THE CUBAN-AMERICAN RAPPROCHEMENT: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.” The president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba. In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo. “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.'"Peter Baker, "U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility". The New York Times. 17 December 2014, in www.nytimes.com.
The Cubans are now under some pressure to shift their policies. They have managed to survive the fall of the Soviet Union with some difficulty. They now face a more immediate problem: uncertainty in Venezuela. Caracas supplies oil to Cuba at deeply discounted prices. It is hard to tell just how close Cuba's economy is to the edge, but there is no question that Venezuelan oil makes a significant difference. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government is facing mounting unrest over economic failures. If the Venezuelan government falls, Cuba would lose one of its structural supports. Venezuela's fate is far from certain, but Cuba must face the possibility of a worst-case scenario and shape openings. Opening to the United States makes sense in terms of regime preservation. The U.S. reason for the shift is less clear. It makes political sense from Obama's standpoint. First, ideologically, ending the embargo appeals to him. Second, he has few foreign policy successes to his credit. Normalizing relations with Cuba is something he might be able to achieve, since groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce favor normalization and will provide political cover in the Republican Party. But finally, and perhaps most important, the geopolitical foundations behind the American obsession with Cuba have for the most part evaporated, if not permanently than at least for the foreseeable future. Normalization of relations with Cuba no longer poses a strategic threat. To understand the U.S. response to Cuba in the past half century, understanding Cuba's geopolitical challenge to the United States is important.... With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro lost his patron and strategic guarantor. On the other hand, Cuba no longer threatened the United States. There was an implicit compromise. Since Cuba was no longer a threat to the United States but could still theoretically become one, Washington would not end its hostility toward Havana but would not actively try to overthrow it. The Cuban government, for its part, promised not to do what it could not truly do anyway: become a strategic threat to the United States. Cuba remained a nuisance in places like Venezuela, but a nuisance is not a strategic threat. Thus, the relationship remained frozen.George Friedman, "The Geopolitics of U.S.-Cuba Relations". Stratfor. 23 December 2014, in www.stratfor.com. With the resumption of something approaching 'normal' diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the Americans have intelligently put aside an extremely outdated aspect of the 'Cold War'. With the collapse of Sovietskaya Vlast more than twenty-years ago, there is absolutely no sense in the economic embargo that the Americans have (or should we say 'had') on Cuba. Whatever else said sanctions may have done, they certainly have not lead to a situation in which the Castro Dictatorship has been overthrowned. Indeed, it may in fact be the case that the albatross of the embargo has solidified rather than the converse the rule of the Castro Brothers. In any case, the fact of the matter is that aside from the ultra self-interested Cuban, émigré community in South Florida, no one has any real interest in Cuba. The times are long gone when the island's resources could be said to have any economic importance. Cuba's importance in any real sense of the term ended circa 1992. Nothing has occurred since that time to reverse this state of affairs. By keeping a diplomatic and economic embargo on an island territory of absolutely no strategic importance, the Americans have merely given out another instance of their diplomatic maladroitness. Indeed, it could be said of the entire South and Central American zone, that strategically speaking, its only importance derives from a negative rather than a positive attribute: denying it to other powers outside of the American continent. In short, by endeavoring to re-establish normal relations with Cuba, the American President, whatever else one may say of him, has certainly made an intelligent move on the diplomatic chessboard.