More than fifty years later, US President Barack Obama has recognized that the policy has failed. Although the Cuban people have paid a high price with respect to the material conditions of life, Cuba continues with its revolutionary socialist project of national liberation. And US sanctions of Cuba have resulted in condemnation of the United States by the governments of the world. The Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) has unanimously demanded an end to what the United States calls an embargo and Cuba calls a blockade (because it has extraterritorial components that restrict trade between Cuba and other nations). And the General Assembly of the United Nations, by a vote of 190 to 2, has called for an end to the US blockade of Cuba, with only the United States and Israel voting against the resolution. As a result, the Obama administration seeks to pursue another strategy for promoting “democracy” and “human rights” in Cuba, in accordance with its limited and ideologically distorted understanding of these terms (see “Cuba, United States, and human rights” 4/9/2015).
As a result of the change in US policy, the governments of the United States and Cuba were able to arrive at an agreement to announce their intention of restoring diplomatic relations and establishing the normalization of relations between the two countries. The simultaneous announcements of December 17, 2014 were greeted with applause and support throughout the world.
In the last fifteen months, negotiations between the two countries have been carried out in an environment of mutual respect. Cuba believes that, in spite of significant differences in the theory and practice of democracy and human rights, the two nations can arrive at mutually beneficial agreements in various areas, following a model that Cuban chief negotiator Josefina Vidal calls “civilized coexistence.”
Concrete steps toward normalization have been taken: Diplomatic relations have been restored; Cuba has been removed from the US unilateral and ideologically motivated list of “countries sponsoring terrorism;” there have been bilateral agreements with respect to commerce, telecommunications, the environment, drug trafficking, postal services, and commercial flights; there has been increased flexibility with respect to US authorization of US citizens to travel to Cuba; the US now permits the granting of credit to Cuban entities for the purchase of certain authorized US products exported directly from the United States or re-exported from third countries; and numerous delegations have visited Cuba, including representatives of the executive and legislative branches of the US and state governments.
However, the most important steps toward normalization lie ahead. As expressed by the Cuban newspaper Granma: The Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, in a Special Supplement in commemoration of the historic announcement of December 17, 2014: “The most important still remains to be done. A blockade designed to produce hunger and desperation among our people remains in full force; the territory of the Guantanamo Naval Base continues to be illegally occupied; illegal radio and television transmissions continue; and the granting of funds for subversive programs in our country continues.”
Cubans recognize that the change in policy toward Cuba is politically difficult in the United States, as a result of the tangle of laws and regulations that constitute the blockade, and because of many years of portraying Cuba negatively in order to justify the policy. And they understand that the end of the blockade requires an act of Congress, controlled by the Republican Party, while the new policy is being promoted by a Democratic administration, and that this potentially conflictive political situation is occurring in a presidential election year. In Cuba, it is understood that important components of the blockade have been established by acts of Congress, and therefore the president does not have the authority to: totally eliminate the blockade; authorize US citizens to travel to Cuba for tourism; permit US subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba; or eliminate the Cuban obligation to pay in advance in cash for agricultural products.
However, Cuban journalists and political leaders never tire in stating that the majority of the people of the United States and in the US Congress support Obama’s new policy toward Cuba; and that there are a number of steps that Obama has the presidential authority to take, but so far has not. The December 17, 2015 Special Supplement to Granma maintains that the president has ample executive powers to transform the practical application of the blockade, which if exercised, would reduce the legal structure of the blockade to an empty shell. The President could, for example, end the persecution of Cuban transactions. Since the announcements of December 17, 2014, three banks in third countries have been fined for violating the extraterritorial components of the blockade; and four US companies also have been find during this period. In total the fines have been more than 2.8 billion dollars. The president, according to the Granma Special Supplement, also has the authority to permit: the opening of accounts by Cuban banks and state companies in US banks; the direct exportation to Cuba of US products; Cuban importation from third countries of products that contain more than 25% of US components; the importation into the United States of Cuban tobacco, rum and pharmaceutical biotechnological products; the importation into the United States of products manufactured in third countries that contain Cuban raw materials such a nickel or sugar; investment by US companies in Cuba; and medical treatments in Cuba for US citizens.
The President is proceeding cautiously. However, the modest steps taken do indicate that the Obama administration definitely intends to end the blockade. On the other hand, the manner in which the administration is dismantling the blockade, and the official comments that accompany the process, reveal that the administration does not intend to respect the sovereignty of Cuba but to find a more effective strategy for the promotion of US imperialist objectives. This will the subject of our next post.
Key words: Obama, Cuba, embargo, blockade, normalization