Cuba After Obama: One Cuban-American’s Hope


“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems,” wrote the late exiled Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas, “is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”

These contrasting ideologies have defined U.S.-Cuban relations for more than 50 years; a history marked by an oppressive regime on one side and an interventionist foreign government on the other. Stuck in the middle are millions of Cubans and Cuban-Americans who have experienced the collective trauma of forced separation, exile and retribution.

As a first-generation Cuban-American, I am keenly aware of the emotions that underlie the relations between our two countries. My own family fled Cuba in 1966. Their physical trip from Cuba was an hour-long flight, but the ripple effects of that journey continue to be felt today.

President Obama’s historic three-day visit to Cuba brings me a renewed sense of hope. As someone who has worked in both international development and the private sector, I believe this hope must be pursued cautiously and with the full engagement of Cuban people living on the island.

For far too long, the loudest voices on Cuba have come from Miami and Washington—rarely from Havana. This is partly due to the unrelenting policy of silencing dissention by a police state. But it is also due to factions on the other side of the Florida Straits—groups who believe they know what’s best for Cuba, and who stubbornly reject reconciliation out of fear that this would concede a ‘win’ to the Castro brothers.

The result has been a 50-year embargo, which by nearly all accounts has failed miserably. Instead, it has enabled Castro’s regime to entrench itself further – a sentiment echoed in a 2010 open letter signed by 74 dissidents calling for the end of the embargo that they underscore contributes to the suffering of everyday Cubans.

These dissenting voices have been largely missing from the conversation. Normalizing relations through an open flow of people and information is, I believe, the most effective way forward. This opinion, however, is clearly split among demographic and political party lines. According to a 2015 Miami Herald article, Cuban-Americans who arrived in the United States in the 1960’s are still very much opposed to any diplomatic relations whereas first-generation Cuban-Americans like myself, are largely in favor.

In the days since Obama’s visit, I’ve heard many people scoff at this idea, asking, “What have we received in return by easing our policy with Cuba?” The short answer is that since reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba in December of 2014, we’ve seen the handover of Alan Gross, the release of 53 political prisoners and agreements to let the Red Cross and UN human rights investigators onto the island.

But what exactly do we think we are supposed to “get” out of this new chapter with Cuba, and more to the point, who should receive it? Would getting back a piece of property that someone lived in 50 years ago and displacing the family that now lives there be enough? How about Castro’s body in a box? I doubt it. For many years, these have been two of many conditions vocalized by some of the most staunchly anti-Castro Cuban-Americans and they in turn have wielded tremendous influence on U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.

Nothing can compensate for the overwhelming sense of loss that Cuban-Americans feel, which is why U.S.-Cuban relations over the past 50 years have been so complex. What many Cubans and Cuban-Americans want – uninterrupted childhoods, unified families and the life trajectories we might have had – we’ll never get.

While some would chalk up President Obama’s visit to nothing more than photo ops and press conferences, the symbolism – and the warmth demonstrated by the Cuban people (even Raul!) – has already proven tremendously powerful. Throughout his visit, he made it a point to bypass much of the official state apparatus. He walked through the streets of Old Havana, so the average Cuban could see him up close. He played himself in a comedy sketch with a much-loved national comedian Pánfilo – using Cuban slang no less.

Even Castro and Obama’s joint press conference, which many cited as tense, signaled a new era. At Obama’s polite prodding, Castro took a question from a western journalist about Cuba’s human rights record. His response – that Cuba does not have political prisoners – was ridiculous, but it was important that this question could be put to a Castro for the first time in recent memory.

Obama didn’t pontificate on what was wrong with Cuba and what was right about the U.S. Instead he acknowledged that while American democracy is not perfect, it gives us the space to catalyze change – to scream, as Reinaldo would say.

In his speech that was televised across the island, Obama’s message couldn’t be clearer: change must rise from within, on Cuba’s terms and we are here as friends to accompany them on that journey. Cuba will undoubtedly face countless social, economic and environmental opportunities and challenges in the years to come.

We will be tempted to swoop in and “fix things” the way our foreign policy has loved to do in countless developing economies over the years. But as development professionals and business people, we must pursue these opportunities in an ethical, responsible and sustainable manner.

Was his visit a drop of water in an ocean? Yes. Does more work need to be done, particularly around human rights, self-determination and economic development? Absolutely. Change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without bumps along the way. But if we continue down the path that Obama’s administration has opened for us, it will happen.

Watch Obama’s speech to the Cuban people.


Josh Cramer-Montes is a Sustainable International Development candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy & Management.

U.S.-Cuba Relations: A Year of Change

Los Angeles Dodgers player Yasiel Puig, from Cuba, greets young baseball players before giving a baseball clinic to children in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. “We’re going to give our best on this visit and we appreciate the opportunity we’ve been given,” said Puig, who left Cuba on a smuggler’s fast-boat in 2012. “Everything else we leave to God and destiny.” Ramon Espinosa AP

In the year since the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement began, some things have seemed to move at warp speed, but others have smacked into the reality that the two former Cold War enemies still have two very different systems and have barely talked to each other in five decades.

There have been important symbolic changes. An American flag now waves over a U.S. Embassy in Havana, and a Cuban flag flies at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., after an absence of more than 54 years. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro have met face-to-face twice and talked by telephone three times, even joking about the famously long speeches of Fidel Castro.

Cuba has been removed from the U.S. black list of state sponsors of terrorism, and there have been talks on prickly issues such as migration, human rights, and claims for confiscated property of U.S. citizens and corporations.

Interactive timeline: A history of modern U.S.-Cuba relations

But because expectations were so high and many U.S. businesses were so eager to engage after a half-century drought, some say Cuba has been slow in taking up the United States on the new business opportunities the Obama administration began outlining in January. Obama also has said he wants to work with Congress to lift the embargo.

Expectations were high among the Cuban people, too, said Domingo Amuchástegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who left the island in 1994, because “in Cuba’s political culture, when the president says something is going to be done, take his word, it will be done. Cubans who heard Obama thought this is the president’s word.”

But such high hopes have been tamped down. It was apparent after the first round of normalization talks in Havana in January that rapprochement would be a slow process, he said.

Some Americans imagined that U.S. companies with all their technical know-how would rapidly expand Internet access on the island or that Americans would be able to pick up a charger for their cellphone at a U.S. mobile storefront in Havana, soon be visiting Cuba via a ferry from Miami, and pulling out credit cards issued by U.S. banks to pay for their hotel stays and to withdraw cash from ATM machines in Cuba.

All are theoretically possible under new U.S. rules, but it takes two to tango, and Cuba is yet to green-light any of those opportunities.

Even though U.S. companies are free to form partnerships with Cuban government entities to improve the island’s Internet and telecom infrastructure, the only deals announced so far have been a few roaming and direct-connect arrangements. This summer, Cuba began rolling out new public Wi-Fi hotspots that now number 50, but most Cubans don’t have regular access to the Internet and desire for connectivity is huge.

“It’s all about what your benchmark was at the beginning of rapprochement. If you had realistic expectations, then you see gradual progress,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor of international political economy at the University of California-San Diego and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Both Obama and Raúl Castro say this will be gradual.”

Tangible change

At the Summit of the Americas in April, Castro said that while the two countries still have their differences, “we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient.”

Castro’s more conciliatory words to Obama in Panama were a watershed event, Feinberg said. “Up until that time, the United States was the implacable enemy and a threat to the security of Cuba. His remarks changed the whole paradigm and atmosphere in Cuba.”

The most tangible change in Cuba since last December has been the parade of U.S. visitors, including Obama Cabinet members and State Department delegations. On Wednesday, many baseball stars who defected, including Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, also visited.

For Alana Tummino, who accompanied a U.S. business delegation at a recent international trade fair in Cuba, the realization that things had changed significantly came as she sipped her morning coffee at the Hotel Saratoga in Havana.

“A whole host of business leaders from the United States, including former hard-line Cuban Americans, passed by, and that really signaled to me that we’re in a different era,” said Tummino, who heads the Cuba Working Group at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

American travelers have signed up for people-to-people tours in record numbers, helping Cuba set a new record for international visitors this year. There have been sports and cultural exchanges, U.S. governors have toured Havana in vintage automobiles, and countless U.S. business delegations have arrived in Cuba to test the waters.

The Obama administration has outlined an array of commercial activities that U.S. businesses may engage in legally, even though most trade is still prohibited by the embargo and U.S. investors can’t invest in Cuba.

To empower the Cuban people, the opening allows U.S. companies to trade with Cuba’s private entrepreneurial sector. But there has been little progress in that area — other than increased remittances trickling into the hands of Cuban entrepreneurs to start and expand their businesses and the entry into the Cuban market of San Francisco-based Airbnb, which hooks travelers up for stays at private homes.

“There is the feeling that Obama freed up a lot restrictions [on doing business with Cuba] with the new regulations and now it’s on the Cubans to show their willingness to work in various sectors,” Tummino said.

She said one reason for the seemingly slow uptake on the part of the Cuban government is a difference in priorities.

U.S policy puts a lot of emphasis on empowering and engaging the non-state sector, she said. “But from the Cuban government’s viewpoint, that’s a small percentage of the overall economy. They are very focused on large projects in energy, biotechnology and tourism and those projects are largely off the table in terms of American investment.

“We’re seeing the Cubans taking their time to see what the opportunities really are. For them, that requires a longer time of trust-building,” Tummino said. “Hopefully we’ll see all the business meetings and collaborations start coming to fruition over the next few months.”

The opportunities are there under the new regulations, said Saul Cimbler, a Cuban-American who is president of U.S.-Cuba Business Advisory. “Not withstanding the political rhetoric, there is forward motion.”

“Most people going to Cuba these days are looking to hit a home run but that is putting the cart before the horse. You need to assess what is really practical,” said Cimbler, who said lately he has been spending 10 to 12 days a month in Cuba on business trips.

To get business deals done in Cuba, he said, requires a lot of work and creativity. Another important thing to remember, Cimbler said, is business isn’t and won’t be conducted the way it was before the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

It’s not just business people interested in engagement with the island. A supporter of such efforts is Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor the Cubans accused of smuggling military-grade equipment into the country. He said recently that “while I served as an involuntary catalyst for this change, I hope now to help foster continued good relations between our countries and our citizens.”

But not everyone is in favor of engagement, and over the past year, members of the Cuban-American delegation in Congress have introduced legislation that seeks to limit the Obama opening. Congressional supporters of engagement, meanwhile, have been busy trying to line up co-sponsors for bills lifting the travel ban and the embargo.

South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the opening hasn’t worked and that the progress the Obama administration sees “is not reflected in the mass arrests and the increase in Cubans fleeing that has marked this year.”

Human rights is among the more contentious issues between the two countries. While the United States has criticized the jailing of dissidents and insisted on the importance of respecting basic civil rights, such as freedom of speech, press and assembly, Cuba views human rights through a somewhat different prism of social well-being, emphasizing its free healthcare as an example of respect for human rights.

Although the number of political prisoners has fallen sharply in the past year, the number of political arrests is way up. Through November, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation has documented 7,686 political arrests, most resulting in short-term detentions of a few hours or days.

In its November report, the commission said the Castro regime was reacting with “ever greater repressive fury” against those who only want freedom for political prisoners and respect for civil and other basic rights.

Not only has there been “disappointment by the naive view of the White House regarding its misguided policies toward communist Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen said, but “little has changed for the average Cuban while the Castro brothers continue to rejoice that they have an ally on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Ros-Lehtinen said in the coming year she expects Obama to offer more concessions to the Cuban government, including possibly the release and pardon of Ana Belen Montes, a former senior analyst at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in October 2002 for spying for the Cuban government.

Francisco “Pepe” Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation and a Bay of Pigs veteran, said he has mixed feelings.

Although he regards the resumption of diplomatic ties as positive and says it has created tremendous interest in all things Cuban, he worries that along with it has come “an acceptance by the international community of the political and economic system in Cuba such as it is.”

Cuba, he said, needs an economic transformation and improvement in human rights but “now there seems to be this acceptance that Cuba is owned by the extended Castro family — and they are preparing to maintain their political and economic power.”

Even Cuban-Americans, he said, are starting to lose touch with what is happening inside Cuba. “The American people think everything is going to be OK and there will be no bad consequences but the Cuban people don’t believe it. Let’s see what happens when Raúl surrenders his official powers,” Hernández said. Castro has said he plans to retire on Feb. 24, 2018. He has named First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel as his successor.

In Cuba, there’s a lot of talk about economic and even political reforms floating around, said Amuchástegui, “but I don’t know if they will show up at the Communist Party Congress.” It’s tentatively set for April. During the last Congress, a series of limited market-economy reforms emerged.

Amuchástegui said that until 2018, he thinks the Cuban leadership will be cautious, slow and seek to avoid tensions and conflicts. “Nothing much will be happening until after 2018,” he said.

“Raúl Castro is increasingly a lame duck. Whether his administration has the energy to accelerate change, we’ll have to see,” said Feinberg. “He may think that he’s done enough.”

The coming year is pivotal, said Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, because there’s quite a bit of uncertainty when it comes to U.S. politics. Some Republican presidential hopefuls have said they will reverse the Obama opening.

Obama may feel he needs to do as much as possible, using his executive authority, to further the relationship with Cuba and enhance his legacy in his remaining time in office, say some analysts.

The president has said he wants to visit Cuba, but there is a sense in Washington that he wants to see more compromise and deliverables on the part of Cuba before scheduling a trip.

“I think the idea now is that it would be good for Obama to go just before his presidency is over to cement his legacy,” said Tummino. “After the 2016 elections might make the most sense.”

Several analysts said they expect to see progress soon on agreements on civil aviation and counter-narcotics. Feinberg said it’s also possible Cuba will give approval for the first U.S.-based ferry and cruise service to Cuba in 2016.

Just in time for the Christmas season, the United States and Cuba reached agreement Dec. 10 on a pilot program for direct-mail service that will take mail directly from the United States to Cuba several times a week, rather than through third countries. And Wednesday, both sides said they had reached an understanding to restore regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries.

There have already been two environmental agreements — one that establishes sister relationships between marine sanctuaries in Cuban waters and the Florida Keys and a more far-reaching accord that will make it easier for U.S. and Cuban scientists to work together to protect the environmental resources of both nations.

“Even if the next president does not share President Obama’s desire to go forward with normalized relations with Cuba, the agreement puts bilateral environmental cooperation on a secure and lasting footing,” said Elizabeth Newhouse, director of the Center for International Policy’s Cuba Project. The Center has been a long-time advocate of easing restrictions on scientific exchanges with Cuba.

On the financial front, there has been both progress and frustration. Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank became the first U.S. bank to establish a correspondent relationship with a Cuban financial institution and recently announced that its debit cards would work to pay bills at government hotels, restaurants and other card-accepting merchants on the island. But other banks have remained wary and have exercised extreme caution when dealing with any Cuban-related business, sometimes holding up payments that are completely legal.

Many challenges remain. One immediate one is the more than 3,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica because Nicaragua, an ally of Cuba’s, won’t let them pass through its territory on their route north to the United States.

Preferential U.S. migration policies, such as the Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot/dry foot, which allows Cubans who arrive on U.S. soil — even without a visa — to stay while those interdicted at sea are generally sent back, have acted as a magnet for Cubans migrants.

“The Central American crisis is part of a much bigger migration problem. The route through South and Central America [often taken by Cuban migrants] is like a highway to the United States where everyone is dry-foot,” said William LeoGrande, a government professor at American University.

Unless the United States ends the wet foot/dry foot policy, he said, Cubans will continue to find alternative routes to the U.S. through the Caribbean and Latin America.

Cuba also wants to engage on sensitive issues. Castro has said he wants the lifting of the embargo, the return of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, and the end to Radio and TV Martí and other acts of hostility against Cuba by the United States. Cuba also wants reparations for human damage caused by U.S. incursions against the island, as well as economic damages due because of the embargo.

The United States, meanwhile, would like to see meaningful progress on compensation for $1.9 billion ($8 billion, including interest) in claims by U.S. citizens and corporations who had their Cuban property seized.

Feinberg, who released a Brookings white paper on claims earlier this month, said it’s possible there could be an agreement — even within the next year — if both countries decide settlement of property issues would serve their national security interests.

For the United States, a satisfactory agreement would encourage Congress to lift the embargo, he said. “In Cuba, it could be a good deal, too, because it would result in increased investment flows and more access to international capital markets.”

A settlement could turn a conflictive problem into a win-win situation, he said.

“I think the Cubans would be wise to do some big deals [with U.S. companies] that make people think this is really going to pay off,” said LeoGrande. “But you’ve got the embargo still in place, and I think it’s part of the reason the Cuban response has been slow. They know it is not going away until at least 2017 and maybe after.”

PortMiami Preparing For Daily Ferry Service To Cuba

A freighter is loaded at Port Miami
A freighter is loaded at PortMiami on March 19, 2015. The port is planning to accommodate ferries carrying passengers and cargo when service to Cuba begins PEDRO PORTAL EL Nuevo Herald
  • Planning for new Miami-to-Havana route advanced enough that port penciled in a March start date
  • Port paid consultant $60,000 to study temporary facilities for “early start” to ferry service
  • Delays by Cuba have stalled operators’ efforts to launch new maritime route


Interest in Cuba-bound ferries has been high enough at PortMiami that officials are looking for ways to create temporary terminals to accommodate operators wanting to launch overnight runs to Havana every day.

Planning for a new passenger-and-cargo route to Cuba is detailed in hundreds of emails and internal documents obtained by the Miami Herald through Florida’s open-records laws. They show multiple ferry operators with newly secured licenses from Washington eager to lock down space at the port, which at one point was planning on the Cuba-bound vessels launching in March.

A woman jogs on the Malecon
A woman jogs on the Malecon as the Thomson Dream cruise ship arrives in Havana bay on March 19, 2015. The Obama administration approved the first ferry service in decades between the United States and Cuba, potentially opening a new path for the hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars in consumer goods that travel between Florida and Havana each year. Desmond Boylan AP

The documents show a yearlong effort by PortMiami to get ready for what could be a significant new enterprise there. Industry leaders predict the ferry routes will be popular with Cuban-Americans not only visiting their homeland, but bringing large stores of goods from the U.S. for family on the island.

Internal emails also hint at the dicey politics involved at the county-owned port, given the Castro regime’s continued pariah status in large swaths of Miami’s Cuban-American population.

Sensitivity was on display during an early email exchange between United Caribbean’s Bruce Nierenberg and senior port officials just weeks after President Obama’s Dec. 17, 2014 announcement on his pursuit of full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“Was good to see you all again,” Nierenberg wrote Port Director Juan Kuryla and his top aides in an email dated Jan. 21, 2015. “Just wanted to thank you for the enthusiastic approach to figuring out how to get the Port of Miami into its rightful position as the first Home port for overnight ferry service to Cuba.”

Kevin Lynskey, the port’s deputy director, complained to colleagues about Nierenberg’s account, which became a public document once it arrived in a county inbox.

“We went to great lengths to explain that the issues involving running cruise, ferry and/or cargo vessels to Cuba are playing out well above our heads,” Lynskey wrote. “He understands that the port follows the direction of our Mayor and Board and not vice versa. Bruce is a very bright guy, but emails like these don’t add to the goodwill bank.”

On Nov. 4, port officials scheduled a meeting to discuss what the federal Customs and Border Protection bureau would require for processing cargo and passengers on Cuba-bound ferries. An electronic agenda for the meeting asks “what other government agencies does CBP contemplate will have requirements based on travel to Cuba” and how could the port get those agencies “engaged in the planning effort?”

The agenda also included a question suggesting some urgency: “Considering an assumed ferry start-up date of March 2016, how can the Port meet this goal for start-up based on current CBP facilities and operations?”

For now, that timetable seems all but impossible. There was significant momentum in May when the Obama administration issued Cuba-ferry licenses to United Caribbean and other operators in talks with Port Miami. But industry executives say the Castro regime is holding back the approvals and port construction needed to welcome ferries from the United States.

“They told us they want to wait,” Nierenberg said Monday of Cuban officials. “They decided in the fall there were other infrastructure projects they had to do first.”

Nierenberg now expects U.S. ferries to be sailing to Havana by late 2016 or early 2017. Kuryla said last month his staff was exploring the creation of a new ferry terminal on the port’s southwest corner, a piece of prime real estate where David Beckham once tried to build a soccer stadium.

Behind the scenes, the port also has been pursuing options for housing Cuba-bound ferries as soon as possible.

CMA CGM, a shipping giant that already has Cuban facilities in Mariel, wrote port officials in May to suggest Miami-Dade buy floating pontoon ramps for the quick creation of a ferry terminal.

In July, the port signed a $60,000 contract with the Atkins engineering firm to explore how temporary terminals could be created “in order to enable an early start to ferry service.” Emails showed the port held a two-day planning “charrette” in August to study possible terminal options, with the consultant asking that operators be invited to attend.

Cuba-bound ferries were contemplated in the port’s 2011 master plan, which talked of short-term opportunities once Washington dropped trade barriers with Cuba and demand soared “to move people, vehicles and construction supplies to the island community.”

On July 18, a representative for the Italian shipping giant Grimaldi wrote PortMiami with specifications for the Zeus Palace, a 220-foot ferry.

The email called the Zeus Palace “the first vessel that they would assign to the Miami/Havana operation as well as their proposed schedule [three sailings a week]. The second vessel would come into the schedule approximately one month after the start up phase and thus would then increase the number of departures and arrivals to one a day.”

Baja Ferry, a Miami company that also secured a Cuba-ferry license from Washington, last year sent port officials a one-sheet summary of its plans: a 623-foot ferry carrying 2,500 passengers a week to Havana through three overnight runs starting at 7 p.m. and ending on the Cuban shore at 5 a.m., according to a Baja document circulated by port officials on Sept. 30.

Lynskey said Monday that the March start date was used as a planning tool with Atkins consultants, based on when operators thought they would be asking the port for ferry berths. He said PortMiami was in talks with about 10 cruise and ferry companies interested in Cuba operations.

“No company has yet been given permission to travel to Cuba by the Cuban authorities, though several are selling tickets as if they are traveling to Cuba,” Lynskey wrote in an email response to written questions. The “Port has been told that the Cuban government is not very close to providing permission for ferries to run from the U.S. to Cuba, but is more inclined sometime this year to possibly allow cruise ships. Cruise ships have been visiting Cuba for years, just not from the U.S..”

When the Herald first reported the Port’s Cuba-ferry efforts on Jan. 7, the news caused a stir in political circles. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez summoned reporters the next day to emphasize that any Cuba-bound ferries would simply mirror the already busy air service to Havana offered at the county’s airport. And he portrayed the port as interested in the land-based facilities, with the ferries’ destinations up to the operators themselves.

“We don’t do business with countries,” Gimenez said. “We just do business with carriers.”

As the world’s leading home for cruise ships, PortMiami already is on the leading edge of expanding commercial ties with Cuba. Carnival Corp. plans to begin Cuba cruises in May.

While historic, Carnival’s itinerary expansion only required the company to navigate regulatory issues with Washington. Cuba-bound ferries could be more problematic for port officials, because it involves a county agency creating new terminal facilities and berths that currently don’t exist.

After the Herald story published on Jan. 7, Kuryla received an email from Eddy Acevedo, a top staffer for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, a top anti-Castro hardliner in Congress.

“Ferry service to Cuba. Really?” Acevedo wrote Kuryla. “We need to discuss this matter.”

The State of the Negotiation Process Between Cuba and the United States


LA HABANA.Just a year and a half after the decision to initiate a process aimed at normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States have announced, should take stock of it, since often the perception of people transiting from the view that everything is solved, even those who claim that almost nothing has been advanced, and the answer does not seem to be in these extremes.

A veces sorprende la rápida evolución que han tenido las negociaciones en ciertos asuntos. Sometimes surprisingly rapid developments that have had negotiations on certain issues. Se restablecieron relaciones diplomáticas, se han concretado acuerdos en diez áreas de interés común y se negocia con buenos augurios en decenas más, lo que demuestra la existencia de una complementariedad determinada por la condición de vecinos y otras exigencias internacionales. Diplomatic relations were restored, have concluded agreements in ten areas of common interest and traded with auspiciousness in dozens more, demonstrating the existence of a certain complementarity provided by neighbors and other international requirements.

Uno de los elementos más llamativos, pasado por alto por muchos analistas, han sido las premisas políticas y la organización bajo las cuales se ha conducido este proceso. One of the most striking elements overlooked by many analysts, have been the political premises and the organization under which this process has been conducted. Ambas partes han reconocido que se negocia en condiciones de igualdad y respeto mutuo, lo cual es particularmente importante para Cuba, y ha sido creada una comisión bilateral que orienta y controla las negociaciones. Both sides recognized that trades in conditions of equality and mutual respect, which is particularly important for Cuba, and created a bilateral commission that guides and controls the negotiations.

Por demás, en ellas han intervenido una gran variedad de instituciones estatales, las cuales establecen sus relaciones específicas, lo que facilita la comunicación a escala instrumental y el diálogo entre los funcionarios especializados, un antídoto contra los estorbos que generalmente crea la burocracia a otros niveles. For others, they have involved a wide variety of state institutions, which establish their specific relationships, facilitating communication instrumental scale and dialogue between specialized officials, an antidote against the hindrances that usually creates bureaucracy at other levels .

Presentes también en las negociaciones, hay temas que reflejan las disputas existentes, cuya solución es mucho más compleja, debido a que definen la naturaleza de las relaciones posibles. Also present at the negotiations, there are issues that reflect existing disputes, the solution is much more complex, because they define the nature of possible relationships.

Algunas son de carácter sistémico y tienen que ver con diferencias antagónicas que difícilmente encontrarán solución en el futuro predecible. Some are systemic and have to do with conflicting differences hardly find solution in the foreseeable future. No obstante, existen otros que pudieran resolverse, si existe la voluntad de las partes y coyunturas que faciliten los acuerdos. However, there are others that could be solved, if the will of the parties and to facilitate joint agreements.

En este caso está el tema de las exigencias de compensaciones mutuas. Here is the issue of the demands of trade-offs. Este asunto tiene antecedentes en muchas partes del mundo y generalmente se han encontrado fórmulas para satisfacer los reclamos de los contendientes. This issue has a history in many parts of the world and generally found ways to satisfy the claims of the contenders. En el caso de Cuba y Estados Unidos, llegado el momento oportuno, no hay razones para pensar que esto no sea posible. In the case of Cuba and the United States, the time is right, there is no reason to believe that this is not possible.

La mayor parte de los analistas consideran que los días del bloqueo están contados, aunque nadie puede asegurar cuándo y cómo tendrá lugar su eliminación. Most analysts believe that the days are numbered lock, but no one can say when and how disposal will take place. Incluso ambas partes coinciden en la necesidad de finalizar con esta política y lo que se discute es el alcance de las medidas ejecutivas que pudiera tomar el gobierno de Obama para restarle eficacia y facilitar el avance del proceso, a pesar de los obstáculos que representa. Even the two sides agree on the need to end this policy and what is at issue is the scope of executive measures that could make the Obama administration to be less effective and facilitate advancement of the process, despite the obstacles it represents.

De cualquier manera, incluso aunque estas medidas ejecutivas se extiendan y algunas enmiendas congresionales puedan disminuir su valor práctico, mientras exista esta política, amparada por las leyes que la regulan, resultará imposible hablar de una relación normal entre dos naciones soberanas. Either way, even if those executive measures should be extended and some congressional amendments may hinder its practical value, as long as this policy, protected by the laws that regulate it, it will be impossible to speak of a normal relationship between two sovereign nations.

El gobierno de Estados Unidos ha manifestado su negativa a discutir el cierre de la Base Naval instalada en el territorio cubano de Guantánamo e incluso han aparecido propuestas de enmiendas en el Congreso que pretenden blindar esta posición, complicando aún más el asunto. The US government has expressed its refusal to discuss the closure of the Naval Base installed in the Cuban territory of Guantanamo and have even appeared proposed amendments in Congress that seek to shield this position, further complicating the matter.

Ni siquiera el discurso político norteamericano hace énfasis en el tratado bilateral a perpetuidad que la ampara hace más de un siglo, debido a su falta de legitimidad política y legal de cara al orden internacional y las violaciones de que ha sido objeto. Even the American political discourse emphasizes the bilateral treaty in perpetuity that covers more than a century, due to its lack of political and legal legitimacy facing the international order and the violations has been. El argumento entonces se reduce al “interés nacional” de Estados Unidos, una posición que ni siquiera tiene fundamento en las necesidades de su defensa, toda vez que en diferentes momentos los militares norteamericanos han dicho que se trata de una base obsoleta para tales fines. The argument then is reduced to the “national interest” of the United States, a position that is not even based on the needs of their defense, since at different times of the US military have said that this is an obsolete for such purposes base.

En cualquier caso, todo indica que continuará siendo un tema de fricción entre los dos países, aunque históricamente Cuba ha evitado que constituya una excusa para agudizar las tensiones y en estos momentos existe un clima de convivencia, que incluye contactos regulares entre los militares de ambas partes. In any case, everything indicates that continue to be an issue of friction between the two countries, although historically Cuba has prevented constitute an excuse to increase tensions and now a climate of coexistence, including regular contacts between the military of both exists parts.

Los llamados “programas para la promoción de la democracia”, forman parte de la política exterior estadounidense y constituyen motivo de contradicción con muchos países, dado que, cuando no son el resultado de acuerdos bilaterales, resultan violatorios de las soberanías nacionales. Called “programs for the promotion of democracy”, part of the US foreign policy and constitute grounds of contradiction with many countries, since when are not the result of bilateral agreements, are in violation of national sovereignty.

En el caso de Cuba han tenido el objetivo declarado de estimular y financiar a la oposición externa e interna y en ellos se invierten no menos de veinte millones de dólares anuales, con el paradójico resultado de que en muchas ocasiones sirven para financiar a los grupos que se oponen a la política de Obama hacia Cuba, con muy escasa capacidad de convocatoria interna. In the case of Cuba have had the stated aim of encouraging and financing the external and internal opposition and in them no less than twenty million dollars a year are reversed, with the paradoxical result that often serve to finance the target groups that they oppose Obama’s policy towards Cuba, with very limited capacity internal call.

Difícilmente Estados Unidos renuncie a una práctica que considera le viene dada por derecho hegemónico en el mundo y forma parte de sus objetivos estratégicos hacia Cuba. United States hardly give up a practice that considers it is given by hegemonic law in the world and is part of its strategic objectives toward Cuba. No obstante, de continuar el proceso hacia la normalización de las relaciones, pudiera tornarse menos específica y agresiva, más respetuosa, al menos desde el punto de vista formal, de la soberanía cubana, con lo cual no se resuelve el problema, pero se amplían los rangos de negociación respecto a este asunto. However, to continue the process towards normalization of relations, could become less specific and aggressive, more respectful, at least from a formal point of view, of Cuban sovereignty, so that the problem is not resolved, but expand trading ranges on this issue.

El problema migratorio tiene tal importancia para ambos países, que durante muchos años fue el único tema de negociación entre las partes. The immigration issue is of such importance for both countries, which for many years was the only subject of negotiation between the parties. En la actualidad, las conversaciones bilaterales se desarrollan de manera normal y existe un alto nivel de cumplimiento de los acuerdos firmados en 1994, por lo que al parecer, hasta ahora, ambos países están satisfechos con lo pactado. At present, the bilateral talks develop normally and there is a high level of compliance with the agreements signed in 1994, so it seems, so far, both countries are satisfied with the agreement.

El problema principal es la aplicación de la interpretación pie seco/pie mojado para la aceptación de inmigrantes ilegales que pisan suelo norteamericano. The main problem is the application of dry foot / wet foot interpretation for acceptance of illegal immigrants who tread American soil. Tal política se aplica solo a los migrantes cubanos, responde a una decisión ejecutiva que no tiene fuerza legal e implica más problemas para Estados Unidos que para Cuba, toda vez que muchas de las estas personas abandonan legalmente el país. This policy applies only to Cuban migrants, responds to an executive decision which has no legal force and involves more problems for the United States than for Cuba, since many of these people leave the country legally. Es de esperar que entonces que más temprano que tarde se suspenda esta práctica, aunque ello, por sí solo, no eliminaría el problema de la migración ilegal y se requeriría de otro tipo de negociaciones para enfrentarlo. Then hopefully sooner rather than later that this practice be discontinued, although that, in itself, would not eliminate the problem of illegal migration and other it would require negotiations to address it.

Vinculado con esto está la aplicación de la Ley de Ajuste de 1966, la cual ha devenido la sombrilla política que justifica la excepcionalidad con que son tratados los inmigrantes cubanos en Estados Unidos. Linked to this is the application of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which has become the political umbrella which justifies the exceptionality that are treated Cuban immigrants in the United States.

En realidad, mirado en términos estrictamente legales, la Ley de Ajuste no constituye un problema “migratorio” para Cuba, ya que no fue diseñada para aceptar el ingreso de los inmigrantes, sino para resolver su estatus legal, una vez establecidos en Estados Unidos. Actually, looked in strictly legal terms, the Cuban Adjustment Act is not a problem “migratory” for Cuba, as it was not designed to accept the entry of immigrants, but to solve their legal status, once established in the United States.

Por otro lado, sus consecuencias han sido tan contradictorias, que ahora es la extrema derecha cubanoamericana la que plantea su revisión, toda vez que favorece la inserción política de los nuevos inmigrantes, la mayoría de los cuales hoy votan en su contra. On the other hand, its consequences have been so contradictory, which is now the Cuban-American extreme right which raises its review, all while favoring political integration of new immigrants, most of whom now vote against him.

Lo justo sería que, más que abolirla o mantener su exclusividad respecto a los cubanos, la Ley de Ajuste se aplicara a todos los inmigrantes legales en Estados Unidos, dado que ha demostrado ser más humanitaria y efectiva para facilitar el asentamiento de estas personas, en condiciones que benefician a toda la sociedad norteamericana. It would be fair that rather than abolish or maintain their exclusivity regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act to all legal immigrants were applied in the United States, since it has proved more humane and effective to facilitate the settlement of these people, conditions that benefit the entire US society.

Sin embargo, quizás sería mucho pedir dentro del clima xenófobo que hoy impera respecto al problema migratorio en ese país y otras partes del mundo, por lo que el futuro más probable es que se eliminen los privilegios que actualmente disfrutan los cubanos y tengan que pasar por las vicisitudes que caracterizan el tratamiento a la mayoría del resto, sin importar cuál sea el estado de las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos. However, it might be a tall order in the xenophobic climate that prevails today regarding the immigration problem in this country and elsewhere in the world, so the most likely future is that the privileges currently enjoyed by Cubans are eliminated and have to go through the vicissitudes that characterize the treatment to most of the rest, no matter what the state of relations between Cuba and the United States.

De cara al futuro, será muy difícil para cualquiera que resulte electo presidente de Estados Unidos desconocer lo que se ha avanzado en el campo de las relaciones con Cuba, los beneficios concretos que ha reportado a ambos países y la existencia de un consenso bastante extendido a favor de la continuidad de este proceso, aunque tampoco podemos asegurar su irreversibilidad, debido a la infinidad de variables que pueden incidir en su destino. Looking ahead, it will be very difficult for anyone who is elected US president to ignore what has been achieved in the field of relations with Cuba, the concrete benefits that reported to both countries and the existence of a consensus rather extended to for the continuation of this process, although we can not guarantee its irreversibility, due to the myriad of variables that can affect their destiny.

En verdad, vivimos en un mundo donde prevalece la incertidumbre, y esa es otra característica del llamado “proceso hacia la normalización de relaciones” entre Cuba y Estados Unidos. Indeed, we live in a world where uncertainty prevails, and that is another feature called “process towards normalization of relations” between Cuba and the United States.

The author is a political analyst based in Havana

Your Editor Explains: Arboleya represents a voice among Cuban journalists in the island.

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