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Post Thoughts on the "Normalization" of Relations with Cuba
Created by John Eipper on 12/19/14 7:17 AM

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Thoughts on the "Normalization" of Relations with Cuba (Timothy Brown, USA, 12/19/14 7:17 am)

How we forget history!

President Carter opened up travel to Cuba. The two biggest results were the enrichment with US dollars of the 10% of Cubans that are the Communist Parties nomenclatura, and the Varadero boat lift, that brought tens of thousands of additional Cuban refugees to our shores, among them several hundred "career" criminals and inmates of its insane asylums.

There are three things you may want to keep in mind while listening to the pundits:

One: US-Cuba relations. "Normalization" does not involve a major change in official US-Cuban relations. Cuba has had a diplomatic mission in Washington for decades. While I was Deputy Coordinator of Cuba Affairs, I dealt with them regularly, just as the Cuban government deals regularly with the United States Interest Section in Havana (USINT) that is, and has been for more than thirty years, the largest diplomat mission in Cuba.

USINT is housed in the former United States Embassy building on the Malecon in Havana, staffed by hundreds of American diplomatic personnel, and conducts relations between the US and Cuba on a daily basis.

To "normalize" US-Cuba relations just means to change the official title of one officer and to replace the sign on the building we already occupy from United States Interest Section to Unites States Embassy.

Both these steps have considerable symbolic importance, but neither will change the substance of US-Cuba relations. The latter will depend on policy decisions made in Havana and Washington.

Unless Obama can find someone the Republican Senate will "consent" to have sent as Ambassador, a rather long shot, Cuba will be able to obtain agreement from Obama to send an Ambassador to Washington.

But we will not be able to send one to Cuba. I heard one pundit say, incorrectly, that, even if this proves to be the case, we will be able to give the head of USINT the title of Charge d'Affairs, or temporary Ambassador (I've been one myself). But that is not true--no accredited Ambassador, no temporarily accredited Charge.

Two: On the Embargo. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the United States is Cuba's biggest trading partner. The major change may/may be in how Cuba pays for what it imports. I've been out of the policy loop for some time. But, as I understand it, because of embargo matters, we have required Cuba to pay in cash not on credit. So I suspect that the changes that will allow the use of credit and ease payments will primarily serve the commercial interests of US exporters. Tourists will also benefit.

Three: For many years, Cuba has been claiming that the embargo is the sole reason Cuba has not prospered, and has on occasion put a dollar value on their claim. So we can expect Cuba to send us a bill.

Cuba is a a totalitarian, not authoritarian, dictatorship. It has long been the hemispheric incubator of movements seeking to establish the same in other countries, especially in Latin America.

As of today, these movements have been successful in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and maybe Ecuador are all now on the slippery slope that leads to authoritarianism, with Nicaragua the furthest along. For many years Venezuela has been subsidizing the Cuban government by providing it with extremely under-priced oil. And regardless of intent, one important consequence of the measures we are taking will be to replace Venezuelan economic assistance with American tourist dollars. And this will strengthen the efforts to establish one-party systems in these four countries.

Put another way, they will harden, not soften, the totalitarian regime, abet efforts in Venezuela, Bolivia and, perhaps, Ecuador, to perpetuate the power of the far left.

Raúl Castro has made several trips to China in recent years to learn from the Chinese how to open up an economy without endangering the political power of a totalitarian dictatorship.

We are now in the process of helping him, and the Cuba's future totalitarians, succeed.

JE comments: Tim Brown agrees with Francisco Wong-Díaz's position that lifting the embargo will give new life to the Castro regime.  The model here would be China--but China never had a tradition of fun-seeking US tourists.  Time will tell what this human tidal wave means for Cuba, but I'll go on record that regime change will come within a few years.

As for the Castros sending a bill for the embargo, wouldn't the US respond in kind for all the properties expropriated in the 1960s?  Neither of these efforts strikes me as particularly fruitful.  The real legal wrangling will begin when Cuban exiles attempt to recover their old houses, farms, and businesses.

This year 2014 is winding up on a very interesting note.

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  • Thoughts on the "Normalization" of Relations with Cuba (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/19/14 7:10 PM)
    I could not agree more with Timothy Brown and Francisco Wong-Díaz (19 and 18 December) on their judgment about the consequences of an alleged "normalization" of the US-Cuba relationship.

    I understand that before establishing a normal diplomatic and commercial US-Cuba relationship, there is still a long way to go. I believe the immediate publicity impact on international public opinion is somehow excessive. However, it is a political triumph for the Castro regime.

    It was understood and justified that the US embargo, or "bloqueo," was mainly maintained by the US over all these years because the Cuban regime was evidently anti-democratic and totalitarian. Nothing has changed, and it won't change while the Castro family remains in power. Cuba has been and will continue to be an unconditional enemy of the democratic countries, guilty of violating the basic human rights of the Cuban people, a corrupted regime.

    This US diplomatic twist to Cuba will most likely strengthen Fidel and his "mafia" of corrupted civil servants and army officers. For the benefit of the doubt, time will tell.

    The only benefit that I foresee with this normalization might be that if commercial relations become "normal," it will dismantle the myth that has been exploited for years by the Cuban regime that the economic difficulties in the island are caused by US embargo and not by their own incompetence and corruption.

    JE comments:  José Ignacio Soler's last point cannot be emphasized enough.  During my one trip to Cuba in 1998, the "NO BLOQUEO" signs were everywhere, creating a universal public narrative that your suffering is Uncle Sam's fault.  Now the regime will have to deliver a better standard of living...or else.

    WAISers Francisco Ramírez and Henry Levin have a different take on the Obama initiative.  Their posts are next.  I just wish Prof. Hilton were still here to offer his perspective.

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    • More on US-Cuba Relations (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/21/14 5:51 AM)
      I'd like to expand on my 19 December comments about the US government's decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

      I still believe that the initiative will likely strengthen, at least in the short term, Fidel and his family and the government "mafia," mainly because there are not any known important democratic concessions being given in this deal. As I listened in an interview yesterday with Mariela Castro Espin, Raúl Castros´s daughter and a high-ranking official in the Cuban government: "If the US government believes that this diplomatic restoration will change Cuban government policies, it must be dreaming."

      Of course, any commercial opening to the island will probably help to increase the standard of living, and to connect Cuban society more openly with a global world and the current flow of events and information through the Internet. This will be beneficial; so far so good. The entrepreneurial spirit on the island will probability take advantage of this. I am an admirer of the qualities of the Cuban people, and no doubt any economic bonanza will be very good for population in general. However, to assume this opening will bring political changes or a burst of freedom is more doubtful. The economic growth or increase in welfare most likely will be used for political propaganda, as a successful achievement for the government. We have this firsthand experience in Venezuela, and most likely in other countries with totalitarian regimes.

      It seems the rationale behind the decision is the hypothesis that this opening of US trade with Cuba will enhance the living standards of the Cuban people in the long term, or even in the medium term, say 3 or 4 years from now and, consequently, people will push for a change in government policies or a democratization of institutions, leading eventually to the end of the Castro regime. Then it will be a successful outcome. Let´s hope for that.

      This rational interpretation or justification is maybe an example of the pragmatism of politics, beyond ideological or ethical and moral principles-based decisions. The Cuban regime was and still is anti-democratic, totalitarian, corrupt and repressive, and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to change, even as the living standards of the people change. The regime committed crimes on behalf of the revolution, suppressed the basic human rights of the people, exported terrorism, supported other oppressive regimes, among many other less-known practices.

      To normalize relations now is to forgive those critical aspects, or to forget the victims' sufferings and to admit that ethical-moral principles in politics were not longer priorities. Just assume for the sake of the argument, that democratic governments, say in 40 or 50 years, will accept and "normalize" relations with a totalitarian state, such as for example ISIS, due to political pragmatism. I am pretty sure that this would presently be considered outrageous by any rational person, but will it be so in 40 years?.

      I remember some time ago a cynical politician saying, "in politics it is important to be coherent with reality and not necessarily consistent with principles." This is maybe the case always.

      By the way, I am willing to take the US $100 bet of my dearest brother-in-law Henry Levin! Time will tell.

      JE comments: The pragmatic argument invariably goes back to China, where 40 years of "normalized" relations still have not brought democracy. It always struck me as hypocritical that the US embraced trade with a large totalitarian nation, when it ostracized a small totalitarian nation in our own neighborhood (Cuba). Cuba's proximity to the United States will make it especially susceptible to US influence.  Put in another way, while China has historically been a hermetic society, Cuba has not.  I believe that change will come to the island quickly.

      José Ignacio Soler spent nine days in Cuba in December 2013.  His detailed travelogue on the experience is one of my favorite WAIS posts of 2014.  If you missed it, here's the link:


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  • Thoughts on the "Normalization" of Relations with Cuba (Francisco Ramirez, USA 12/19/14 7:35 PM)
    We established diplomatic ties with Red China. Did the regime harden as a result of this relationship? No. Are the Chinese people better off today than prior to this development? Yes. If we learn from evidence, we should expect that the same pattern will ensue in Cuba. The regime will not harden and the people of Cuba will be better off.

    The USA did not suffer as a result of diplomatic ties with China, nor will such ties with Cuba lead to harm here. This is not about creating Anglo-American political democracy in either land. This is about the sensibility of direct engagement, the sensibility that has guided our foreign policy elsewhere, e.g. Vietnam.

    Yes, what is happening is not diplomatic ties, but it is a lot smarter than continuing to think with parts of our anatomy designed with other ends in mind.

    WAIS in Havana in 2017?

    JE comments: WAIS '17 in Havana? If Francisco Ramírez will join us, I'm all for it. Mexico City (my present whereabouts) would also be an extremely attractive venue, a bit more animated than sleepy ol' Adrian.

    But first we need to plan for the WAIS Golden Jubilee, 10-12 October 2015, at Stanford. Save the date; details are forthcoming.

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    • Was it a Blunder to "Normalize" Relations with China? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/21/14 6:34 PM)
      While in general I completely agree with the spirit of Francisco Ramirez's post of 19 December, I must question the veracity of a specific statement: "The USA did not suffer as a result of diplomatic ties with China." While establishing diplomatic ties is something of undeniable benefit, the subsequent corporate-driven transformation of the PRC into the giant manufacturing facility for the Capitalist world has been a huge strategic blunder which will negatively affect the balance of power in the world into the next century. This conclusion will not change as long as its premises and present situation remain intact: 1. The Communist Party remains in control; 2. Access to Chinese markets remains restricted; 3. Chinese middle class grows further.

      After accepting the invitation to partner with capitalists, one thing that a bunch of Chinese communists have done extremely well over the years is to thrive economically and financially on cheap Chinese labor. That seems positive for the world, but how they have accomplished their incredible development is where the strategic danger for the US lies. They have been able to: 1. Continuously absorb new knowledge and technology through a variety of legal and illegal mechanisms; 2. Use their massive need for resources to strengthen political/financial relations with countries providing these resources; 3. Take some of their earnings to strengthen their military, intelligence, and space program; 4. While the US continues to waste huge sums and human resources with wars all over the world, the Chinese government has maintained a more constructive and profitable stance, implementing items 2 and 3 above.

      We have too many distractions. We must never forget that military power grows from stable economic power. Economic power in turn comes from a strong middle class, scientific knowledge and technological growth, and business innovation. We are still ahead, but the Chinese have done a very impressive (and scary) job of closing the gap. The trends are against us; time to wake up!

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      JE comments:  China is closing the gap, and quickly.  But how much of this "blame" can be put on the Nixon-Kissinger overtures of 1972?  It was another twenty years before China actually started its explosion of economic activity.

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      • Was it a Blunder to "Normalize" Relations with China? (Paul Levine, Denmark 12/22/14 5:57 AM)

        In response to Tor Guimaraes (21 December), it wasn't a blunder to normalize relations with the PRC. It was a blunder to buy into the corporate-driven, Washington-assisted
        prognosis that capitalism would weaken the Party's control of the political system: what James Mann called "The China Fantasy."

        We are now older and wiser. The new view from Foggy Bottom is that Mr. Xi and the CPC are firmly in control and more ambitious.
        A few years ago I wrote a piece for American Diplomacy, outlining American attitudes which WAIS readers may find interesting.
        It makes for sober reading, which I will balance with our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and hopes for a happier, healthier 2015.

        JE comments:  I trust this is the right link, as Paul Levine has published a number of pieces about China in American Diplomacy.  Paul's essay forces me to face a contradiction:  why is it unsurprising that China would open up economically but not politically, while I believe that Cuba will now follow a different path?


        And best Holiday wishes to Paul.  Let's hope that 2015, the year of WAISworld's Golden Jubilee, will be healthy, peaceful, and prosperous for all.

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        • Thoughts on US and China; Response to Paul Levine (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/23/14 6:18 AM)
          First, my thanks for John Eipper's extremely kind words about me. I hope to be worthy of them.

          Second, my statement "While establishing diplomatic ties is something of undeniable benefit, the subsequent corporate-driven transformation of the PRC into the giant manufacturing facility for the Capitalist world has been a huge strategic blunder which will negatively affect the balance of power in the world into the next century," is in complete agreement with Paul Levine's 22 December response to my post of the day earlier.

          Third, Paul wrote, "We are now older and wiser. The new view from Foggy Bottom is that Mr. Xi and the CPC are firmly in control and more ambitious. A few years ago I wrote a piece for American Diplomacy, outlining American attitudes which WAIS readers may find interesting. It makes for sober reading."

          This statement seems quite contradictory to me. Are we now behaving more wisely or is the situation still "somber?" My assessment is that all the trends negative to us remain in place. Further, the Chinese government, while not wishing to upset the goose (US/global corporate interests) which has lain and is laying golden eggs, is increasingly more powerful and diplomatically assertive, while our global economic and political situation weakens slowly but steadily. We do not seem to be wiser, just older.

          Last, a response to John Eipper's comment: "how much of this 'blame' can be put on the Nixon-Kissinger overtures of 1972? It was another twenty years before China actually started its explosion of economic activity."

          Indeed, overtures are one thing, and even stronger diplomatic ties are great, but suddenly raising your ideological enemy to senior partner status thus weakening your own middle class while strengthening theirs, is total strategic madness. The great blunder was for the US government to enable the corporate-driven search for profit to once again drive US foreign policy by assuming that capitalism would weaken the Chinese government control.

          JE makes two comments: 1) The kernel of Tor Guimaraes's post might be this quote: "Suddenly raising your ideological enemy to senior partner status thus weakening your own middle class while strengthening theirs, is total strategic madness."

          WAISer thoughts?

          2) As I observed earlier, "opening" trade with China has only strengthened the government, but many of us (excluding, certainly, Tim Brown, Francisco Wong-Díaz, and to a lesser extent José Ignacio Soler) expect a more positive outcome in Cuba. How is Cuba different? Is Cuba different?  I've suggested some possible ways to disentangle this apparent contradiction, focusing on Cuba's historical ties and proximity to the US, as well as the expected flood of US tourism and investment.

          Do I oversimplify?

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  • Thoughts on the "Normalization" of Relations with Cuba (Henry Levin, USA 12/19/14 7:45 PM)
    I disagree with the recent WAIS missives suggesting that the Obama decision on Cuba simply strengthens the domination and wealth of the Castros. As a Latin Americanist and a follower of Cuba since the fifties, I would venture the following. The Cuban people are among the most enterprising and entrepreneurial people in Latin America. They have had to endure and accommodate their difficult situation for generations. Anyone who has been to Cuba can attest to their ingenuity and readiness to exploit any apertura. Note their important contributions to the pharmaceutical industry, despite the restrictions set by the US to access to scientific information through exchanges and education at advanced levels of research. They are an amazing, but frustrated, nation, ready to burst with changes. Some of our WAISers assume that Cubans have no agency and are simply pawns of the Castros with no ideas or significant initiatives or ideas of their own.

    I will put up an additional $100 a year to WAIS if there is not wide agreement among our membership within three years that the Obama initiative led to a burst of "freedom" and entrepreneurial activity by the indigenous population that catalyzed the transformation of Cuban society.

    JE comments:  Cuban ingenuity knows no bounds, and I concur with Henry Levin that we'll see an explosion of entrepreneurial activity.  But does this mean WAIS doesn't get the extra $100?  (I do want to stress that I'm not ribbing Hank Levin, who has been a faithful WAIS patron for many, many years.  For those who may have forgotten to support their favorite organization for 2014, here are the details:  WAIS, c/o John Eipper, Goldsmith Hall, Adrian College, Adrian MI 49221 USA, or via PayPal at donate@waisworld.org).

    Or would you rather invest in Cuba?  Ric Mauricio (next in queue) sends some tips.

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  • Agreement vs Agrément (Timothy Brown, USA 12/20/14 2:27 PM)
    I notice that when editing my post of 19 December, John E replaced the word Agrément with the word agreement, probably because I left out the accent when spelling it.

    There are three categories of official relations between two countries. Today, members of the staff of the United States Interests Section are officially members of the staff of the Ambassador of Switzerland, which is their protecting power. When I went to Cuba on official business, I would always call on "my Ambassador." Being accredited members of the staff of the Embassy of Switzerland gives the personnel at USINT diplomatic immunity.

    A second category is government-to-government and is conducted by consular officers. Unlike a diplomatic officer accredited by the host government as a member of an Ambassador's staff, a consul has consular but not diplomatic immunity and only has immunity as regards their consular activities. A consular officer receives an exequatur. I have several framed and hanging in my office.

    The term Agrément is a word with a very precise meaning that applies only to the third category, Head-of-State to Head-of-State relations. An Ambassador is the personal representative of one head-of-state to another. His staff receives diplomatic status through him or her.

    Before making public the name of someone a country wants to name as Ambassador to another country, the sending country formally--and secretly--asks the receiving country's agreement to accept that person. Only then is the name made public. In the US, if a name leaks before our President or the Secretary of State formally makes it public, it can be the kiss of death or, at the very least, anger the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and make obtaining the Senate's "advice and consent" much more difficult, if not impossible.

    My comment was an attempt to differentiate the probable response of President Obama to a Cuban request for agrément for its candidate, which should be no problem, from the possible refusal, or extensive delay by the Senate of a nomination by Obama. Put another way, the possibility exists that Cuba will soon have an Ambassador in Washington while we do not have one in Havana. Frankly, I don't think this will happen. But in the diplomatic world of smoke and mirrors, one can never be sure.

    JE comments: Tim Brown gives an excellent lesson in the arcane world of diplomatic language. Agrément certainly stumped me!  Now, for exequatur:


    For the curious, I just checked Tim's original message, and it came to me as agremente (in italics).  "Agreement" seemed to fit, but admittedly, I didn't do any research.

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