Journalists normally come to governmental summits with pen and scissors in hand, because summarizing the extended remarks of Heads of State is a pretty difficult and tedious job. Leaders sometimes repeat things they’ve said before, or make remarks that don’t particularly bear reporting, or concentrate on specific problems that are not generally all that interesting.
The latest CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) Summit ought to have been different though. Everyone was waiting for Cuba’s delegation, led by its president, Raúl Castro, in anticipation of his first public remarks since he and President Obama announced a prisoner exchange and the beginnings of negotiations to re-establish relations between Cuba and the United States.
Ever since that bombshell, a flood of stories have emerged on both sides of the Straits, filled with speculation about events both real and imagined, and as one would expect, sketching the parameters for public opinion about what might come next.
The media banquet has included tireless observations about how and when Cuba ought to do this, that, or the other, and has included musings about every possible scenario, even including a blatant provocation by a pseudo-artist whose aim was to humiliate the Cuban government by accusing it of intolerance.
Miami rapidly rushed in, with those who either opposed the opening, or else those who didn’t want to miss the boat, and after more than half a century of doing everything possible to destabilize Cuba’s society and government, suddenly its residents began to promote themselves as supervisors over the “changes” in Cuba, in accordance with the White House script.
The first public speech by the Cuban leader would define whether Cuba and its government would falter, or whether it had some magic formula for managing the subversive plan created by the White House.
If we read the reports filed by most journalists, Castro only said that changes to Cuba’s internal affairs would not be permitted. But he said much more than that, even delineating the principles that would govern the talks over bilateral relations.
Yet it’s almost as though the reporters couldn’t be bothered.
And suddenly, we are seeing a torrent of Miami “consultants” trying to capitalize on the process by issuing imaginative statements about what they think will happen next.
The hallmark of these economic and societal “gurus” is that they are completely unable to disconnect from their ideological bias and resentment and therefore they behave as though they were actually in charge all this time in Cuba, rather than the constitutional government that has evidently successfully led the country for more than 50 years.
It’s clear that these new “experts” in the Cuban economy and its mechanisms have no ability to read the guidelines established by Cuba’s leaders, and act as though Cuba were some kind of chaos that they are uniquely suited to resolve.
This in turn is bad news for U.S. business executives with a fundamentally erroneous view of Cuba. Buttressed by inept “advisers” who are unable to view the situation pragmatically, these firms will never understand how business is done in Cuba, nor will they able to function there, until they remove the charlatans from the game.
But at the end of the day, what did the Cuban president want to communicate, especially to Americans? Let’s take a look:
“ …governments with profound differences can find a solution to their problems, through respectful dialogue and exchanges on the basis of sovereign equality and reciprocity, for the benefit of their respective nations.”
Rule Number One: No to subversion, yes to trade and bilateral relations.
“…Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest, which contribute to solving the challenges we are facing in the hemisphere and the world.”
“However, it must not be supposed that, in order to achieve this, Cuba would renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.”
Rule Number Two: Differences will remain, and even so, it is possible to get along.
“…We will not invite, or accept any attempt to advise or exert pressure regarding our internal affairs. We have earned this sovereign right through great sacrifices and at the price of great risks.”
Cuba’s position could hardly be clearer. If Miami’s experts could have been bothered to read Castro’s remarks, they would give up trying to invent the kinds of procedures and changes in Cuba that they themselves cannot produce, much less propose.
“Could diplomatic relations be restored without resuming the financial services of the Cuban Interests Section and its Consular Office in Washington, denied as a consequence of the financial blockade? How can diplomatic relations be restored without removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism? What will be the future conduct of U.S. diplomats in Havana, in regards to observing the diplomatic and consular norms established by International Conventions?”
“The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes great human and economic damage and violates international law, must end.”
Evidently, Castro is explaining that in order for bilateral relations to function, the United States needs to lower the gun from the head of the Cubans. Viewing the proposed changes as a simple matter of buying a ticket to Havana and selling U.S. products directly to barbers, restaurant owners and mechanics is such a childish scenario that it really begs the question as to how U.S. business executives can fall for these made-in-Miami tales.
Castro says as much:
“Now, everything seems to indicate that the objective is to create an artificial political opposition though economic, political and communications means.”
So, Rule Number Three: Cubans weren’t born yesterday, nor have they resisted the most vicious blockade that any country has ever had to confront, for more than 50 years, through divine intervention. This is one of the most important myths that U.S. business owners need to move beyond. The U.S. sat down to negotiate with Vietnam in equal conditions, leaving behind the 55,000 American deaths in a war it lost. Using Miami as a guide is not going to facilitate business; rather, it will block it.
“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process which can progress toward normalization of bilateral relations, but this will not be possible as long as the blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base is not returned (Applause), or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided our people for the human and economic damage they have suffered.”
“It would not be ethical, just, or acceptable that something were requested of Cuba in return. If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.”
Rule Number Four: The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is one thing. Bilateral relations are another. Trade evidently falls under bilateral relations and Castro is clearly signaling what must happen for this to occur.
“Progress was made in these recent negotiations because we treated each other respectfully, as equals.”
Clean accounts preserve friendships.
“…The measures announced are very limited. Prohibitions on credit and the use of the dollar in international financial transactions remain in place; individual travel by U.S. citizens is hampered under the system of licenses for so-called people-to-people exchanges; these are conditioned by subversive goals; and maritime travel is not allowed. Prohibitions remain on the acquisition in other markets of equipment and technology with more than 10% U.S. components, and on imports by the United States of goods containing Cuban raw materials, among many, many others. “
“President Barack Obama … could permit, in other sectors of the economy, all that he has authorized in the arena of telecommunications, with evident objectives of political influence in Cuba.”
Evidently, Cuba is sending its own plan to President Obama.
It should be clear that eventually this will be understood: the Cubans are indicating that they have won the right to negotiate on an equal basis and without intermediaries. Using Miami or any other country as a fifth column is not going to work and apparently this is the single greatest obstacle currently threatening improved relations between Cuba and the U.S.
It’s not only Cuba that needs to change; the American mentality will have to change as well.
David Urra is a graduate of the Caspian S.M. Kirov Naval Academy in Baku. His email address is david(at)icarusecuador.com.