The recent opening of negotiations between the Obama administration and Cuba has split public opinion into two opposing camps. Those on the right see it as a betrayal and giving aid and quarter to our enemy while those on the left see it as something that is overdue because the past policy of unilateral isolation has not worked. These viewpoints are both wrong since they do not ask the million-dollar question. What is the Obama administration trying to achieve in Cuba as its end goal and how is it trying to achieve this? If the administration is trying to orchestrate democratic change on the ground, then regardless of whether or not it strengthens the embargo or completely throws open the gates the end result will be the same.
The embargo let’s be clear never worked because it was never really an embargo in the truest sense of the word. It was repeatedly broken and tossed aside by many Latin American nations, Europeans, and even our Canadian ally. In fact it has gotten to the point where Cuba is trading with every country in the world except the United States. This is obviously not an embargo. If the American government had been serious about forcing the Castro government from power it could have waited till after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Cuba was no longer under the protection of its Russian patron and instituted a Kennedy type blockade. In other words, an embargo not an “embargo.” If such an embargo had instituted in the mid-1990s surely by now the Castro government would have collapsed.
The United States government instead took the harmful middle way of continuing a defunct and weak embargo. This half-measure led to a situation where the Cuban people are semi-starved and the Cuban government, although weak, is still able to maintain power. We have put the patient through chemotherapy without destroying the cancer. This renders the current embargo not only counterproductive but also immoral and unjust.
Another large point of contention is the way the negotiations are being handled. Let it be said and understood that speaking in only economic terms the Cuban government needs a thaw infinitely more than the American government. Cuba can gain a lot more from America than vice-versa.
Leaving Cuba isolated and semi-starved would mean nothing to America. The Castro brothers need us more than we need them. It is only the politicization of this talks in which Obama has staked his entire reputation as the great peacemaker and made this his version of Nixon’s opening to China. This has tipped the scales significantly and given the Castro government a leg up in the negotiations because now they see the Americans want a deal as badly as they do. This is why in exchange for concrete steps like being taken off of the terror list and an easing of the embargo they have given empty promises as well as releasing a few token political prisoners (who are shadowed day and night by the secret police). Issues such as human rights, the release of all political prisoners, the guarantee of foreign capital, allowing rival political parties to campaign freely and increased privatization of Cuban economic life have been met by a “we’ll consider it” response from the Castro government.
Cuba has drunk America’s mojito at the negotiating table as the Obama administration has exchanged hard currency so to speak for an IOU. If the Obama administration plans to use an open Cuba to slowly erode and dethrone its regime then this fire sale of demands to the Cubans can be understood but if the Obama administrations has changed the ends and now seeks peaceful co-existence with Cuba then giving into to all these demands is truly shameful. It seems that the Obama administration does not even know what it wants regarding Cuba and is instead winging it thereby creating a disastrous climate.
These negotiations are meant to force the Cuban government to make hard concessions but instead it just seems that any feel good deal where Cuba and America can proclaim they moved past the Cold War animosity regardless of the actual substance of the deal is considered good no matter if the purported ends (if there is one) of the negotiations have been met or not.