Listening on the radio John Kerry’ speech and the sounds of the trumpets and drums accompanying the rise of the American flag in Havana from Miami was an historical moment. It marks the end of the Cold War politics thanks to a sound diplomatic move by the Obama administration under a complex emotional cloud in the mind of some American policy-makers and Cuban-American citizens. Cuba and its authoritarian regime are the reminiscence of the “amber of Cold War politics” that technically ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. If the ceremony led by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, symbolizes in some regards the last days of Cold War politics, it can be perceived from Miami as some sort of treason.
The US Mission in Havana
Kerry’s visit and remarks in the Cuban capital of Havana is historical as it is the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba since 1945. The ceremony comported of Kerry’s remarks, the rise of the US flag by the three marines that brought it down for a last time in 1961, and a poem read by Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco. The opening of the diplomatic relations with Cuba should not be framed as an Obama gamble, but rather as a sound diplomatic move by the Executive Branch (read here a previous analysis on the concept of diplomatic victories regarding Cuba and Iran). However, the opening of the US embassy, which officially took place on July 20th, does not mean that the embargo on Cuba has been lifted. Only Congress can decide and vote on the future of the embargo. Even if travel to Cuba has increased since January, travel restrictions for American citizens are still in place. In addition, American and Cuban diplomats are still confined to the capitals in terms of movements. They both require authorization in order to travel outside of the capitals.
So far, the leadership of the US mission in Cuba will be in the hands of long-time diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis. The Obama administration is waiting on the nomination of an Ambassador for Cuba. Such nomination will have to go through the confirmation by the Congress and will most likely translate into a deep ideological fight between the Democrats and the Republicans. In addition the nominee could become a hot-potato for both Democrats and Republicans currently seeking for the nomination of their respective parties for the 2016 presidential elections.
The Power of Diplomacy
The diplomatic opening between the US and Cuba is in many instances a textbook case of the diplomatic literature. The traditional definition of diplomacy implies that diplomacy is an act of negotiation processes between states. Diplomacy permits to inform the foreign policy making of states. Such diplomatic opening seeks to normalize US-Cuban relations by advancing American interests despite the ideological foundation of the Castro regime. Based on such assumption that Obama should not interact with the Castro regime because of the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, the US should in fact cancel most of its diplomatic missions and rethink some of its most important ones like the ones in Russia (a ‘managed democracy’), China (Communist regime), Pakistan (authoritarian), Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and so forth. For the US not to be diplomatically engaged with such powerful and relevant state would be a serious strategic error.
The diplomatic smoothing of the US-Cuban relations demonstrates a certain strategic rationality by the Obama administration informed by fact rather than political ideologies. “We [the United States and Cuba] are separated by just over 90 miles” said President Obama in his speech in December 2014 announcing the opening of the relations. “But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.” President Obama underlined that the opening of the relations marked a policy turn and “will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.” If the embargo’s primary goal was to contain Cuba leading to the survival of the Castro regime for over five decades, then it has succeeded. However, if the embargo was implemented in order to lead to political change and transition in the long term, then it has failed. August 14th ceremony was “a day for pushing aside old barriers” said John Kerry “and exploring new possibilities.”
The Emotional Embargo
Naturally, some American policy-makers, like two senators and presidential hopefuls, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, are all in favor of maintaining the embargo. In a speech last week at the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York City, Senator Marco Rubio argued: “President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime for its repressive tactics and persistent, patient opposition to American interests.” He went on denouncing the fact that the Obama administration has offered “legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror.” If all three are seeking for the support of the powerful Cuban leadership in Miami and South Florida, the case of Marco Rubio may be a little different as he in fact illustrates the general feeling of the Cuban-American community of absolute opposition to interact and deal with the Castro regime. In some level Kerry responded in his address to such concern by arguing that “we [the United States] will continue to urge the Cuban Government to fulfill its obligations under the UN and inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas.”
If most of the United States does not take heart at the opening with Cuba, for Cuban-Americans, whom are making of a powerful lobby in Washington D.C. in influencing Congress, it is a different narrative. A recent poll produced by Bendixen & Amandi illustrates such argument. 69% of Americans living outside Miami support the normalization of relations with Cuba against 41% in favor living in Miami. In addition, 60% of Americans born in the US support the end of the embargo.
The Cuban file illustrates a generational gap between the elder generations – born before 1980 – and the younger ones (as well called ABC, American-Born Cubans) – born after 1980 – maintaining the status-quo. The concept of ‘emotional embargo’ is very much present in the mind of the Cuban-American community creating an emotional reaction to the policy-change of the Obama administration, which has been perceived as a betrayal from the leadership. The opening of the US embassy in Havana is principally a symbolic move because most of the work remains to be done. Obama is in fact dealing with a complex situation of working with an authoritarian regime on the one hand, and seeking to assist Cuban dissidents and civil society on the other.
A Timely Opening
The diplomatic relations with Cuba is a fascinating foreign policy case for several reasons. First, it holds a strong emotional and human dimension upheld within the mind and heart of many Cuban-American citizens. Some have accepted the situation, others are still,
understandingly, opposed to any relations with the Castro regime. Second, diplomatic relations are not about approval of ideologies and political regimes, they are about ‘government to government’ relations. “The establishment of normal diplomatic relations” argued John Kerry “is not something that one government does as a favor to another.” Nixon did it with China as part of the ping-pong diplomacy in the early 1970s and he was certainly not trying to empower Mao Zedong. Third, diplomatic opening is not an illustration of weakness but rather of character. Diplomacy was not designed to maintain relations with ‘friends’ but rather with ‘foes’ and ‘enemies.’ Opening relations with Cuba will allow both countries to turn the page of the Cold War and move on into the 21st century.
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