Cuba is no longer a threat to the United States – but Venezuela is. Despite their ideological parity, Cuba and Venezuela in so many ways carry unique challenges and opportunities for the United States. Each bilateral relationship has different objectives – and, as a result, implies a different strategy to further US interests in the regional context. In the long-term, the US government has an interest in peaceful, market friendly democratic governance in both countries – and in stable and constructive bilateral relationships with both. But in the short- and medium-term, Washington’s objectives for Venezuela and Cuba are distinct, and the contexts so different”. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.