A win-win deal

The diplomatic breakthrough that has been made in U.S.-Cuba relations is a vindication of President Barack Obama’s policy of engaging with nations with which Washington has hostile relations. It shows that patience and creative diplomacy can work in solving even complex situations rooted deep in historical and ideological hostility. It took nearly two years of hidden negotiations, aided by the Vatican and Canada, before the U.S. and Cuba formally announced their decision to restore diplomatic ties last December. Now, President Barack Obama has formally revealed his administration’s plan to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, nearly 54 years after President Dwight Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations. Successive U.S. governments tried to overthrow and isolate the communist regime through various means, such as a proxy war, attempts to assassinate leaders, and sanctions aimed at its economy. But this approach failed miserably: President Obama candidly admitted on Wednesday the U.S. had been “clinging to a policy that was not working”. Since 1992, the U.N. General Assembly has condemned the U.S. embargo every year. In Latin America, it is the U.S. that stands isolated, while the rise of new progressive forces to power has strengthened Cuba’s standing in the region. So the question Mr. Obama faced vis-à-vis Cuba was why his administration should follow a failed policy. Changes in the domestic constituencies, such as the blunted opposition of the Cuban American community towards the two Castro brothers and the demand from American capitalist sections, especially big farming, for new markets, may also have prompted this change of course.

The U.S. outreach comes at a crucial time for Cuba as well. The Communist Party of Cuba knows the country can no longer count on others for economic support. The Soviet Union, its Cold War-era benefactor, has become history. Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan President who started the sale of cheap oil to Cuba, is no more, and the socialist regime in Caracas is battling its own challenges. To recover from its economic troubles, Cuba has moved to ease state controls over the economy and allow private capital greater play. Against this backdrop, better cooperation with the U.S. and the eventual removal of the blockade would prove boons for a changing Cuban economy. However, the bigger question relates to the impact of this rapprochement on Cuba’s domestic politics. While post-revolutionary Cuba has made tremendous achievements in terms of ensuring the welfare of its people, its record in respecting their political freedom is relatively poor. The defenders of the regime’s high-handedness have pointed to the military-political threats from the U.S. as one of the primary reasons for such policies. With the U.S. and Cuba deciding not to be imprisoned by their past, it is also an opportunity to deepen democracy in the island-nation.

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