|EDINBURG, March 30 - A Cuba Libre or a “Free Cuba” is my favorite drink. It is a mixture of capitalist Coca-Cola and Cuban rum and lime.
It is a simple, sublime mixture of the best or the worst, depending on your point of view, of two worlds. Another pleasure to be wished for would be a U.S. “libre,” free to establish a new, fair, fresh, proper diplomatic policy toward Cuba.
That policy would be, simply, to begin talking. Then we begin negotiating. Then, we begin compromising. The goals would be to end the stand-off, to restore formal (maybe not yet fully “normal”) relations. To this noble, humane, civilized end, we should listen to the best informed students and scholars of international politics.
One such scholar is coming to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Professor Arturo López Levy will soon be on the campus of the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). He will speak Thursday, April 3 in the auditorium of the Social Science Building (Room 101) at 12:00 noon. The student Political Science Association will sponsor. For more information Dr. Sonia Alianak is the Faculty Advisor. The public is invited. Questions are encouraged.
Professor López holds a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Masters in Economics from Carleton University, Ottawa. He is author of the book Raúl Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-up View of Change. He is a sought-after speaker and will speak at major universities across the country. It is a coup that he included UTPA. He handled himself well on Miami’s “María Elvíra” recently, responding coolly to her aggressive questioning and to a studio audience hostile to his sensible views.
María demanded the Cuban government change completely before diplomatic relations could be established. How naïve. Must the Castro brothers leave immediately, perhaps bound for. . . Malaysia? Does Cuba have the right to demand the same of the U.S.? They would be laughed out of the world court. Professor López will be received, I trust, by a more sophisticated audience of realistic, future-minded students and professors at UTPA.
Arturo (Cubans are usually very casual, as you may know) teaches at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. There, he is a Research Associate for the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East. He is professor of Latin American Politics with the University of Colorado, Boulder, and with the Colorado School of Mines.
Arturo is a consultant for the New America Foundation and the Inter-American Dialogue about Cuba. While in Cuba, López Levy was the Secretary of the B’nai-Brith lodge of the Cuban Jewish Community. I write this column to welcome him and to give the reader some preparatory context for his presentation. He is just back from a major conference in La Havana and will share much of that information with us, about Cuba’s past and present.
I won’t go into the history of the demise of the dictator, Batista, supported by the U.S. and overthrown by the Cuban Revolution. I won’t even pretend to have time or need to cover the last half century of bitterness, caused partly by the cessation of formal relations between the U.S. and Cuba. I will focus on the current times.
And, the “times they are a’changin’.” Cuba is changing. I research and teach Latin American Politics, to include Cuba and try to keep up with some of those changes. I have had the pleasure of visiting Cuba, undertaking study of housing policy. It is true; the Latin American politics literature is replete with withering criticism of Cuba’s economic mistakes, its often wrongheaded human rights practices and its restricted democracy.
On the other hand, the literature extols the creative aspects of Cuban life, its vibrant music, film, ballet and culture. Most sources praise Cuba’s educational efforts, sports’ programs, and, especially, its health and medical policies. Their system is as good as or better than the U.S. They export pharmaceuticals to the world. They offered (Bush refused) thousands of doctors to help after Katrina. The admirable results of their policies, confirmed by the World Health Organization, extend life expectancy and promote ethnic and social equality.
Now, to indicate how much and how fast things are changing, nations such as China and Brazil, especially, are “stepping into a space where the U.S. should be.” The U.S. “just watches” as reforms develop (Julia Sweig, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Elysium House, Waterford, Ireland, 2014). Time and the world pass us by. That does not speak well for the vigorous society and people we can be and should be.
We can do better. The hardline U.S. policy measures have “not substantially weakened the Cuban government” (Briana Lee, U.S.-Cuban Relations, Council of Foreign Relations, February 2014). The unfair economic sanctions and the untrue designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” have made Cuba stronger. They have isolated the U.S. internationally.
No one except Israel follows our policy. There has been some softening but stern policies remain. For its part, the Cuban government has implemented major, more capitalistic economic reforms and has lifted travel restrictions. The U.S. has made no such moves, except President Obama’s reduction of restrictions for Cuban families.
The more intransigent groups in and out of Congress say they are “waiting for Castro to die.” What sane policy can be so callous? Moreover, we know trillions of dollars have been lost to Cuba due to the embargo (López). How many billions have been lost to the U.S. and its people? Are over five decades of impasse not enough? We have trade with China. We have trade and aid with Viet-Nam. Why not Cuba? Why not, you ask?
The reason: the “tail wags the dog.” Right wing Cuban Americans, an ever decreasing minority, prevent normal relations. Why listen to them? Of course, the answer is “votes” in a swing state. Cuban Americans were allowed to become citizens almost instantly and have done very well in the U.S. economically. How do they repay us? They cost us business and profits. Their old guard leaders impede hopes of improving the situation. They have put the U.S. in an inferior moral and practical position.
Fortunately, President Obama has reversed some of President Bush’s harder sanctions. But more is needed. At least for now Americans with family in Cuba can travel freely. There is no cap on their remittances. Even problems such as U.S. citizens, paid by the U. S. government, jailed for destabilizing the Cuban economy, could be resolved more effectively if we had proper diplomatic relations.
Cuban Americans, only five percent of the population of Florida, have been a “pillar of Republican support” (Arturo López, Foreign Policy, 2012). But things are changing. Hard-liners such as Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio “no longer align with views of most Cuban Americans.”
Fifty to sixty percent of all Americans want “travel, trade, and diplomacy” (López). Fifty percent of younger Cubans voted for President Obama. Why let a small minority lead us by nose? Why discourage business? Why not listen more attentively to world-wide public opinion?
In the United Nations, only the U.S. and Israel oppose ending the embargo. Even the Vatican has helped broker deals regarding release of political prisoners. Cuba is ready for more change. There is more access to DVDs, cell phones and Internet. Individuals can lease and farm government land. Cubans can buy and sell homes. There is more personal freedom. There is more ownership and more travel abroad (López). Cuba has changed. Can we? Shouldn’t we?
President Clinton argued Cubans leaders have used the embargo as an “excuse” for their economic failures. He was partly right. President Obama has taken steps to moderate the embargo. He could, if he were to risk 2016 elections, take several steps in reducing tensions further. He could increase the flow of communication and services, benefitting both countries.
The President could expand travel for Americans. He could expand airports for charter flights to Cuba. He could allow ferry services to Cuba. He could eliminate the prohibition of credit/debit cards. He could expand the quantity and nature of products exported to Cuba. How? When? Perhaps do it all, all at once, rather than a “drip-drip” method.
The current blockade hinders the U.S. It makes us less free. It depresses freedom of action. To act now would increase trade, investment, research, educational exchange programs; in short, economic progress should be the goal for Cubans and Americans. This debate, among other things, should be about rational capitalism, about good business.
Many in agriculture and/or fishing industries, for example, are anxious to trade with Cuba. Moreover, an attempt at the “McDonaldization” of Cuba might achieve the goal of assisting the growth of even more democracy, diversity and openness (UTPA Political Science Major, Rolf Otto Niederstrasser, “The Invisible Boundary: President Obama’s Cuban Policy,” 2014). My other students in my course “Latin American Leaders and Ideology,” also contributed to this analysis. My thanks to Rolf and others for their seriousness and insights.
I have taken UTPA students to Cuba before. So has my colleague, Dr. Jessica Lavariega Monforti. Let’s do it again. Let’s have another Cuba Libre now while we think more about this whole dilemma. Perhaps one day soon we will have a mojito together in the Bodegita del Medio, of Hemingway fame in La Havana, or a daiquiri in “La Floridita,” the Hotel Florida. In between interviews and research projects, how about a Vegas-style show in the famous old Tropicana? Or, Varadero beach awaits you.
The sun, fun, culture, and a hard-working people in a fascinating, very different socio-political system await. The point is, more enjoyable and positive international affairs await us all. It won’t happen if we don’t press Congress for change, if we don’t vote. Restoration of good relationships among business partners, family and friends--to include fun and pleasure--takes political measures to succeed. Orale! Vamonos! Let’s get going. Sí, se puede! Make it happen.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.