Cubans insist that the December 17, 2014 announcement of United States president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro to re-establish diplomatic ties was only the first step toward a full normalization of relations between the two countries. After more than fifty years, at least three steps remain to be taken before interactions achieve the level that they should have.
Most Cubans are very optimistic by the thawing in diplomatic relations between their country and the United States. Despite the restrictions that the United States government has placed on interactions between the two countries, Cubans have long had intimate contact with United States culture and welcome the opening.
Cubans, however, insist that the December 17, 2014 announcement of United States president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro to re-establish diplomatic ties was only the first step toward a full normalization of relations between the two countries. After more than fifty years, at least three steps remain to be taken before interactions achieve the level that they should have.
First, the United States must remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The State Department includes countries on this list that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Only four countries are on the list: Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Cuba.
Ronald Reagan added Cuba to this list in 1982 for providing safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s FARC rebels, and for providing political asylum to people such as African American activist and Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur. George Bush subsequently added a complaint that Cuba refused to join its so-called “war on terror.”
The Cuban government considers its inclusion on the list as hypocritical and unfair. Dating back to the 1960s the United States has persistently violated international law by engaging in terrorist acts against Cuba. These include, for example, operation mongoose that targeted Cuban leaders with assassination. In 1976, the CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles blew up Cuban airlines flight 455 from Barbados to Jamaica, killing all 73 people on board. In 1997, Posada Carriles bombed a series of Cuban hotels. Today, the United States harbors this terrorist operative who walks free on the streets of Miami.
In contrast, no evidence exists that Cuba materially supports any groups that the State Department defines as terrorist. In fact, Cuba currently hosts negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government. Fortunately, Obama has instructed the Secretary of State to review Cuba’s inclusion on this list, and it appears that steps are currently being taken to remove that designation.
Second, the United States must end its blockade of Cuba. The United States imposed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo on Cuba in October 1960 in response to Cuba’s nationalization of United States-owned oil refineries. The United States government has subsequently tightened the embargo through the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Helms–Burton Act. This legislation restricts financial transactions with Cuba with a goal of changing Cuba’s form of government.
Although the United States has not maintained a physical blockade of the island since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Cubans insist that this legislation in effect creates a blockade because of how it restricts trade with third countries. Every year since 1992 the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution that the blockade is a violation of international law. In recent years, only Israel has joined the United States in voting against the resolution.
Although Obama is dismantling the blockade piecemeal through executive action, a full repeal will take congressional action. In the face of a hostile Republican congress it will be difficult to realize this objective. In the meantime, the blockade creates unnecessarily onerous restrictions on Cuba.
A final demand is for the return of the Guantanamo naval base to Cuba.
In 1903, Havana and Washington signed an Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations which granted the United States access to Guantanamo and Bahía Honda (although the later was never used) to do “all that is necessary to outfit those places so they can be used exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose.” The United States military continues to maintain and pay for this 117.6 square kilometer area of country with which it has not had formal diplomatic relations for more 50 years.
In a direct violation of the treaty, the United States uses the base to house political prisoners from its so-called war on terrorism. Furthermore, Cubans consider the United States occupation of the base to be a violation of their sovereignty, and the government refuses to cash the checks it receives every year as payment for the base.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has indicated that it will not consider a return of the Guantanamo base to Cuba. For some observers, this is the strongest indicator of the motivation behind Washington’s overtures to Cuba.
The United States government is not interested in normalizing relations with its neighbor, but in searching for new and more effective ways to maintain the country under its imperial control. With Cuba’s socialized economy that privileges human needs over private profit still firmly in place after fifty years, the United States policy of regime change has clearly been a failure. Some critics worry that Obama’s policy changes will replace all that is good in Cuba with all that is bad in the United States.
United States government and corporate attempts to control Cuba’s destiny is not in the interests of either the Cuban people or those in the United States. It is our responsibility as citizens of both countries to assure that government policies reflect the concerns of the people and not those of wealthy private individuals.
Historian Marc Becker traveled to Cuba with Codepink to document political changes in the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States.