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US/Cuba’s new path?

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Late last year, President Obama tried to restore some sense into US foreign policy and diplomacy as it relates to Cuba, by using his executive power to begin the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations.

His was a perfectly logical position. US policy toward Cuba since the 1960s had failed to establish what it was aimed to do, so it was time to end that archaic policy. For over 20 years the UN Assembly had voted overwhelmingly for an end to the US embargo.{{more}} In 2014, of 193 nations, 188 voted for the resolution, with the US and Israel voting against and some tiny Pacific islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, abstaining. The policies that were aimed at crushing the Fidel Castro regime date back to January 1961, when the US broke off diplomatic relations, followed by the Bay of Pigs invasion of April that year that saw a humiliating defeat in a few days for the invaders. With US dominance of the OAS and with its exertion of tremendous pressure, Cuba was excluded from that body. Two years later another resolution called on members to break diplomatic and trade relations. At that time only Mexico refused. In 1962, the US imposed a complete embargo on Cuba.

All of this was prompted by the path the Cuban revolutionary government had taken, moving to Communism and its close relation with the Soviet Union. It was seen as Russia’s proxy in the region and was put on the list of sponsors of terrorism because of its support to rebels in Latin America, particularly El Salvador. Its support later for the African liberation movements did not find favour with US governments. By the early 1990s the State Department admitted that Cuba no longer funded the guerrillas and also that it did not pose any threat to the US. In fact, in 2001, following 9/11, Cuba signed and ratified all UN resolutions on terrorism and cooperated in counter-terrorism activities. But its name remained on the list.

US hostility to Cuba did not end with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The Americans were of the view that once Fidel was removed, the society would have crumbled. This was put to the test in 2006 when, because of ill-health, Fidel was replaced by his brother Raul. The expected explosion never happened and in fact, Raul began the process of reforming the system, small and gradual though it might have been. We tend to forget what happened in 1976 when a Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was sabotaged while on its way to Barbados with all 73 persons on board. The many stories about attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro make for interesting reading. Cuban authorities put the figure in the hundreds. It is, however, well known that in the early 1960s, the CIA was actively involved in those efforts. The persons who masterminded the sabotage of the Cubana flight were known, but they continued their work backing and initiating anti-Castro activities in the US.

Obama realized that US efforts to rid itself of the Castro government had failed. This was a realistic position. Did they expect that what could not happen in over 50 years still had validity in a world that had so drastically changed? This was no longer the period of the Cold War. Of interest is that while the Americans attacked Cuba on its human rights record, they were doing business as usual with other countries with worse human rights records and with repressive governments. To what extent were they prepared to stand up to China when they did not agree with their policies? The US displays what I call the arrogance of power. Every other country must fit into its way of doing things and with its view of the world. This comes out best in the Republican reaction to the agreement reached with Iran. When you listen to the nonsense pouring out of the mouths of people like Donald Trump, whom I regard as a clown, you wonder if Iran is a small town in the US. Their alternative plan seems to be one of crushing Iran. When will they learn? Iran is a different proposition from Iraq and they made such a mess there!

Cubans are proud of their country, even when they disagree with the policies of their government. In this opening up of relations with Cuba, it is as though that country has to give in to all its whims and fancies and to shape things to suit their taste and interests.

So, some question Obama’s approach! For them Cuba did not surrender enough. The many assassination attempts and the hostility against Cuba over the years had strengthened the Cuban’s administration’s position, since they could then blame any shortcomings on the US embargo. It has always been my view that they could have put the Cubans to the test by removing the embargo and opening up normal relations, something that seems to be happening, though belatedly. The number of Americans, business interests, mayors and governors now moving into Cuba must leave us to wonder. Cuba is an independent country that has made remarkable strides, despite the embargo, particularly in public health and education, with free health care and education and a lower infant mortality rate than the US. It outshone the US in its early and effective response in combating the Ebola disease and providing care to people in Haiti following the earthquake there.

Give the Cubans a chance. Once they agree to integrate themselves into the global community, they will make the changes they consider necessary or those forced on them by the dynamics of that relationship. Cuba has withstood all they threw at them for 50 years, despite the numerous shortcomings that ensued. Let the country make its own adjustments!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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