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Cuba-US Handshake

 

Editorial. Rajiv Sharma. V. VII. XV 

 

 

FAREWELL TO QUALMS?

 

 

Rajiv Sharma By Rajiv Sharma  

 

 

Castro-Obama
handshake-fnbworld

 

December 17, 2014 was a red letter day not only for US-Cuba relationship but also for a peaceful and just world order. When Barack Obama and Raul Castro put aside nearly six-decade-long bitter animosity to chart out a new course of co-operation and friendship between the two countries, the whole world stood up to applaud. When, as sequel to December 2014 announcements, Barack Obama declared on 01 July 2015 that the diplomatic missions of the two countries  would be re-opened on 20th July 2015 after a gap of 54 years, the whole world appreciated the bold initiative. But amidst din of applause, the naysayers also want their voice to be heard.

 

                      


There is no dearth of those who find the development too good to be true. The consternation caused by the unexpected events with far reaching portents for Cuba has left political scientists dazed. Obviously, the observes all over the world are trying to analyze reasons for a sudden shift in the US policy on Cuba and its likely implication on the Communist regime in light of last 56 years of diabolical history shared by the two countries. Another intriguing question boggling the minds of the political Pundits is that while the USA was able to win cold war leading to fragmentation of a powerful soviet union long ago, why it could not defeat or even weaken the communist regime in a small one hundred thousand square kilometer island just 145 kilometer away from its coast despite its more than half a century long efforts?


Protests in Cuba-fnbworld

 

In 1950s, Cuba was governed by Dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro, who with his bunch of rebels had been trying to overthrow Batista, ultimately succeeded in seizing power from him on 08 January 1959. There are reports that USA indirectly encouraged the rebellion. But their expectations that Castro would be easier to deal with was belied soon. Fidel Castro declined to institute any democratic reforms. He banned political parties, confiscated land and nationalized foreign properties. In July 1959, ‘The Time’ reported with a headline “The Cuban number 1 communist is Fidel Castro”. To add insult to injury, Castro signed a comprehensive trade deal with Soviet Union in early 1960. The USA became wary at the thought of having to deal with a communist regime just 90 miles from Florida coast. Then US Vice President Nixon responded by stating that time had come to ‘Quarantine’ Cuba and on 20 October 1969 more than 2/3rd of the US imports from Cuba were banned. Cuba hit back by accusing the US government of blowing its ship at Havana harbour and of trying to overthrow Cuban government. During those days there were rumors in Cuba that America was planning to invade it.

 

It is interesting to note that although Castro was at loggerheads with the US government, the people of Cuba probably did not consider US as their enemy, till then. People from all over Cuba thronged US embassy in Havana to seek US visas to leave the island. Long queues of the Cubans before US embassy began to embarrass Castro no ends. Peeved at the restive crowd of US visa seekers, Castro demanded the US government to withdraw its staff from the embassy and restrict it to just 11. On 03 January 1961, the US responded by withdrawing its entire staff. That marked the end of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Next day ‘The Time’ reported that desperate Cubans swarming around the US embassy in Havana refused to believe that doors were locked and no more visas would be issued.


After breakdown of Diplomatic relations in January 1961, the US government began to use all possible means to overthrow the Castro regime. It isolated Cuba diplomatically and put enormous economic pressure on it besides continuing its acts of covert subversion. On 17 April 1961, the US government engineered an attack on Cuba through CIA sponsored Brigade 2500. The Bay of Pigs invasion as it is famously called failed comprehensively. Thereafter, Kennedy administration asked the CIA to work for popular insurrection in Cuba. This program also failed to show any tangible result and was abandoned. All these sinister US attempts led to further cementing of Cuba-Soviet alliance.


In 1970s, the USA thought of engaging with Cuba to normalize diplomatic and trade relationship. But it could not materialize. Later, Reagan administration again devised strategies to work for regime change in Cuba. It planned to pursue ideological warfare by highlighting repression in Cuba at UN Human rights commission, by supporting meetings of anti communist intellectuals in Europe or by launching Radio Mart. USA government passed two anti Cuba legislations namely Cuban Democracy Act (1992) and Helms Burton Act (1996) in the hope that it would bring Cuba to its knees. Cuba suffered but did not budge even a bit.


Now when the USA has decided to normalize relations it will have to quell the acerbic bitterness spread on account of 56 years of hostilities between the two countries. Building of trust between the two neighbors is going to take some effort. Marifeli Pere-stable a professor of sociology at Florida International University writes in a column that “Normalization of relations will take a while. How could it not after nearly six decades? Even former President Fidel Castro took nearly one-and-half month to issue a comment. In a letter to the Cuban Federation University students on the 70th anniversary of his matriculation, he wrote that “I do not trust policy of United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this is not in any way a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts”.


To add to these difficulties, many sections in the US also oppose the normalization of relationship. Both the Republican presidential candidates as well as most senators of the Party besides almost all Cuban-Americans are highly critical of the agreement. Obama has asked for lifting of trade embargo but Congressional vote to sanction free trade with Cuba may not come any sooner. The Congress is also not inclined to meet Cuban demand to end the Cuban adjustment Act 1966. Another irritant is US occupation of Guantanamo Bay where US has a military base and prison camp for terrorists. Further, the US may ask for $ 7 billion worth of American properties, which were nationalized by Fidel Castro in early 1960s. This may not be acceptable to Cuba.


Moreover, even if the aforementioned hurdles are cleared and relationship is established again, the fear still sustains that Cuba may not be able to absorb the after effects of normalization of its relations with the US. One needs to understand the fact that the ‘Communist’ regime in Cuba could continue to get popular support for close to six decades primarily due to its confrontational approach towards an inimical USA. The comprehensive economic embargo aimed at ruining Cuba and covert and overt US attempts to change regime actually contributed very significantly to continuing stability of the communist government for 56 years. As William M. Leo Grande, a professor at American University in Washington DC stated in one of his columns “Scholars of International relations have explored two effects that a serious external threat has on state. “rally round the flag” effect in which threat engenders national solidarity and boosts popular support for the government and the “state siege effect”, in which the government responds to the threat by repressing domestic opponents, especially those who can be plausibly tied to the foreign enemy. Of course, the government can manipulate these effects. The “diversionary use of force” is a well known strategy for provoking, exaggerating and even inventing external conflicts in order to boost flagging domestic support”. It must go to the credit of Fidel Castro that he exploited the external threat posed by a formidable neighbor to invoke a sense of national pride in them that ultimately manifested in unflinching popular support for him. His fine oratory mesmerized the Cubans to forget his notorious misrule and made them ignore his ruthless approach towards their human rights. Captivating mixture of his enthralling speeches and bogey of real or exaggerated fear from an inimical US continued to cast its spell on the Cubans compelling them to scurry around him not for a year, not for a decade but for more than half a century. 

 

However, the 17 December 2014 agreement could alter this advantage to the communist regime. Obama has probably realized the grave mistake the post 1959 governments had been committing. He began remedial measures through painstakingly long secret parleys with Cuba, which culminated in signing of the agreement. The agreement has practically removed the very source that generated popular support for the Castros. This is bound to have a far reaching implication for Cuba. Further, active engagement with the US government followed by people to people contact shall mean that clamour for freedom of speech, a just and equitable grievance redressal mechanism and a better appreciation of human rights in Cuba is bound to grow. At present only 5% of privileged Cubans have access to internet. Association with US trade, business and general populace means a sudden exposure to the world of internet for general populace there.

 

When the people there experience such reforms leading to free exchange of their expression, will they still continue to support the conservative and repressive communist regime? There is every possibility that forces of dissent may raise their head. It cannot be ruled out that when a whiff of fresh air begins to blow from its western neighbor, the tyrannical communist regime may fail to get unequivocal support of its oppressed people in not so distant future. In other words, it is quite possible that what the injudicious policy of confrontation adopted by the US from 1959 to 2014 could not achieve, may well be achieved by the December 17, 2014 announcement of rapprochement.

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