By Carlos Alberto Montaner
President Trump has decided to impose sanctions against the Cuban regime. He has been increasingly doing it ever since he became president. The latest measures, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, consist of limiting charter flights to Havana. That, they hope, will substantially reduce the travels of emigrants and the flow of currency received by the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel. (At 87, Raúl Castro has not yet chosen to die and has a lot of power behind the scenes)
Colombian international television station NTN24 asked if these movements led Washington to break diplomatic relations. The question was asked to Frank Calzón, an effective exiled activist, and Carlos Alzugaray, former ambassador to the European Union, based in Havana since the regime decided to confine him to teaching. Alzugaray exhibits the greatest amount of tolerance and respect for diversity that is allowed to the dictatorship officials.
Calzón believed that, if necessary, Trump would not hesitate to break relations, while Alzugaray claimed that he had seen that movie before and did not want it, but he was not worried. Both were serious and serene. Great. The former ambassador participated because he is a retired official who does not represent his government.
In January 1961 Eisenhower broke diplomatic ties, but in 1979 Carter created an “Interests Section” in Havana. In December 2014, Barack Obama, after reiterating half a dozen times that he would not make unilateral concessions to the regime, restored full diplomatic relations. In March 2016, shortly before finishing his term, he went to Cuba and delivered a very critical speech against the island’s Stalinism. That made him very popular among ordinary Cubans (95%), but he was highly criticized by the nomenklatura, including Raúl Castro. Obama did not want to see Fidel, who then lived (more or less) as a kind of Queen Mother punished by her chronic ailments. Fidel died eight months after the visit.
What can be done, in short, with the Cuban regime? Reject it, like Trump, or hug it like Obama? Penalize it for supporting the dictatorships of Maduro and Ortega? Should it be punished to provoke the people’s anger with the “pressure cooker theory”? Or should it be ignored thinking that, little by little, tourists’ visits and foreign investments will soften the foundations of the collectivist tyranny until one day the government evolves independently and the ruling classes take refuge in the market and democracy as the least bad way out?
The vast majority of Cubans on the Island want the hug and not the rejection. Not because they believe that the regime will evolve properly and discard the absurd model imposed on Cubans (Military State Capitalism), but because they want to live materially a little better, until they can leave the country, make a new life abroad, and perhaps return frequently to see friends and family who could not or didn’t decide to leave. Except for the small and heroic group of dissidents, almost no one is willing to try the change of regime.
The nomenklatura wants the same thing — the hug. But it hides a different reason — to perpetuate itself in the government and guarantee themselves and their relatives the privileges that give “the honey of power,” as Fidel himself said. They assume that they are able to handle the hug without running the risk of losing power if they manage to maintain some tension. When Obama “hugged them”, they demanded one hundred and fifteen billion dollars as reparations for the damage caused by the embargo. It was the way to keep the swords drawn and the muscles warm.
From this perspective, from the nomenklatura’s angle, there is no doubt that the moral burden works against the embrace and in favor of rejection. It is impossible to draw a fair and honorable policy, in favor of democracy and the market, taking into account the goals of the nomenklatura.
All a free foreign ministry can do is oppose those who are not only theoretical enemies of the principles and forms of democratic governments, but in practice maintain a satellite tyranny in Venezuela. Concessions for a clear and smooth change, okay. Concessions to perpetuate the interventionist Castroism, no. It would be suicidal.Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.