Inter Press Service
With the decision to reestablish diplomatic ties, Cuba and the United States, polar opposites that have long inspired or fomented extremism of different kinds in the Americas, have now become factors of moderation and pragmatism.
The continued isolation of Cuba 25 years after the end of the Cold War was so widely rejected that the U.S. embargo, which dates to October 1960, has completely lost relevance. But it can only be abolished by the U.S. Congress. It is politics that reigns in this case.
Moreover, the measures announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17 undermine the embargo. Raising the quarterly limit of cash remittances to Cuba from 500 to 2,000 dollars and freeing up transactions between banks in the two countries are just two examples.
Another initiative, the removal of Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, opens doors to external financing that were closed up to now.
Obama’s gesture, although late in coming, and Cuba’s acceptance will reduce tensions at a regional level that continue to exist largely due to the confrontation between the two countries. The new situation will save the Organisation of American States (OAS) from the corrosion caused by the exclusion of Cuba, which is rejected by Latin American and Caribbean nations.
The impatience with Cuba’s isolation was manifested by the invitation extended by the host government of the seventh Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April 2015 in Panama, to Cuban President Raúl Castro. Significantly, Castro and Obama were the first to confirm their attendance.
At the last summit, in 2012, Canada and the United States vetoed Cuba’s participation, blocking the consensus needed for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to invite the Cuban leader to the summit in Cartagena de Indias. But the controversy contaminated the debates, standing in the way of meaningful in-depth discussions.
The dialogue launched by Obama and Castro is aimed at strengthening the OAS, which in 2009 repealed its 47-year suspension of Cuba. The Cuban government refused to return to an organisation where, it said, “the United States continues to exercise oppressive control.” But it is likely to change its stance given the new situation.
The OAS, however, will have to step up its role as a continental forum for debate on differences and conflicts, even human rights – another issue that has stood in the way of Cuba’s reinsertion, because of complaints of abuses.
The regional organisation will also provide an important space for Washington to rebuild its ties to Latin America, a region that has lost priority for the United States in recent decades.
That could reduce the weight of regional associations like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), created to bring together countries in the region with cultural affinity and similar levels of development, but also as a counterpoint to the Inter-American system where the U.S. plays a hegemonic role.
With the easing of the confrontation between Havana and Washington, one of the reference points for radicalism of all stripes will disappear in the Americas.
The world could even be surprised by a congressional vote on lifting the embargo, where Obama’s position is expected to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Republican majority.
The anti-Castro lobbying groups have won elections in the state of Florida, but they are ageing and the opening up to Cuba stimulates economic interests against trade barriers.
The easing of tension between Cuba and the United States should also boost the effort to put an end to Colombia’s armed conflict, which has dragged on for over five decades. For the last two years, the government and the guerrillas have been involved in peace talks in Havana, which is hosting the negotiations.
Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable to consider Cuba sufficiently neutral ground for talks between the Colombian government and the insurgents.
Along with the embargo against Cuba, Colombia represents the persistence of conflicts that have outlived the context that gave rise to them, confirming that history is anything but linear.
Colombia’s internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958 – 81.5 percent of them civilians. In addition 4.7 million people have been displaced, at least 27,000 have been “disappeared” and a similar number have been kidnapped, according to the report “Basta Ya” by the National Centre for the Historical Memory, a public institution created in 2011.
It also gave rise to the phenomenon of the far-right paramilitaries who are responsible for most of the estimated 150,000 people killed between 1981 and 2012 – far more than the victims of the government forces or the left-wing guerrillas.
U.S. support for the government had a lot do with the death toll. The repression against the insurgents was intensified by Plan Colombia, a strategy of U.S. financial and military aid put into effect in 1999, to combat leftist armed groups as well as drug trafficking.
But it was in the 1960s and 1970s that Cuba and the United States were protagonists in the most violent clashes, often by means of indirect involvement.
While the socialist island nation fomented armed revolutionary movements in Latin America and backed anti-colonialist struggles in Africa, even sending its own soldiers, Washington helped spread military dictatorships throughout the world and intervened directly where it believed its interests were threatened, such as in the Dominican Republic in 1965.
Direct battles, such as the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro forces trained by the United States, espionage operations and attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro fueled the longstanding enmity that is to now be overcome by pragmatism in the face of new challenges.
Cuba’s economic decline, aggravated by the crisis in Venezuela, its primary source of oil on generous terms, has encouraged new understandings with “imperialism.”
Also needed in Cuba is self-criticism, the recognition of mistakes that have been made.
Cuban history is plagued with half-baked measures only explained by centralised decisions reached without prior consultation or advice, such as the planting of coffee, basically a high-altitude crop, on land close to sea level on the outskirts of Havana. Very little was grown and the important vegetable-producing belt around the capital was lost in the 1960s.
If the revolution that inspired left-wing movements around the region – and the world – adopts a pragmatic stance and engages in dialogue with the “enemy”, it could have a moderating effect on anti-imperialist governments and parties in Latin America.
Brazil could benefit from the new thaw, because of the dialogue with all political currents, and its presence in strategic projects in Cuba, such as the Mariel special economic development zone, whose port was expanded by a Brazilian construction company, with financing from Brazil.
And the sugar industry, once the pillar of the Cuban economy, could recover thanks to technology from Brazil, which replaced Cuba as the world’s biggest sugarcane producer.