Politics vs. Confrontation
The path towards the total normalization of relations between Washington and Havana requires a unique approach to undo the knots tied since 1961, when the nationalization of American assets in Cuba spurred president Dwight D. Eisenhower to break off diplomatic relations with the island's government.
The difference in approaches, last manifested in the speeches by the presidents of Cuba and the USA at the General Assembly of the United Nations, needs to be duly examined in order for diplomatic relations to play the role they deserve to on the road towards complete normalization.
Barack Obama, after once again recognizing the failure of the politics of confrontation with Havana, declared that: "We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore."
To demonstrate the futility of confrontation, the US leader closed his speech with these words: "Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. One of these men said of the Cuban people, ‘We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.’ For 50 years, we ignored that fact."
Raúl Castro, in contrast, stated: “After 56 years of heroic and self-sacrificing resistance by the Cuban people, diplomatic relations are restored and the embassies in the respective capitals reopened… Now there begins a long and complex process towards the normalization of relations, one that will culminate when the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba is ended; our territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base is restored to us; subversive and destabilizing anti-Cuban radio and television broadcasts end; and our people are compensated for the human and economic damage that they still suffer.”
He added: "As long as it persists, we will continue to present the resolution entitled: ‘Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.’"
The former recognized the failure of the policy followed towards Cuba, while the latter began his remarks by referring to "heroic and self-sacrificing resistance;" that is, to victory. One approached the lifting of the embargo as the result of a process of diplomatic relations. The other posited it as a result of a victory, consequently insisting on the satisfaction of his demands, and threatening ongoing pressure if they were not met, including an annual vote at the United Nations.
An objective analysis of these approaches leads me to the following assessments:
1 With the exception of the naval base at Guantánamo, which I shall address in a future article, the remainder of the Cuban originated with the confrontation following the rupture of diplomatic relations. Therefore, these relations having been restored, the methods used during their absence are out of place and anachronistic.
2 The "self-sacrificing resistance of the Cuban people" did not lead to any victory, but rather to the most profound crisis in Cuban history, reflected in its chronic inefficiency, insufficient wages, the general deterioration of morale, hopelessness, and an increasing mass exodus by its "victorious" citizens.
In December of 2014 the Cuban president, when announcing his willingness to restore relations, said: "This does not mean that the main issue has been solved. The economic, commercial and financial embargo causing enormous human and economic damage to our country must stop." And he added: "Although the embargo's measures are Law, the president of the United States can modify their effective application through the exercise of his executive faculties."
That is, the main issue, according to him, was the embargo, whose application could be modified by President Obama. In January of 2015, however, in a speech at the 3rd CELAC Summit, his approach departed from that set forth the month previous. He asked: “Can diplomatic relations be restored without the resumption of financial services to our Interests Section and Consular Office in the Washington, severed as a result of the financial embargo? And how can we explain the reestablishment of diplomatic relations without the removal of Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism?”
That is, it was no longer the embargo that was crucial, but much more.
In response, the US government not only made the embargo more flexible, but also, just a few months after the initiation of talks, financial services were resumed to the Interests Section, and Cuba was removed from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism. This was something not achieved during 24 years (from 1991 to 2014) of UN-approved resolutions against the embargo, which demonstrates the superiority of negotiations to confrontation and indicates that, in the same way that these demands were satisfied, others can also be. Thus, they cannot be the requirement for negotiations, but rather the result of them.
Supporting this approach to solutions are:
- The CELAC, which in its Special Declaration, on 28 January 2015, celebrated the "reestablishment of relations" and encouraged "President Obama to adopt all those measures within his executive faculties to substantially modify the application of the embargo against Cuba, and the US Congress to initiate, as soon as possible, deliberations on its elimination."
- Pope Francis, who on 18 September 2015 described the reestablishment of relations as a "sign of the victory of a culture of convergence and dialogue" and of a "system of universal rapprochement… over the system, dead forever, of dynasties and groups." The pontiff encouraged politicians to continue down this path and to take advantage of all its potential, as a sign of the high service that they are called upon to render in the pursuit of peace and well-being for their peoples."
- President Obama, on 28 September, in the aforementioned speech before the UN, stated in reference to the embargo: "we will address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore"
Along this path - endorsed by the CELAC, Pope Francis and President Obama - the embargo, compensation, radio and television broadcasts, and any other differences that can be cited, must be resolved by means of negotiations, for when the use of force fails to achieve its objectives and one returns to the political sphere, each party, even as it endeavors to obtain the greatest benefit for it, must yield in something. Why? Because negotiations, before or after confrontation, offer the opportunity to resolve differences by means of mutually beneficial agreements. And the reestablishment of diplomatic relations is a more effective route than ideological campaigns and UN votes.
In our political history there are certainly valid examples of negotiation. One must look no further than the work done by Cosme de la Torriente, who dedicated 60 years of his life to politics, understood as service through negotiations. In January of 1925 Cosme published Cuba’s Rights Over the Isle of Pines, and in March of that same year, as the Cuban ambassador in Washington, he managed to bring about the signing of the Hay-Quesada Treaty, through which Cuba recovered sovereignty over that portion of Cuban soil. In 1934 he authored the initial Treaty for Relations between Cuba and the United States, as a result of which the Platt Amendment was abrogated in May of that year. With regards to this work the historian Emeterio Santovenia wrote that Cosme de la Torriente reduced "to a mere memory the Permanent Treaty between Cuba and the United States, in which the clauses of the Constitutional Appendix had been gutted, generated, in turn, by the Platt Amendment."
What is regrettable, in addition to the insistence upon confrontation, is that the "victorious people," deprived of the most basic civic and political liberties, are prevented from participating in the solution to a problem that has affected multiple generations of Cubans. In addition to being regrettable, it is also unacceptable that, diplomatic relations having been restored, when the concept of the enemy lacks all value, the Cuban government maintains its prohibition of fundamental freedoms, preventing its nationals from being businesspeople in their own country, from signing contracts with foreign businesspeople, and from freely associating.
 Cosme de la Torriente y Peraza (1872-1956), Degree in Philosophy, Letters, and Law. When the uprisings in Matanzas failed in 1895, he emigrated to the USA and returned shortly thereafter as a member of an expeditionary force. He achieved the rank of coronel for his military conduct. He was the assistant to General Calixto García and served on several High Commands. In 1887 he was elected to the Constituent Assembly at La Yaya. He was a magistrate and senator, Cuba’s business chargé d’affaires and ambassador in Madrid, the first Cuban ambassador in Washington, a representative of Cuba at the League of Nations and the president of its Fourth Assembly, a UN delegate for Latin America, the founder and director of La Revista de la Habana (magazine), and the founder and president of the Sociedad de Amigos de la República (Society of Friends of the Republic).