More is Lost in Cuba
There is a recurring Spanish nightmare in which an American battleship blows up, there come orders for a full withdrawal, and the country retreats in an agitated panic, conscious of the disaster... of what was lost in Cuba. In November the Spanish Army's Chief of Staff, General Jaime Domínguez Buj, spoke of that nightmare, when he attributed the situation in Catalonia to the capital’s weakness, and recalled the loss of Cuba and the Philippines.
It’s now back. You can find it on the editorial pages of various newspapers and in articles asking what role Spain will play after relations between Cuba and the United States are restored. What will be the nature of Spain's relationship to Cuba? This is the "Maine Syndrome." Nobody expressed it more clearly than Socialist MEP Ramón Jáuregui when he referred to investments on the island: "Everything is waiting to be done, and either the Americans will do it, or we will."
Wondering about Spain's role amidst the agreements reached by Obama and Castro arrangements might sound like narcissism, based on the delusion that it all, or much, will depend on Spain's gestures. This criticism, in turn, has to do with a struggle between parties: the Socialists conclude that, if only the (conservative) Popular Party had adopted different policies, Spain's participation in Cuba would be much greater. Apparently they are unaware that, when negotiating with dictatorships, there is no guarantee that a given cause will produce a given effect.
The overtures of a Moratinos could do little to change things in Habana (remember Raúl Castro’s elation in 2010 at the victory of Spain's national football team). Neither could García-Margallo have achieved much had he been received at the Palacio de la Revolución. And the only beneficiaries of another meeting between Zapatero, Moratinos and Castro would have been Zapatero and Moratinos. Right now the Common Position might not exist, the PP could break its promises even more with regards to the Cuban issue, and the PSOE could be in power. But it wouldn´t matter. Spain would continue to be ignored by Cuba, slighted because its economy is viewed as unable to provide the kind of investments and loans expected to come from the United States.
Under these circumstances, how can the Maine Syndrome be fought, beyond expressions of bravado like that from Jauregui? When President Obama announced his new policy towards Cuba, he mentioned those who might be the true drivers of change: small businesses on the island. In the new scenario, supporting and strengthening these stakeholders means supporting the country's democratization. This is, without any doubt, one of the areas where Washington will run into the greatest obstacles, for Raúl Castro does not support strengthening anything but his famiglia. Raúl Castro is an expert at stymying change, to such an extent that Cubans have even come up with a variation on the Spanish verb ralentizar (to slow down): raulentizar.
The question of how to reach out to those entrepreneurs is bound to be among the most complex questions to be addressed by Washington. It may also be among the most neglected, along with the defense of human rights. And it is here where Spain boasts a big advantage: its over 100,000 nationalized Spaniards residing in Cuba.
Thanks to the terms of the Historical Memory Law enacted under President Zapatero, Spain has this unique asset on the island. Among those more than 100,000 Spanish/Cuban citizens, there will be entrepreneurs who need assistance and investments. And if, as recommended by the historian and political scientist Tomás Pérez Viejo, an ambitious project was undertaken, and Spain avoided the repeated "mistake of basing diplomacy on companies," Spain could instead center its diplomatic efforts around the fate of this group of citizens, with all the benefits for the democratization that this would entail.
The country, of course, would have to maintain its official contact with Cuba. But there is no doubt that Spanish authorities will need to do more than merely protect those investments existing in Cuba today, which, far from serving to democratize the country, are held by agents in cahoots with the regime, as they violate workers' most basic rights.
This article appeared in El País. It is published here with the author's permission.