Cuban-American Relations: Feel the Thaw

Panama just hosted the Summit of the Americas April 10-12, 2015 and although there were presumably many subjects on the agenda, the headline grabber was indisputably the opening of relations between Cuba and the USA for the first time since Castro’s communists ousted the American-backed dictator, Bautista in 1959.

Cuba’s socialist dictatorship survived the economic isolation through relations with the Soviet Union, oppression, good healthcare and utter obstinance.

It has been easy to cheer for Cuba in a sort-of David vs. Goliath context and the island country has indisputably achieved a certain quality of life (at least by some measures) distinctly higher than in other part of the region: Note: Haiti, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua of the 1980s.

Nevertheless there is no blameless side in this intransigent cold-war echo and the regional knee-jerk support of Cuba simple plays to populism and white noise.

The Cuban regime has needed the American blockade. United against an enemy – an enemy who gladly receives dissidents has proven a fairly easy sell at home. Cuba should be ashamed of jailing opposition, of jailing homosexuals and of letting many of its bright and energetic leave. It has hung on to an aging and mostly failed economic system and power elite, justified by the US embargo – an embargo that should not matter if communism had been achieved.

On the American side the issue is just as bad. The displaced and wealthy Cuban power elite is based in Miami and maintains a disproportionate voice within the Republican Party in an important swing state. Nixon – a father of the American right is lauded as a hero for reaching out to communist China, yet little Cuba remained toxic.

Lest we forget the special relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia – a backward, repressive and rather repulsive regime – it leaves one to cringe when conservative politician stand up for human rights in Cuba!

Alas this opening of relations between the two neighbours is late, but hopefully not too little. The cold war is gone (hopefully for good) and it is high time a real dialogue begins to stem the tragic flow of Cubans as I witnessed in the Darien Gap.

Clearly a majority of Cubans are thrilled with the establishment of diplomatic relations and it would appear a clear majority of Americans are also in favour. I can only wonder how tiring the on-going tirades against Cuba from a political fringe must have been for all Americans of almost all political stripes.

I generally support freer trade and movement of people in the Americas for three basic reasons: 1) it is a tool with which to reign in the local oligarchs and endemic corruption that has plagued much of the Americas, 2) integration – as with the European Union – reduces the risk of military conflict, and 3) we simply have too many common issues that must be tackled cooperatively.

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