So far, the normalization of relations has meant Cuba must capitulate to U.S. interests while the U.S. refuses to budge on issues that are of paramount concern to Cuba — in particular, the return of Guantanamo.
An American flag flies behind the barbed and razor-wire at the Camp Delta detention facility, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP
The normalization process in relations between Cuba and the United States — a process kicked off with a December prisoner swap which saw the release of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross and an unidentified spy, in exchange for the remaining three of the Cuban Five — has largely centered upon the discussion of human rights issues by both sides.
Human rights issues for the U.S., however, continue to center upon the concept of Western democracy — an illusion of representative government that is based on a class war that gives precedent to multinational corporations and would enslave a newly “democratic” nation to debt through International Monetary Fund loans.
For its part, Cuba is focusing on more substantive issues such as the end of the U.S. military occupation of Guantanamo. Since first being occupied by the U.S. in 1903, Guantanamo has been used by the U.S. as a launching point for various subversive attacks against Cuba, including the murder of Cuban citizens, and it continues to be used as a torture and detainment center.
Yet U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech on Dec. 17 announcing his administration’s move to restore relations with Cuba indicated a continuation of former President George W. Bush’s propaganda against Cuba.
On Oct. 10, 2003, Bush declared the necessity of dismantling Cuba’s revolutionary government, saying, “We will continue to build a strong international coalition to advance the cause of freedom inside of Cuba.” The result was the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. This initiative allegedly empowered Cubans to seek freedom from Fidel Castro, who, according to the commission’s introduction, “undermined the democratic principles and fierce national pride of Cuba, destroyed its economy, subverted his neighbors and launched bloody military expeditions around the world.”
While Obama has clearly chosen diplomatic tactics over Bush’s belligerence, their motives remain essentially the same: bringing down the revolution that has prevented the island from being colonized by the U.S.
Obama stated that he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” and he declared that, via diplomatic engagement, it might be possible to “help the Cuban people help themselves.” This phrasing is reminiscent of the rhetoric Bush employed to discuss a hypothetical transition from Fidel’s socialist system of governance to “democracy.”
Addressing the Cuban people concurrently with Obama’s Dec. 17 speech to the U.S., Cuban President Raul Castro stated that restoring relations with the U.S. would not impact the values of the Cuban Revolution. In his speech, Castro affirmed that dialogue would not hamper “the national Independence and self-determination of our people.”
According to Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for North American Affairs, there are “profound” differences that need to be resolved before relations can be fully normalized. Quoted in Bloomberg, Vidal stated, “It would be difficult to explain that diplomatic ties were restored while Cuba continues, unjustly, on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.” She added that the negotiations are about “establishing relations between two countries with profound differences over a range of issues.”
The diplomatic talks between Cuba and the U.S. took place on Jan. 21 and 22 in Havana, during which migration and the process of establishing diplomatic relations were discussed. Cuban state newspaper Granma reported that a U.S. diplomat at the talks said they had “been productive and that a spirit of collaboration has prevailed despite the differences between the two countries.”
Since those talks wrapped up, Raul has also demanded that the U.S. compensate Cuba for the damage which the island has sustained since the commencement of the economic and trade embargo. Speaking at a summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held late last month in Costa Rica, Raul said, “If these issues are not resolved, a diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States would not make sense.”
A history of mistrust
The wide range of issues upon which Cuba and the U.S. differ have been outlined historically in several speeches by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Since 1959, Fidel has emphasized the importance of combating U.S. colonial and imperial interests in the region. Indeed, as quoted in George Galloway’s “Fidel Castro Handbook” (2006), Fidel once declared to revolutionary comrade Celia Sanchez that a war against imperialism would commence following the ousting of U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Fidel’s struggle against U.S. imperialism was continuous, a fight largely waged through an internationalist approach which also targeted the United Nations as an international organization offering a platform through which to authorize human rights violations under several guises.
One need only look at the manipulation of terms such as “democracy,” “human rights” and “freedom” within the context of U.N. rhetoric that determines which countries necessitate “liberation” — the cliched euphemism for international foreign intervention. A recent example would be Libya, where cries of genocide allegedly committed by the Gadhafi regime led to approval of NATO intervention despite a lack of any substantial proof. U.N. complicity has contributed to a failed state, resulting in the predictable scramble for diplomatic talks attempting to project “hope,” even as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) appears to be gaining a stronghold in the country.
Weeks after the declaration that the normalization of diplomatic ties was in the cards for Cuba and the U.S., Fidel declared in a letter that was read on state television that he “does not trust the U.S., nor have I spoken with them.” Yet the letter went on to say that the mistrust does not represent “a rejection of peacefully settling conflicts.”
However, it seems that the Castro brothers’ approaches differ with regard to the question of resolving differences. Fidel’s approach toward the U.S. was rooted within the revolutionary frameworks which prioritized Cuban independence above any negotiation. In the case of Raul, however, the negotiated prisoner swap immediately laid the groundwork for the normalization of relations.
A look at the diplomatic issues discussed, including the review of Cuba’s status on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the opening of embassies in both countries, signify the possibility of compromising Cuba’s revolutionary character, ultimately to the detriment of the island itself.
Lifting the Cuban embargo, for example, requires congressional approval. Also, as quoted in Bloomberg, Obama once again fragmented issues of repression by alluding solely to the fact that “not everybody in Cuba is able to escape to the United States.” His use of language — in particular use of the word “escape” — can signify another propaganda effort toward destabilizing the Cuban Revolution. In context, the use of “escape” in relation to travel restrictions gives a partial image that does not take into consideration what the Cuban Revolution has achieved to advance human rights, especially in terms of guaranteeing citizens access to education and health care and developing a higher education system in accordance with the country’s needs.
Further, the normalization of relations with the U.S. will ultimately mean negotiations with international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF — two entities which Fidel had severed ties with in 1964. Both institutions claim to serve the interests of countries tackling issues like environmental sustainability, disease prevention, education and poverty by providing loans that, but instead of serving the interests of the people, their intervention ends up enriching corporations, thus consolidating the capitalist cycle.
Working with these institutions, though, would necessitate the lifting of the embargo and the removal of Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, according to Juan Triana from the University of Havana.
Returning Guantanamo to Cuba
One issue which will provoke tough debate — and undoubtedly a refusal to negotiate on the part of the U.S. — is the relinquishing of the militarily-occupied Guantanamo.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated on Thursday, “The president does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down. But the naval base is not something that we wish to be closed.”
During the CELAC summit, Raul insisted that diplomatic relations will be insubstantial if Guantanamo is not returned to Cuba and the embargo is not lifted. Bilateral relations, he insisted, “will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”
The territory was leased to the U.S. on July 2, 1903, thus paving the way for the construction of a U.S. naval base in exchange for $2,000 a year in gold. Soon after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, in March 1959, Fidel demanded that the U.S. relinquish its military occupation of Guantanamo.
On April 4, 1960 a plane flying out of the naval base dropped incendiary material in Oriente province, and in 1961, Cuba reported that Cuban workers had been tortured at the base. On Jan. 3, 1962, a Cuban diplomatic note to the U.S. cites 119 violations of territory, 79 of which commenced from Guantanamo. On June, 12, 1964, Raul affirmed that there had been 1,651 “acts of provocation” from the Guantanamo naval base since 1962.
As Fidel wrote in the introduction to the book “Guantanamo – why the illegal US Base should be returned to Cuba” (2011), the U.S. had fixed matters in a way that the end of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba would pave the way for U.S. colonization of the island. While the Cuban Revolution managed to eliminate U.S. colonialism, so far the latest rounds of talks are indicating a capitulation to U.S. interests on the island, while the U.S. is adamantly refusing to negotiate on issues of paramount concern to Cuba.