Jueves, 13 de Diciembre de 2018
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Trump and Cuba

US President Donald Trump, during the speech in which he announced his change of policy towards Cuba. Miami, June 16, 2017. (GETTY)

The campaign being waged now during the Trump Administration by those who backed a policy of rapprochement under the previous US leader is a bit contradictory.

On the one hand, they wish to convince us that nothing has changed. These are the defenders of Obama's "legacy" who believe that the president's policies, whether those toward Cuba, or Obamacare, are so solid, popular and beneficial that it is impossible to undo them.

On the other hand, there are the lines of disinformation coming out of Cuba, with arguments so diverse that every kind of audience can select the one that most appeals to them. They are all alarmist, and cover a range of subjects. In essence they assure us that the new measures will be easily violated by the Cuban State, and will only affect the population. They also insist that they will only serve to strengthen the “hardliners” in Cuba's leadership.

There are too many issues here to be addressed in a single opinion piece that must respect certain limits in terms of its length. Hence, I will limit myself to giving my opinion on that most recurrent of questions: "Do you believe that President Trump's purportedly new policy towards Cuba is really different from that of his predecessor, or that it is only the rhetoric that has changed?"

Forgive me for the thoroughness of my answer, which, in a nutshell, could be summed as follows: there are actually three clear substantive differences, in addition to an obvious rhetorical twist. I'll focus on the first one.

The embargo "on Cuba" no longer exists

In the first place, the embargo's sanctions are clearly and definitively restricted to the state sector and, particularly, within it, companies controlled by the military. From the embargo "on the Cuban nation" there has been a shift to the "embargo on the Cuban State." Private companies in Cuba are exempt from the sanctions.

For Obama, who initially moved in this direction, that logic was just an excuse to pursue his true objective: the lifting of sanctions against the Cuban state. For Trump, support for the private sector, combined with sanctions on the Cuban state, is at the heart of his policy towards the island.

The country's incipient private sector is subject to the "embargo" of the Cuban Government, which does not want it to thrive, but it is already clear that it can carry out direct economic transactions with the US. In order not to harm the population, and even Cuban-Americans, concessions were made in the embargo, on communications and in other areas, which could have been technically reversed, such as flights by American companies, cruise travel and telephone and Internet communications. The authorization to sell food and medicines is still in force.

But it is no longer possible to say that the sanctions are aimed at impoverishing the Cuban people. Rather, this is what the Government of the Island is dedicated to, by insisting on an obsolete statist model and the suppression of entrepreneurial talent by dooming Cubans to precarious self-employment and subjecting them to multiple legal controls and excessive tax charges.

If Raúl Castro lifted his internal embargo, and treated Cuba's private sector in the same way (at least!) as he does foreign business, the Cuban economy would surge, and we would begin to see prosperity in a palpable way. But he does not want to. He prefers to maintain the authoritarian and statist status quo, while launching a new campaign of propaganda against Washington, this time attacking the embargo against the Cuban military and state companies, blaming its for the exacerbation of endemic scarcity and the precariousness of self-employment in Cuba.

A threat to regional and US security

Secondly, this policy is based on realistic assumptions about the nature of the Cuban regime, the anti-American and anti-reformist mentality of its leaders, and the danger that these factors pose to the interests of regional and American security.

Obama based his approach on a false idea - propagated in the US intelligence community by the spy Ana Belén Montes and in academic sectors by individuals collaborating with or linked to Cuban intelligence - that since Cuba is a poor country, the only real danger was that the Cuban government might collapse, triggering an exodus to the US. According to this discredited hypothesis - still accepted by many - it was in the interest of US national security to keep the Castro brothers in power, while hoping that, perhaps, (it was just a hope) they would evolve towards more flexible positions.

But a brief historical examination reveals something else. Cuba was not much more prosperous, and had the same leaders, back when Soviet nuclear missiles were deployed on it, and it exported guerrillas and regular military forces to Latin America, Africa and Asia. And its economic weakness after the disappearance of the USSR has not prevented it from colonizing Venezuela and turning it into its narco-terrorist platform abroad. There are countries and regimes that not only violate human rights, but also endanger international stability and security. The Cuba-Venezuela alliance is one of them.

Obama ignored this. Under his two administrations Havana established a narcocolony in Venezuela, smuggled guns with its ally North Korea, obtained a Hellfire missile in the midst of bilateral negotiations and, furthermore, according to the director of the CIA, operates the second most aggressive intelligence service against Washington. No one wanted to see that Cuba was an integral part of the new anti-Western alliance during the post-Cold War era, which, with selective support from Russia and China, is basically comprised of repressive states like Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and motley narcoterrorist forces, like the FARC, and groups like Hezbollah. Neither did they want to recognize that it was the Cubazuela connection that was behind a network of anti-American political relationships in the region, such as the ALBA and CELAC.

Above all, they never understood that the true aim of the elites in Havana and Caracas was not the question for a "new socialism" for the 21st century, but to establish a central position in the globalized political economy of drug trafficking. The confrontation here is not with Communism, but with two regimes led by mafias that rely on other authoritarian states and transnational criminal organizations and terrorist forces.

By foregoing a policy aimed at overturning the Cuban regime, Obama failed to recognize the fact that it is precisely the archaic system in Cuba and the leaders of the country that are engendering the exodus and endangering regional stability and security.

The "thaw" had an illegitimate origin

Third, Obama's policy towards Cuba was based on illegitimate foundations, as it was not devised after due consultation with federal agencies and the US Congress. The undersecretary of state, Roberta S. Jacobson, learned of the talks and their results after the fact, according to her own statements before Congress.

This policy was implemented in the style of a palatial conspiracy by a very limited group of people in the White House, with very few individuals consulted outside the Government. Given this flawed origin, it had to be enacted, from start to finish, through presidential orders, which could not even be properly called "executive" because, with the exception of the White House, federal government agencies were basically used to implement it, not to question its wisdom.

It was coordinated principally by Ben Rhodes, a young speechwriter who became a close advisor to the president. According to subsequent testimony, working on it were, discreetly holed up at an unidentified office at the Department of State, Luis Zuñiga and a high-ranking executive at Balsera Communications, a private company invited to facilitate political change, without consulting the leaders of the pertinent governmental institutions. The former was believed in the White House to be highly knowledgeable about Cuba because he had been a temporary official at the SINA, where he could barely move in circles of dissident, within a very limited geographical radius. The second was known as a businessman and marketing specialist, and was to provide a public persuasion strategy.

Between the two of them, besides contributing their opinions, they were to provide narratives to sell a policy that had not been grounded in consensus or discussed outside a very small circle. Selling it meant adjusting the rhetoric to each specific audience, and conducting surveys whose samples and selective questionnaires would yield responses to generate headlines in favor of rapprochement with Raúl Castro's regime.

The "thaw" was a gigantic political marketing operation that did not have to be funded by the Cuban intelligence service.

The policy now announced by Trump came following months of institutional consultations with various federal agencies (still mostly occupied by officials from the Obama Administration), congressmen, civil society organizations, and Cuban activists.


You can be a Democrat or Republican, and express your opinion about the current US president and his tweets. You may also disagree with some aspects of this new policy toward Cuba. But it is beyond debate that the origin of this policy shift, unlike the "thaw," is institutionally legitimate. It is also undeniable that both its content and its conceptualization are clearly different from those of Obama’s.

It is true that a struggle is now underway to ensure effective mechanisms for its implementation and the appointment of new officials who will seek to advance rather than sabotage it. It is also true that it is imperative to explain the new policy systematically and effectively. And, as with any reorientation, be it domestic or foreign, it remains to be seen whether it will yield the results it was meant to.

But what can be stated with certainty is that the previous policy was an obvious failure, and its continuation would have done irreparable damage to the cause of a democratic, prosperous and free Cuba.

During the supposed "thaw" Havana ratcheted up internal repression, reform stagnated, the criminal coalition with the regime of Venezuela was ostensible, and the exodus of Cubans was out of control, and only stemmed by the repeal of the "dry foot, wet foot" policy. Quite the opposite of what Obama and his advisors had promised.

Neither in Latin America were the hopes pinned on Obama fulfilled, as the leader fell for the utopian idea that a withdrawal by the United States around the world would allow hotspots of conflict to cool down all by themselves. This was nothing more than a kind of isolationist appeasement, which his advisors called "strategic patience." The results are obvious.

The vacuum of power generated by America's strategic myopia was filled by the most nefarious forces. In Latin America the legacy left behind was the fracturing of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the unchecked development of the Cubazuela criminal connection.

In the case of Cuba, ironically, nobody did more than Raúl Castro to ensure the failure of this outdated policy, something easily predictable that could have been avoided if the architects of this disaster had not been so arrogant.

If there is any "Cuban legacy" of President Obama, it is, unfortunately, this disaster, only mitigated by his formidable speech to the Cuban people in a theater filled by the country's elite during his visit to Havana.