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Obama moves to overturn historical absurdity

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The US 54-year-old embargo, with all that accompanies it, was becoming an embarrassment and was also isolating the US in Latin America. Panama, which is hosting next year’s Summit of the Americas, has already issued an invitation to Cuba to attend. Over the years it had become comical to see most of the countries of the world voting at the UN to lift the embargo on Cuba, with the US, Israel and some tiny Pacific islands, which very few persons even know exist, voting against or abstaining. Actually, this year,{{more}} Palau voted against and the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. 188 countries supported the motion. This has roughly been the pattern for the past 22 years.

The 1960 embargo was also meant to topple Fidel Castro and end the regime. There were numerous, unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life, but the Cuban regime has outlasted eight presidents, from Kennedy to GW Bush. The American antiquated position has resulted in the creation and push toward ALBA, although this isn’t the only factor to be taken into account. The US policy has been shaped through the influence of Cuban exiles, many of whom had been waiting for the fall of Castro to feed on what they hoped to have been the carcass of Cuba. At first, there was this belief that once Fidel was no longer in charge the regime would collapse. They definitely misread the Cuban situation. Imagine Obama shaking the hands of Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral sent some Americans berserk. There is certain madness in doing the same thing over and over for 54 years and expecting different results. But that is America for you!

What was absurd about this is that while the Americans were vociferous in their criticism of the Cuban regime, they were in bed with others that had atrocious records. The Cubans have, of course, always blamed the US embargo for their hardships. Well, put them to the test! This would better allow the world to judge the regime. We have to remember too that America’s record can hardly stand up to scrutiny. The recent US Senate Select Committee report on Intelligence has exposed, among other things, the drastic torture methods used by the CIA and other government agencies. Then one of the faithful, Dick Cheney, is even trying to defend ‘waterboarding’ and to exclude it from any association with torture. The Contra affair reminds us that they were in bed with some of the most oppressive regimes possible. For them, once it is done by America it has legitimacy, although only for them.

But a lot has changed since the imposition of the embargo. Nixon had taken the bold step of going to China to normalize relationships. The Berlin wall had fallen, but still America persisted with its absurdity. And with all of the changes that have taken place, the American policy, though appearing comical, was nonetheless serious and damaging. When the Ebola crisis emerged, Cuba was one of the first countries to have jumped in to help with 256 medical workers in Africa, something for which they were applauded even by John Kerry, the Secretary of State. Despite that, their policies prevented the World Health Organization from paying medical workers in Sierra Leone and Liberia. How ridiculous!

Cuba faces many problems. It is a poor country, but with a reputation in the provision of education and medical services for its people and internationally. Their internationalism has extended not only to the Caribbean and Latin America, but to poor countries in Africa and Asia, where they offer not only medical services, but also provide services in the areas of education, culture, sport and agriculture. Certainly it couldn’t be their intention to spread Communism, whatever that means today. In any event, Communism no longer attracts people anywhere. In Florida, the old Cuban exiles have now found themselves outnumbered, first by a younger generation of Latinos who do not have the attachment that their forbears have to the America that they knew and fed on. Additionally other Latin Americans with no connection to Cuba have grown in numbers, so the old guard is no longer the political force that it once was. Obama obviously recognizes this, as does Hilary Clinton, who is expected to enter the race for the White House. But there are Republicans like Marco Rubin, who is expected to enter the presidential race, along with Speaker John Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and others, including Democrats, who have vowed to fight any effort to remove the embargo. But they might find that they are on the wrong side of history!

Obama is using his executive authority to change the nature of the relationship by opening up diplomatic relations, even beginning the process of opening an embassy in Cuba. It seems that he will do whatever he is able to. The reaction of the people in Cuba has to be factored in. We have seen pictures of students celebrating the news and heard the views of many others who see the lifting of restrictions as their only hope. If the embargo is lifted and normal diplomatic relations restored, the Cuban government will have to account to the people for any failures. But failures will not only be determined by them. Apart from the fight expected in Congress, issues of compensation for properties seized by the revolutionary government will become hot ones. In all of this, America will have to understand that Cubans are proud of their revolution. The conditions created by the relationship and Cuba’s opening up to the world will definitely influence the future shape of Cuba. So, we have to stay tuned. The battle has just begun!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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