I met Josefina Vidal in 2007, when she graciously agreed to meet with a small group of my students from the United States. She had recently been appointed as director of the Section on the United States of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations. She confessed to a level of ignorance with respect to the United States, inasmuch as her diplomatic career to that point had been centered primarily on Europe. I was impressed by her intelligence, clarity of expression, and frankness as well as by her commitment to the Cuban Revolution and its alternative vision for the world, a common characteristic among Cuban leaders and intellectuals.
I encountered Josefina on two occasions since, when she spoke to international academic conferences in Cuba during the early years of Obama´s presidency. The central thesis of her presentations was that Obama, who had campaigned on a slogan of change, was pursuing policies characterized primarily by continuity rather than change, at least with respect to Cuba. Josefina succinctly cited a significant list of obstacles to Cuban commerce as a result of various restrictions imposed by the US blockage. The theme of Obama-Bush-Clinton-Reagan continuity has been common among Cuban intellectuals, academics, and journalist, beginning as an expectation even prior to Obama assuming office. Josefina´s discourses in the early years of the Obama presidency provided clear evidence in support of the Cuban interpretation.
The December 17, 2014 announcement by the presidents of both nations of a new era in US-Cuban relations is interpreted in Cuba as a significant step. But Cuba proceeds with caution. As I have indicated, Josefina has conducted the Cuban delegation with respect, firmness, and fidelity to revolutionary values. She repeatedly has insisted that the bilateral conversations be conducted on a basis of mutual respect, and she has affirmed that they been respectful to this point. She is hopeful that the United States and Cuba can establish respectful and civilized relations, in spite of the fundamental differences in their political-economic systems and ideological orientations. She maintains that, if a truly new era is to be established, Cuba should be removed from the US list of countries that sponsor terrorism. For Josefina, this is a question of ethics and justice, for Cuba never should have been placed on said list. And she notes that the inclusion of Cuba on the list creates a number of practical problems, including the inability of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington to obtain banking services. According to Josefina´s understanding, the President of the United States has the authority to remove Cuba from the list; it does not require Congressional action.
Josefina insists that the establishment of diplomatic relations should be based on respect for international law and international agreements with respect to diplomatic missions, which stipulate that members of diplomatic missions cannot interfere in a country´s internal affairs. She does so with full awareness that US diplomatic missions routinely violate this norm with respect to nations that seek to create an alternative and more just world-system, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Cuban insistence on this point can be interpreted as a new expression of the long-standing Third World demand that the United States conduct itself in accordance with international law and with the principle of respect for the sovereignty of nations. Indeed, it may be that Cuba is seeking to take advantage of the current political situation to forge an example to the world of appropriate relations between the powerful countries of the North and the neocolonized countries of the South, based on principles of non-interference and respect for sovereignty.
The United States, of course, cannot respect fully the sovereignty of the nations of the world. The neocolonial world-system is based on economic, commercial, and financial penetration of the regions of the world by the global powers, and this necessitates political interference. As a neocolonial power, the United States has pursued imperialist policies since the beginning of the twentieth century, with a continuity that reflects a liberal-conservative consensus supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Respect for the sovereignty of nations is inconsistent with the imperialist orientation of US foreign policy. US foreign policy is based on the promotion of US economic, commercial and financial interests, without regard for the consequences with respect to the rights of other nations and peoples or the well-being of the world-system in the long term.
As a result, foreign policy debates in the United States unfold in the context of the assumption of the protection of US interests. You will not find discussion of the principles of international solidarity or the need to create a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system, except for ideological manipulations that distort the meaning of democracy and human rights in order to legitimate US imperialist policies. With respect to US policy toward Cuba, influential actors in the United States (including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and members of Congress) have recently arrived at the conclusion that US interests would be served best by eliminating the blockade and establishing normal relations, believing that Cuba can be induced to be more ¨democratic¨ through other strategies.
This call for change occurs at a time when the US blockade of Cuba has been condemned by the governments of the world, and the condemnation has become especially strong in Latin America and the Caribbean, reflecting the new political reality that has emerged in the region during the past twenty years. As a result, its Cuba policy has become an obstacle to the United States in the pursuit of its imperialist goals, particularly with respect to Inter-American relations.
However, US imperialist interests also require that the US seek to undermine the Cuban Revolution and all revolutionary projects that seek true independence, such as those in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Facing this dilemma, the Obama administration seeks to change the strategy with respect to Cuba, but not the goal of undermining the Cuban Revolution.
The United States appears most anxious to establish diplomatic relations and diplomatic missions prior to the upcoming Summit of the Americas. This may be difficult to accomplish without the removal of Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Cuba likely would accept the establishment of full diplomatic relations in conjunction with the removal of Cuba from the infamous list, even if the blockade were to remain in force. For Cuba is aware that the end of the blockade requires Congressional action and thus involves a complicated political situation within the United States. However, even though diplomatic relations could be established while the blockade remains, the United States ultimately will have to end the blockade, because it is the blockade that has become the obstacle to US conduct of its foreign policy.
If and when the United States takes this necessary step of ending the blockade, it would be required to seek to undermine the Cuban Revolution through other means, such as support of opposition groups and other forms of interference in Cuban internal affairs, as has been its strategy with respect to Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. For Cuba, this would be an improvement over the blockade, creating a more favorable situation in its continuing conflict with the United States. The ideological battle would continue, but Cuba would be strengthened, for the elimination of the blockade would enable Cuba to provide more effectively for the needs of its people, and it would enhance admiration and respect for Cuba throughout the world. However, because of the international clamor against the blockade, the United States has to cut its losses with respect to the blockade and pursue its imperialist agenda on a different terrain.
These necessary adjustments in US policy reflect a new global bipolarity that is emerging. The previous global bipolarity, defined by the USA-USSR Cold War, involved a conflict between two empires: one rooted in the bourgeois revolution of the late eighteenth century; and the other rooted in the proletarian revolution of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In contrast, the new global bipolarity reflects a conflict between the global elite and the popular masses of the planet, and it involves two alternative visions: one which seeks to maintain the privileges of the powerful in a neocolonial world-system; and another that seeks a just, democratic and sustainable world-system based on universal human values. The neocolonial global project is led by the United States and its Western European allies; the alternative global project is being led by revolutionary and progressive governments, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Nicaragua. In the new global bipolarity, the power of those who defend the neocolonial order is based in money and military strength; whereas the power of those who defend the alternative vision is rooted in the aspirations and movements of the peoples of the world, who have demonstrated a tremendous thirst for social justice.
The US plan to adjust the strategy but not the imperialist goal cannot prevent its further decline. The United States has become a declining economic and commercial power, maintaining remnants of its earlier hegemony by virtue of its military dominance and control of the media of communication. It has lost its productive and commercial advantage over other core powers, and it has become overly reliant on financial speculation and military intervention. Moreover, it seeks to maintain hegemony in a neocolonial world-system that itself is unsustainable, for neither nature nor the great mass of the world´s people can continue to sustain a system based on the objectification and exploitation of nature and the superexploitation and impoverishment of the majority of the world´s population.
What the United States needs is not an adjustment of strategy but a reformulation of national goals. But this would require a popular anti-imperialist revolution, the taking of power by the people through the creation of an alternative political party that is capable of leading the United States toward a policy of cooperation with other nations of the world, seeking to work in solidarity with other peoples for the development of a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system.
For the moment, Cuba does not anticipate a popular revolution in the United States. It expects that the United States will continue to pursue imperialist goals. In such an international context, Cuba seeks to attain partial respect for its sovereignty, giving it more space to pursue its alternative socialist project at both national and international levels. This possibility has been established by several factors: the persistence of Cuba and its people in their socialist project; the emergence of anti-imperialist consciousness among the peoples, movements, and governments of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Third World; the productive and commercial decline of the hegemonic neocolonial power; and the turmoil created by the structural crisis of the world-system, a reflection of its unsustainability.