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A Cuban end to the Cold War

No Latin American government, be it liberal or conservative, defends the embargo and sanctions against the regime of the Castro brothers. Español.

Antoni Traveria
4 February 2015
Fidel Castro at the UN General Assembly, 1960.

Fidel Castro at the UN General Assembly, 1960. Warren K.Leffler/Wikicommmons. Some rights reserved.Progressive and leftist governments in Latin America have seen their proposals endorsed in elections held since 2013, despite varying intensities in the implementation of their policies, sometimes opposing shades and forms. Chile returned Michele Bachelet, and continuity in power was revalidated in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay. To all of these, the highly-closeted announcement last December 17 of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba last December 17, as severed by US President Ike Eisenhower on January 3, 1961, came, to a greater or lesser extent, as a big surprise.

It has been confirmed that, in the days prior to the official public announcement of the agreement, seasoned US diplomats established discrete high-level contacts with the presidents of Mexico, Chile and Colombia among other Latin American leaders, to probe their standpoint on a hypothetical thaw in US relations with Cuba. With no exception, they all showed their support for this normalization. This, in fact, was as diplomatic as it was unnecessary, considering their public statements over recent years.

A long-expected but incomplete move

It was the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos who, while hosting the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias in 2012, raised as urgent arrival at a new understanding between Washington and Havana, considering the complete failure of the decade-long blockade of the island. Ecuador had been applying more pressure, before the meeting, announcing that it would not attend if Cuba was not invited – which sparked a serious crisis in the normal occurrence of the presidents’ meeting. Then, conservative governments and those considered to be on the left, both moderate and Bolivarian, agreed to formally address President Barak Obama with a call for a change in the customary White House approach towards the island.

Obviously, any U-turn in the 50-year old policy, were it ever to be possible, had to come from a Democrat in his second term of office. This was the prophecy which by now had been circulating for many years. It could even have come about more than three decades ago, had President Jimmy Carter been returned to office in 1981 instead of losing to hard-line conservative Ronald Reagan, who famously invaded Granada two years later and threatened the deployment of military might to confront revolutionaries in the Caribbean, if necessary. After failing to be reelected, Carter committed himself to the restoration of relations with Havana and the repeal of the anachronistic and ineffective US blockade. In fact, Carter visited the island and met Fidel Castro in May 2002, and he was back again in March 2011, this time at the invitation of Cuban president Raul Castro.

The head of American diplomacy, Roberta Jacobson, even met with prominent Cuban dissidents who agreed to the meeting, Martha Beatriz Roque, José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sánchez and Guillermo Fariñas, among others, despite the opposition and thus absence of the leader of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), Berta Soler. Roberta Jacobson did not hesitate to admit complete failure. Verbatim: “We know that the policy we have followed over the last 50 years has only isolated us and has not resulted in creating growth for the Cuban people”. With no exception, all countries South of the Río Grande agree on an initial positive assessment of the December 17 agreement and the negotiations undertaken by the two delegations as from Thursday, January 22, in Havana – with some nuances, however.

Ending an archaic and useless blockade

Following some negotiations to overcome differences on whether or not to mention the economic blockade in the final text, on December 22, 2014, the permanent council of the Organization of American States (OAS) finally adopted by acclamation a declaration supporting a rapprochement between the Unites States and Cuba.

While all the countries agreed on defining the agreement between Washington and Havana as a “historical” fact, the proposal to include the need to end the embargo, which was defended by Bolivia and supported by Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador and El Salvador, did not command enough votes. After several hours of heavy debate, they finally agreed on a formula which did not explicitly mention the embargo and instead celebrated the historic agreement between Washington and Havana. Bolivia was asking to include the claim in order for the rapprochement to "clearly" signal the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba to the bitter end. But that was considered premature, considering the current political conundrum in Washington.

The truth is that after the significant political changes in many countries in Latin America over the last twenty years, we have witnessed a number of unitary statements in forums and regional integration organizations requesting or demanding the end of the anachronistic blockade once and for all. The same has occurred, over the last 23 years, in the yearly session of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, where a vast majority of member states have taken a stand on censoring the US measure. The last vote on record is that of the 2014 General Assembly: 193 countries held the floor, 188 voted in favor of a resolution against a blockade which has become not only archaic and obsolete, but completely ineffective.

Venezuela, the last frontier

This historical agreement - in this case the use of the adjective, so often lightly used, is wholly justified - can only generate uneasiness in the government of Nicolas Maduro, locked in open confrontation with the US. The day after the announcement of the re-establishment of relations with Cuba, Barack Obama endorsed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, which includes the freezing of assets and a prohibition in issuing visas to officials appointed by the Bolivarian government related – according to the US government - to "violence and repression during the citizens protests" in Venezuela during the first two quarters in 2014. The very next day, December 19, the Venezuelan Chancellor, Rafael Ramirez, compared the Cuban sanctions with those against his own country: "We hope we shall not have to wait for 53 years, as we have done before, in order for Obama to recognize the failure of his policy towards Cuba. Venezuela is, compared with Cuba, a country much weightier and larger within the reality of South America ".

Hugo Chávez wanted to be Fidel Castro’s successor. Maduro maintains his confrontational dialectic with the US, while Venezuela's relations with Cuba have remained brotherly and increasingly bonded in rhetoric against the "imperialist common enemy". If negotiations proceed and the blockade ceases to be in force sooner rather than later, the opening up of economic, and trade relations as well as immigration measures will entail an internal and external prospect for the island that could turn against Venezuela’s interests and its yet vital influence in sustaining the fragile Cuban economy.

The Latin American Left has grown up united under a common policy to apply pressure to end the blockade on Cuba. Yet no Latin American government, be it liberal or conservative, defends the embargo and sanctions against the regime of the Castro brothers. On the occasion of the Seventh Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama on April 10 and 11 this year, the complete picture of all the presidents of the Americas, including Barack Obama and Raul Castro, possibly sporting elegant Caribbean guayaberas, is to be anticipated. Certifying, if need be, a Cuban end to the Cold War.

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