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The dual dilemmas of normalization – Obama’s and Castro’s

The dual dilemmas of normalization: Obama’s and Castro’s
JORGE A. SANGUINETTY | Miami | 11 Abr 2016 – 2:16 pm.

Regardless of the reasons that spurred Obama to undertake the
process to normalize relations with Raúl Castro’s Government, it is
important to note that his first duty as President is to defend the
interests of the United States – whether those interests coincide or not
with those of Cubans or not. Although one cannot rule out that one of
his reasons was, in fact, to improve the economic and political welfare
of citizens on the island, it is reasonable to suppose that the main
objective was to prevent a catastrophic collapse of what remains of the
Cuban , which would trigger a controlled flight of refugees into
the US. For many years this has been the fear harboured by American
officials, in light of the history of these waves of ,
starting with Camarioca, in 1965; followed by Mariel, in 1980; the boat
crises of the 90s; and the recent emigration journeys through Central
and South America.

The chronic crisis of the Cuban economy condemns most Cubans to a
sustained state of uncertainty regarding almost every element of daily
life, which renders citizens highly dependent on decisions made by the
Government, this forming the cornerstone of its totalitarian power.
Despite Raúl’s reform measures, and the apparent spike in external
revenues thanks to the rise in American , promoted by Obama, the
situation threatens to worsen as the Venezuelan economy crumbles, given
Cuba’s acute dependence on this country.

All this would suggest that the Cuban government should be operating
with a heightened sense of urgency and diligence to take measures to
save Cuba from an economic crisis that could undermine the regime’s
political stability. Raúl Castro’s Government, however, has been very
cautious in implementing the reform measures promised in its
“Guidelines” five years ago. In this context, the partial or total
lifting of the American on Cuba’s statist economy would serve to
solve a serious problem for Havana: it would not have to follow through
and fully implement these “Guidelines.”

The interesting thing is that this situation is part of a dilemma facing
the Cuban , as he, in turn, poses another one for President
Obama. Castro’s dilemma is that he must resolve his country’s internal
crisis, but he cannot free up the economy to such a degree that he
politically empowers Cubans. After all, is a powerful asset. The
freedoms that the Government concedes for economic activity are bound to
enable citizens to interact more and more effectively with other Cubans,
bolstering their capacity to organise and wield influence and power in
political spheres, based on their new economic ones. It is reasonable to
assume that the dictator senses this, and must, therefore, seek a
compromise between two extremes that could engender political crises of
different kinds: if the economy does not improve, political stability is
at stake, but “too much” improvement could jeopardise the control the
Government has over the population.

Obama’s dilemma, meanwhile, intertwined with Castro’s, consists of how
to ease the American embargo in such as to achieve a middle ground
between two extremes: an insufficient liberalisation of the embargo,
which would fail to prevent the collapse of the Cuban economy, and an
excessive liberalisation that, without internal reform in Cuba that
benefits its citizens, would end up strengthening the dictatorial regime
at the expense of its people and their civil rights.

Note that Obama’s and Castro’s balance points depend on each other: the
less Obama frees things up, the more Castro would have to do so in order
to stimulate his economy and prevent a crisis, and vice versa: the more
liberal Obama is, the less Castro has to free up the economy he controls.

If we take Raúl Castro’s statements seriously, in which he has promised
that his Government “will not yield an inch” in terms of its internal
reform, one can expect this strategic game to favour Castro, as
America’s great fear of Cuba’s economic collapse should prevail over
other objectives of normalisation, pushing Obama to maximise concessions
to Castro in order to reduce the risk of yet another exodus of Cubans to
the United States. It follows that this process would end up minimising
the benefits that Castro would allow Cubans to enjoy, so that they are
not politically empowered by their economic improvement.

It can be assumed that Raúl Castro’s Government has exploited that fear
to pressure the US to unconditionally lift the embargo. It is,
therefore, reasonable to assume that after the new wave of American
concessions to Castro’s economy, and President Obama’s visit to Cuba,
Castro will continue to capitalise on Washington’s concerns to reduce
the scope of the reform promised, and to continue to pressure the USA,
demanding additional concessions in exchange for stemming the tide of
Cuban emigrants. At this point it should be noted that these concerns
are held by both American political parties, and the Congressional
representatives in Washington share incentives to support a generous
policy towards Cuba, as in their respective states they defend the
interests of companies exporting to Cuba, in addition to investors
who believe that there are new business opportunities on the island.

In short, the current normalisation process is lopsided, as it does not
include a normalisation of relations between the Cuban people and
Castro’s Government, or a significant facilitation of direct relations
between Cuban and US citizens. The process is also uneven in terms of
the two rulers’ fears, as Raúl Castro does not fear an exodus of Cubans
as much as Obama does. After all, the former has more power over his
country than the latter; fortunately, for Americans, and regrettably for
Cubans.

Source: The dual dilemmas of normalization: Obama’s and Castro’s |
Diario de Cuba – www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1460380590_21592.html

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