U.S.-Cuba Embassy Deal: New Relationship, Persistent Problems

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 21/7/2015 en: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2015/07/21/u-s-cuba-embassy-deal-new-relationship-persistent-problems/


July 20 brought the reversal of a decades-long U.S. policy stance toward Cuba. More than 50 years after the United States and Cuba first cut diplomatic ties back in 1961 (on the heels of Fidel Castro’s revolution), the Cuban flag sways outside the embassy on 16th St. NW in Washington DC.

The flag now also hangs in the State Department, side by side all the other countries with which the United States maintains friendly diplomatic ties. This change ushers in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, albeit with much less pomp and circumstance than the ceremony outside the embassy.


In his first-ever visit to the U.S., Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez led the ceremony in front of around 300 guests, including journalists and diplomatic team members to raise the island’s flag. In his remarks, Rodriguez praised the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, but was unwilling to stray from contentious topics: Rodriguez called for an end to the trade embargo and the dismantling of the U.S.’s Guantanamo naval base.
The Obama administration’s new policy still faces an uncertain future. Battles remain. The trade embargo can only be lifted by Congress, and Congress will have the final say on whether the President is able to post a U.S. Ambassador to Cuba.
Cuba will be a hot-button topic in 2016

Indeed, not everyone agrees with President Obama’s assertion that this policy reversal constitutes a “historic step forward.” Rodriguez’s remarks at the embassy underscore some of the tensions at play in normalizing Cuba-U.S. relations. Since its early stages, the deal has caused splintering on both sides of the aisle—and Cuba is likely to become a hot-button topic in the upcoming 2016 election.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both potential contenders in next year’s presidential race (and both of whom hold personal ties to Cuba), have openly stated that they do not support the actions of the Obama administration. Rubio has said that, if elected, he plans to roll back on Obama’s policy and cut ties with Cuba until democracy is fully restored in the island. Opponents, which also include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, have expressed fears that President Obama’s actions signal tolerance toward an intolerant regime.

Senator Rand Paul broke stance with other Republican figureheads, however, by declaring that he believes opening Cuba could be a positive step towards a much-needed regime change in the island. Paul is on the same page as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who was a proponent of the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations while Secretary of State. Public opinion polls also reflect support for the shift, especially in areas like Miami, which boast a high density of Cuban-Americans. According to Pew Research Center, 63% of Americans approve of the deal—yet only 32% believe that renewed ties to the U.S. will make Cuba a more democratic country.

After living so many decades with little or no hope, most of those on the island also favor the deal. But Rubio and Cruz are not running for office in Cuba—they do not mind being unpopular there. Their principled stance, based on the respect of political and economic freedoms, and for all the liberties we take for granted, means little for those who have been brainwashed by half a century of constant government indoctrination.
Diplomatic relations do not guarantee progress

The Obama administration and the “Rand Paul” libertarians are not alone in their support for increased openness. Successful leaders of the U.S.-Cuban business community, as those gathered in the Cuba Study Group, favor the current policies. Their optimism is mostly genuine but few are ready to jump in with large investments.

Diplomatic relations do not guarantee progress. Nor do inexistent embargoes. Take the case of Venezuela, a country whose leaders trumpet that they would like to be like Cuba. A first hand witness, Luis Henrique Ball, believes there is nothing in the current agreement that would prevent Cuba from continuing to impose the same policies that have condemned its citizens and Venezuelans to poverty or exile.

Even some Cuban exiles—who complain the current agreement has ignored the rights of the victims of communism—believe there is a chance that the material conditions will improve. One of them, Alberto Mestre, forecasts that the transition might be like Vietnam (which he recently visited): “Our tour guide told us the communists still rule, and that is bad, but I am living better.” Cuban-born Otto J. Reich, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, forecasts that the Cubans will follow the model of Putin’s Russia. The military will likely maintain power after the Castros’ deaths and will try to capture businesses inside and outside the country, thus consolidating power.

Likely alliances between crony military and crony capitalist interests

And though it may seem there would be less need for “spy games,” the opening of the embassies will likely expand spying on both sides. It will get cheaper, and soft collection of intelligence will be less risky. Those at the State Department Latin American desk tend to be more fearful of instability than of challenges against freedom. They will be monitoring trends and leadership. Cuba is only 90 miles away from the U.S. and if confronted with major instability and even more poverty, hundreds of thousands if not millions, might try to flee to Florida.

My forecast is that we will see alliances between crony military and crony capitalist interests. The former will have access to all the information gathered by the Cuban intelligence agencies, the latter, will help open the doors of business ready to make deals is someone guarantees their profits. If the rewards are high, dealing with tyrants becomes attractive.

Those of us who love freedom will have to make an extra effort to continue to document and expose the human rights abuses committed by Cuban communists over all these decades as well as their support for terrorist and subversive activities. We will have to resist the temptation to create a strategic blindness and silence in order not to hamper the possibility of progress. Progress that for some might mean more privileged business deals, but for us should mean increased freedoms.


Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.