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US / Cuba Relations: the Trouble With Normal


President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961.  Fifty-four years later, on Monday the 20th of July, the United States and Cuba will advance toward normalization of diplomatic relations.  Presumably, the US will no longer treat Cuba as its enemy and treat the island simply as its next-door neighbor.  Maybe …

The raising of the flags at the embassies on the 20th of July is much anticipated.  But what does this all really mean?  After more than 56 years of trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution through US sponsored terrorism, an invasion organized and launched by the CIA, biological warfare, an economic and commercial blockade, clandestine infiltrations and a permanent propaganda campaign against Cuba, what would constitute “normal” relations between Washington and La Habana?

The word normal derives from the Latin normalis.  In the context of US-Cuba relations it refers to civilized diplomatic behavior, according to historically established philosophical precepts: norms or rules of peaceful conduct between nations.

What rules of peaceful conduct by the United States towards Cuba may we expect from now on?  Which normative rules could be considered normal and which abnormal?

It’s normal for two neighboring countries, separated by a mere 90 miles of water, to have diplomatic relations.  It’s not normal for the United States to impose an economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.

It’s normal for the US to have an embassy in Havana and for Cuba an embassy in Washington. It’s not normal for the US embassy in Cuba to function without an ambassador, simply because some in the Senate oppose it.

It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but it´s not normal to prohibit tourists from the US to travel to the island.

It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage in “people to people” contact, but it’s not normal that the Office of Finance and Assets Control (OFAC) limit it to only group-travel through licensed organizations, thus making travel to Cuba prohibitively expensive and inconvenient for many Americans.

It’s normal for Washington to permit businesses in the US to engage in commerce with private individuals in Cuba, but it’s not normal to make it illegal to do business with state enterprises on the island.

It’s normal for the United States to want a second consulate in Cuba to better serve the public, but it’s not normal that it uses its diplomats to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs.

It’s normal for the United States to support a process of legal and orderly immigration from Cuba, but it’s not normal for Washington to maintain a Cuban Adjustment Act as a tool to stimulate an illegal, dangerous and disorderly immigration of Cubans to the United States.

It’s normal for the United States Embassy in Havana to provide an open-door policy for Cubans.  It’s not normal for its diplomats to organize, direct and employ as salaried dissidents a few Cubans of their choosing.

It’s normal for Washington to contribute to the entertainment of the Cuban people with radio and television programs.  It’s not normal for it to maintain a multi-million dollar budget to fund Radio and TV Marti as propaganda instruments.

It’s normal for Washington to want a reputation as a great defender of human rights.  It’s not normal for the United States to imprison without due process or civil rights dozens of persons in Guantánamo, as well as torturing them in Cuba.

It’s normal for the United States to have an embassy in Cuba, even a large one, located in prime real estate on the famous Malecón overlooking the bay in Havana.  It’s not normal for the United States to occupy, against the wishes of the Cuban people, a large swath of Cuban territory in the province of Guantánamo.

It’s normal for the Pentagon not to invade or send military drones to Cuba. It’s not normal that Washington earmarks a $30 million budget for fiscal year 2016 for a project whose declared purpose is to remove the government of Cuba from power.

It’s normal for Mississippi to be one of the 50 states of the US.  It’s not normal for Washington to assume that it has jurisdiction in Cuba as well.

It’s normal for the US to do business with Cuba, but it’s not normal for the US to intervene in her internal affairs.

It’s normal for Washington to condemn terrorism.  It’s not normal that it protect in Miami dozens of terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles, who have committed heinous crimes against civilians in Cuba.

The US blockade against Cuba is a relic of the Cold War whose days are numbered. President Obama’s new Cuba policy, announced on the 17th of December, is a chronicle of the blockade’s death foretold. And it unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm from American businessmen who want to make money by investing there.  Businessmen will pressure the Congress to lift the Helms-Burton law that codified parts of the blockade.

But let’s not be naïve.  In order to truly say that relations between the US and Cuba are normal, Washington must understand that Cuba does not belong to it, that it is a violation of international law for the US to try and foment regime change in a foreign country and that Cuba must and ought be respected for what it is: a sovereign nation.

President Obama’s Cuba policy is a seismic shift in strategy for the United States.  “The old policy did not work.  It is long past its expiration date”, said Obama, in his most recent State of the Union speech before Congress. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”

What is the end game for the United States regarding Cuba?  What it is it that US Presidents wished had worked?  Clearly, the major premise of Washington’s Cuba policy was always regime change.  It failed, and the Cuban Revolution remains strong.  That is why President Obama said, that Washington should “try something new”.  Perhaps business can do what isolation could not.  Engagement is the new strategy to try and topple the Cuban Revolution.

Cuba is ready for Washington’s policy of engagement.  Just as she learned to build trenches to defend the island from invasion, terrorism, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, Cuba will now help the bridges that American businesses will cross to invest there.  But Cuba will also be wary.  To be sure, Cuba knows that Washington’s end game remains regime change.  Cuban laws have always regulated foreign business ventures, and American investment in Cuba will be no different.

Cuba welcomes better relations with the United States and hopes to advance toward normalization.  But unless and until the government of the United States has a political metanoia and cancels its desire to dominate Cuba, as it she were its vassal state, normal relations in the true sense of the word will not come to pass.

José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

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