Maggie Alarcón

Changes in Cuba met with ‘Buts’ from the US

In CAFE, Cuba/US, US on January 18, 2013 at 10:46 am

By Fernando Ravsberg

Original Spanish version in Cartas desde Cuba


President Barack Obama has just announced that US citizens will be allowed to freely travel to Cuba. The measure was adopted in response to the immigration reforms implemented by Havana on January 14.

Actually this news isn’t true, but it could be if there were serious attempts at rapprochement. It wouldn’t be bad policy to take simultaneous steps, especially since it’s been proven that only one side demanding changes doesn´t work.

Even if complete understanding isn’t finally achieved, at least there would be gains for the two peoples – for Cuban’s (who now have the right to travel abroad) and for Americans (who would regain the freedom to visit Cuba without having to seek special permission from Washington).

In few countries do visitors from another one feel so much at ease. Culturally, Miami is almost a province of the island, it’s a place where Cuban visitors feel at home, while Cuba has become one of the safest countries for US citizens.

Despite the historical bilateral political confrontation, on the island itself,  there are none of the  anti-American sentiments that abound in other countries. “Yumas” (“Gringos”) are treated with warmth and can walk the streets without any fear.

The arrival of John Kerry to the State Department could be a good omen. People continue to note that this American politician, a Vietnam veteran, was one of the promoters of restoring and normalizing relations with that Asian nation.

In the case of Cuba, he requested investigations into the funds that Washington grants to Cuban exiles to overthrow Raul Castro. He even dared to question the multi-million dollar federal government funding of TV Marti, a station that no one on the island can watch.

I imagine this isn’t a case of Kerry supporting Cuban socialism; rather it seems he’s bothered by seeing so much of taxpayer’s money being spent on programs that produce the opposite effect of what is actually intended by Washington.

Apparently the Democratic senator believes that isolation isn’t an effective tool for affecting change on the island. On the contrary, he believes that visits by millions of Americans could eventually bring about more openness.

The visit to Cuba by a retired Americans couple would hardly cause an uprising, but its upshot could be the expansion of internal debate on the island.It’s hard to know if he’s right, but after 50 years of a failed policy, it wouldn’t hurt to try new methods. I really don’t think gringo tourists will serve for political proselytizing, but putting an end to foreign aggression would contribute to expanding internal debate in Cuba.

Undoubtedly the confrontation with the US is one of the factors that has prevented debate in Cuba. Few people on the island are willing to join Washington’s positions. Some don’t want to be accused of being mercenaries, but others stand opposed to the US purely out of nationalism.

The Cuban Revolution is not the cause but the result of Washington’s policies toward Cuba for centuries (i.e. the “ripe fruit” doctrine, the exclusion of the mambi independence fighters from the declaration of independence, the Platt Amendment, military invasions, etc.).

Ironing out these rough edges will take more than a visit to Havana by a retired couple from Michigan. What will be needed is the both  countries approach one another step by step, with each making small concessions, with each advancing  without expecting the other to be the only one that comes closer.

It’s true that Obama lifted the restrictions that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had applied regarding travel to the island by emigrants; he also made it easier to send remittances. But no other steps have been taken,  meanwhile Cuban society continues  bringing about transformations.

The United States is missing opportunities. Cuba’s economic opening (with self-employed workers, the redistribution of land, access to foreign capital for agricultural development, etc.) deserved a response  that could have been some sort of easing of the embargo.

Likewise, the mass release of political prisoners was received without a response from Washington, though for years the release of these prisoners was one of the main public demands made by the White House.

Now Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, simply recognizes immigration reform as positive,and then in the same sentence immediately disqualifies the island by stating “Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries in the world.”

Each new change weakens Washington’s arguments in its confrontation with Havana. The arrival of Kerry could lead to rapprochement, or at the very least a fresh batch of  “buts” questioning reforms with a bit more originality.

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