Cuba-U.S.: something is moving

Signs from the Straits of Florida.

It cannot be by chance that a week before the publication of Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton’s memoirs, some excerpts of the book which precisely speak of the U.S. embargo on Cuba policy were leaked to the press.

With respect to the burning issue that has hovered over Cuban life for the last 52 years, Hillary Clinton affirms in her book that during her period at the head of the Department of State she had urged President Obama to lift or relax the embargo, because it was no longer convenient for the United States nor was it promoting change on the communist island.

The opinions of the former Secretary of State came to light barely two weeks after a group of 44 political, society and economic personalities from that country had sent a letter to the president requesting something similar: making more flexible relations with the island, promoting trips to Cuba by all U.S. citizens (and not just the Cuban Americans, religious persons or cultural projects) and they even demanded that serious talks be held with the authorities of the neighbouring country on diverse issues of mutual interest, like national security.

Though the message to the president recognises that since it is a question of a law, little can be done in Congress on relaxing the embargo – and even more so its cancelation -, even so President Obama has in his hands the possibility of giving a boost to an advance in the rapprochement to Cuba that could even be notable, supported by his executive authority and at a time in which U.S. public opinion favours more relations with the Cuban people.

According to a recent survey that has circulated in the media, 53% of U.S. citizens are against the embargo, a percentage that is higher among the citizens of Latin American origin and is even higher in the complex community of Cuban descendants, where the figure is 73%. These figures reflect how a change of an important perception about the issue has been taking place, even in the state of Florida, where it is affirmed that today the majority of the Cuban Americans agree that the blockade policy is simply obsolete because it does not work and even affects their personal and commercial interests – even more so in the light of the new Law on Foreign Investment approved by Cuba, which they cannot benefit from precisely because of the existence of the embargo law.

Almost at the same time as the important letter was made public, Thomas Donohue, the principal CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, arrived in Cuba heading a delegation of businesspeople who stated they were interested in getting to know firsthand the new economic reforms begun in Cuba.

Donohue was even received by President Raúl Castro and after visiting economic projects like the one opened in the Port of Mariel, he said that it was already time to start a new chapter in relations between both countries, saying that the time to start was now. And that opinion, when expressed by someone like Thomas Donohue, is not just small talk.

Later, in early June, a large delegation of journalists and academicians convened by the magazine The Nation carried out their first educational exchange with this country and, as was announced, the group would be holding meetings with Cubans from different social sectors, including private workers. Awhile before, a Cuban delegation had attended the LASA Congress, the largest delegation in the history of those academic forums.

This avalanche of visits, statements, revelations and express interests cannot be by chance. After 52 years of economic and financial blockade on Cuba (which prevents so many things or makes them difficult, from travel by Cuban Americans to the almost incredible fact that a Cuban baseball player living in the Caribbean nation can or cannot play in the Mexican Baseball League), it seems that at last logic and reason have started to impose themselves in the United States with respect to the way of managing relations with Cuba, even though behind it there exist very concrete economic and political reasons.

As is known, the U.S. embargo or blockade on Cuba is the direct fruit of the cold war and of the missile crisis in the early 1960s. But its existence has lasted in time and, in the 1990s, with the hope of helping a Cuban debacle after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, it was made stricter thanks to the approval of the Helms-Burton Act, which gave that policy an extraterritorial character. But the world has changed since then and…and so has Cuba.

If all these signs lead to a relaxation of the blockade or even to considering its elimination, Cuba would achieve an important political victory and Cuban citizens would receive a very wished-for relief from what has become an endless conflict. In any case, for the island and its economic projects it would be very important to be freed from an economic policy (condemned at the UN by the immense majority of the world’s countries) which has let fall over the country and its inhabitants its entire weight throughout its 52 years of existence, a policy that now even U.S. citizens consider has failed. (2014)

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