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Last November’s mid-term electoral defeat for the Democratic Party seems to have reinvigorated President Barack Obama. He was triumphantly elected in 2008 and had a comfortable Congressional majority in his first two years, but all he produced was a modest reform of the healthcare system, plus homilies urging compromise on Republican politicians determined to destroy him (1). Since the Democrats’ crushing defeat, Obama has been making bold decisions as his political career winds down: a decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, announced after an important climate agreement with China, and an amnesty for 5 million illegal immigrants in the US. Perhaps, to enable sensible decisions, US democracy requires a president with no fanatical senators to manage or wealthy lobbies to bribe.
An end to the embargo that John F Kennedy imposed on Cuba in 1962 would rectify a violation of international law so indefensible that every state except Israel condemns the US stance each year (2). These states have probably grasped that, beyond the virtuous justifications claimed by the US (human rights and freedom of conscience, as respected by the US’s Saudi allies and at Guantanamo), the embargo was a way for the US to vent its frustration. Not 100 miles from Florida, a small country has long defied the US empire. In this battle for dignity and sovereignty, David has ultimately beaten Goliath.
But what condition is it in? Though the US embargo has not achieved its objective of regime change in Cuba, the Cuban model that it was intended to contain has been annihilated. “It no longer works even for us,” Fidel Castro admitted in 2010, speaking in support of his brother Raúl’s “liberal” reforms. After the breakup of the Soviet bloc, on which Cuba depended, Cubans’ buying power collapsed. Most only survive in a broken economy through frugality and a strong instinct for getting by (3). For the moment, liberalisation in Cuba means allowing employees, most of them former civil servants, to become the owners of the small businesses that employ them.
Obama, justifying his historic decision, immediately welcomed by big US companies keen to develop their business in Cuba (including American Airlines, Hilton and PepsiCo), said: “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. Even if that worked — and it hasn’t for 50 years — we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.” Could the US, Germany, the UK and France apply the same lesson to Russia, without waiting 50 years?
Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde Diplomatique.
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.