Domingo, 23 de Octubre de 2016
18:00 CEST.

The stagnation in Cuba - US relations may be coming to an end

Stagnation, that yearning to move forward while one remains stuck in the same place, is the result of ambiguity. Those observing the phenomenon from the outside feel that their hands are tied because imprecision entails a yes but no, or a no but yes ... and nobody knows how to respond to that.

Those who described the effects of ambiguity on mental health in the last century studied two sets of disorders: dementias and addictions. With both conditions the individual externally looks the same, but his mind, his ability to relate to others, has deteriorated so much that he is like someone else. It is what they called "presence-absence" or "absence-presence." Given this phenomenon, paradoxical, if you will, family and friends do not know whether to interact with the person they see or the person they cannot see but suppose is really there. In the end, nothing, or very little, is done to help because, with a personality that has been separated from a body, one never knows how the patient will react.

Cuba-United States relations might be understood, acknowledging the obvious differences, in this way. Ever since the birth of the Republic in 1902, thanks to the Platt Amendment the "Americans" have been an absence-presence in the island's politics. Beyond all Manichaeism, according to which those from the North were always the bad guys, and the islanders the good ones, the Amendment's ambiguous tie mitigated, to a degree, the caudillo rule of the "generals and doctors" who grappled for power, and (this being an often overlooked fact) made the island the country with the best hygiene in the Americas until the first quarter of the century, because an outbreak of cholera, yellow fever or another serious communicable disease authorised a US military intervention.

Similarly, our republican politicians harboured a singular ambivalence towards the northern neighbour. While they admired the Americans in secret, in public they still engaged in nationalistic, anti-American electioneering. Many of them had lived in the United States, like Tomás Estrada Palma, Mario García Menocal, and Fulgencio Batista, or represented important northern companies, like General Gerardo Machado. Incidentally, when these last two tropical dictators forgot about these underlying democratic ambiguities, and showed their claws, their northern neighbours responded in kind, pulling the rug out from under them, and in just a question of months the tyrants had tumbled from their own roofs.

The Cuban Revolution was not immune, in the broadest sense, from this relational ambiguity with the United States. And, in this circular relationship, the small Caribbean island has been connected, also in a confusing way, to US domestic politics. In the Cuban press not a day goes by without the publications of some bad news about the neighbour and there is not a speech or document in which the Maximum Leader (incidentally, an expert on the country that he claims to detest) does not compare health and education figures with those from the northern power. And two of the most critical moments in American politics in the last half century involved Cubans: the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Watergate, with Cubans forming part of the team of burglars at the root of the scandal.

But arousing even greater suspicion is the indefinite interplay between two neighbours that publicly claim to hate each other – but that in 57 years have not landed a single blow, despite being just a few miles away. The embargo/blockade is another enigma of surprising complicity, enabling both to subscribe to a victim/victimiser vision, in an exercise of syntactic ambiguity. The love/hate, engagement/rejection relationship between the United States and Cuba is worthy of a thorough study, as at times when there was no room for half measures, the two agreed as if they were old friends. And, just when the ambiguity seems to be on the verge of clarification, the distortion and rhetorical confrontation resurfaces.

La "ambiguities store" is open again. This is a curious historical moment that Americans and Cubans are witnessing. On this side, a president who has been able to do little in domestic politics, as almost all his ideas and projects have been rejected by Congress, both its chambers being controlled by the other party. To squeeze concrete results from this vague policy, in typically bold fashion an international offensive has been launched just as his term draws to an end; and Cuba, the archenemy they "hate" and "love" at the same time, could be the best buyer. President Obama might not have realised that there is also ambivalence on the other side – or at least the desire for it to seem that way. 

Raúl Castro and a young political elite are convinced that without structural changes Cuba's revolution will die out when its ageing leaders do. Then there is Fidel Castro, who, marching in the opposite direction, with just a hostile photo or newspaper article is able to sow confusion about who is really in power in Cuba. Amidst ambiguity about who the "good" Castro is, and the "bad" one, and who is in command, Cuba languishes under a kind of economic and social paralysis as the Party Congress approaches – an event about which not much is known either, save for that it may be the last for those who have ruled the island as if it were a medieval kingdom during a post-modern age.

What is not ambiguous, however, is time. Dementias and addictions end up killing people because the trend is, inevitably, degenerative. Obama will leave the White House in a few months, after having opened up a path towards Cuba that is anything but ambiguous. The US invasion, with its ham and Coca-Cola, is already underway. Raúl Castro has stated that he will step down in just over two years, when he is 85. His brother, if still alive, will be over 90. They will not be able to continue to vacillate, in the broad sense of the word, because it will be very difficult to shut Cubans' mouths, in the literal sense of the word, when they have physically disappeared.  

In this way the age of the "antique dealers" may be winding to an end – those offering ambiguities and social paralysis at auction. In short, there may be no buyers because paralysing collaboration is coming to an end. The Greek philosopher Epicetus of Phrygia, who had lived as a slave in Rome, said it: "Truth triumphs by itself, but lying always requires complicity."