It’s about time. That is how any comment on the decision to normalise relations between the United States and Cuba should be viewed. Why did it take so long for the two countries to throw off the vestiges of the Cold War and declare an end to their mutual animosity, and who will benefit from the resumption of relations, writes Dr Joseph S. Tulchin.
The simple answer is that policy was frozen so long because, on the one hand, it was convenient for Cuba’s government to make defiance of the US central to its identity. America’s blockade and its hostility was the greatest single justification for maintaining an authoritarian regime in Cuba.
On the US side it was because control over Cuban policy was held by a tiny minority of Cuban-Americans whose political obsession with getting rid of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, kept successive US administrations from even attempting to normalise relations. Reducing that tiny group’s leverage over policy will be of enormous benefit to the US.
It is ironic that as the Cuban-American community moves away from the fanaticism of its elders, some of those elders have risen to major positions in the Congress which begins to operate in January 2015. They will find that it was easier to block action by the US executive than it will be to push Congress to take action.
For Cuba, the identity of its regime and the Cuban revolution appear secure. Cuba is respected throughout Latin America, even among committed democrats such as the leaders of Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil. This is as much for the internal achievements of Cuba’s revolution as for its government’s extraordinary international agency and its decades-long resistance to US hegemony.
That resistance will guarantee Cuba a position of respect within the hemispheric community for years to come.
The true challenge will be for Cubans to deal with the new attention and a growing pressure to liberalise or open Cuban society. The economy is a shambles and the restrictions on the basic freedoms of the population are increasingly anomalous. The leaders of the Cuban regime have accepted normalisation as an inevitable final stage in their control over the process.
The future for Cuba lies in reverting to the role of commercial entrepot that it played during the colonial period. The US$957 million overhaul by the Brazilians of Cuba’s port of Mariel into a deep-water container terminal will serve as a nodal connection for the expanded Panama Canal which opens in 2016, and for the canal in Nicaragua which may or may not be built.
Cubans have claimed for years that they possess the entrepreneurial zest and innovative energy to be leaders in the hemisphere. They will have a chance to prove their boast in the decades ahead.