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17D: Sequences and Consequences, Part I

This article was originally published by Temas on its blog Catalejo.

With the aim of furthering our understanding of the United States-Cuba relationship, Temas submitted a brief questionnaire to a select group of researchers in both countries. The questionnaire sough to explain the challenges of 17D, the day diplomatic relations were restored, and its possible sequences in the short- and the mid-term. The publication of this series was initiated on Catalejo, Temas’ blog, the eve of the 54th anniversary of the severing of diplomatic relations. Below, we repost a few of the responses.

TEMAS: What is the significance of the new policies between the U.S. and Cuba? 

ANTONIO F. ROMERO (AFR): The agreements reached at the high-level negotiations between Cuba and the United States represent a historic turning point which will have implications not only for both countries, but for the Americas as a region. This new approach, which took almost all international analysts by surprise, demonstrates how, under certain favorable geopolitical and institutional conditions, a strong political will and the commitment and professionalism of the negotiators can find solutions to “very thorny” issues in international relations.

JORGE HERNANDEZ MARTINEZ (JHM): The dynamic, dialectic relationship between possibility and reality is what makes the current process so significant. It is not a philosophical formulation, but rather an expression of the pragmatic sense that accompanies international relations, a pragmatism that is often unilaterally and mechanically conceived as contradictory positions based on principles or ideological commitments. The extent to which peaceful coexistence can be assumed to be viable given many and varied differences, presented with new contexts, is greatly symbolic. The support on which the decisions of both parties rest is crucial. Most important in Cuba is the core notion of respect for national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and Cuba’s right to self-determination as equals, replacing the historical asymmetry inherent to the old and prolonged bilateral conflict. 

TEMAS: What are the decisive steps taken by both sides?

AFR: The most important measure notified by both presidents has been the decision to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. However, the three proposals announced by President Obama on December 17 that require the approval of Congress due to their potential “multiplier” effects are also very important. These proposals are: 1) reviewing Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism; 2) extending the scope of economic transactions between Cuba and the U.S. by authorizing U.S. institutions to open accounts in Cuban banks, the use of U.S. credit cards and debit cards by travelers visiting the island, and an improvement in the speed and efficiency of authorized payments between both countries; and finally, 3) facilitating travel opportunities under a general license for U.S. citizens to go to Cuba within the 12 existing categories of travel authorized by U.S. law.

JHM: The impact in human terms of the return  of the three heroes to Cuba is extraordinary, as is the release of Alan Gross. The way in which Obama presents what has led him to reconsider the U.S. policy towards Cuba, clearly stating the continued interests of the United States, and Raúl’s declarations regarding Cuba’s reservations that must necessarily include discussion of the timing and the issue of imperialism, are essential aspects when looking at both sides. In a changing and changed world, it is logical that diplomatic relations should be restored. However, talking about normalization is perhaps too strong and even inaccurate not only for historical reasons, but because these are two countries whose world views, national interests, economic concepts, political systems and cultural models, in the present, and in the foreseeable future, are very different, conflicting, and even incompatible.

TEMAS: What do you see as the next key steps?

AFR: The next steps that should be expected as part of the process of gradual restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S are, at the very least, difficult to predict. A key element in this analysis is related to the ability to “operationalize” the measures proposed by President Obama which would be implemented via amendments to regulations of the U.S Departments of Commerce and the Treasury.

Similarly, the responsiveness of the Cuban government to the agreements and U.S. proposals must also be assessed. Among the measures to be addressed by the Cuban authorities is that of keeping its part in the commitments made to their U.S. counterparts. An example of this is the promise to release several individuals serving prison sentences. The Cuban response to certain proposals that will allow President Obama to capitalize on support from sectors with strong political influence within his country while is also important. 

Cuba must seek to do this, and at the same time, integrate certain “irreversibility” conditions in the process of bilateral relations improvement. Other key priorities for Cuba in relation to the U.S. must be: a) expanding exports and sales of certain goods and services to support the emerging Cuban private sector; b) authorizing U.S. imports of certain items to improve the telecommunications sector in order to allow the Cubans to communicate with people within their country, in the United States, and the rest of the world. This will call for communication equipment, software, applications, hardware and services, as well as technology for installation and modernization of communications systems; and c) responding to the U.S.’ decision to authorize U.S. telecommunications service providers to set up the necessary infrastructure in Cuba, that would enable them to provide commercial telecommunication services and Internet. This is critical to improving the communication channels between the United States and Cuba.

Nevertheless, a more accurate analysis of the possible steps to be expected in the immediate future would depend on the outcome and agreements reached by both parties in the discussions on migration issues. This topic will be discussed over the next weeks. The U.S. has chosen to have the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Affairs as the head of its delegation.

JHM: The process demonstrates that it is possible to leave behind the anachronism or aberration of the Cold War. The measures that point to an initial and gradual collaboration in areas such as communications, technical issues, financial questions, trade, immigration, consular presence, postal services, internet, drug controls, tourism, various kinds of exchanges, represent a significant step forward, a necessary backdrop, but they are not sufficient. Other steps involve more complicated decisions on account of the shift in approach that would be required from US foreign policy, as well as the difficulties involved in implementing such changes. Further issues include the blockade, understood as a system of laws and regulations, the occupied territory of Guantanamo, and undertaking subversive activities.

*****

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Temas is a Cuban magazine that seeks to provide a space for critical reflection and debate regarding cultural and social thinking in contemporary Cuba.  

[Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes]

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