The oldest embargo still in place, that of Cuba, is it seeing its last hours? Announcing Wednesday, December 17, following the Cuban prisoners released in the United States and a US citizen jailed in Cuba, a review of relations between Washington and Havana, President Barack Obama gave the coup de grace to a scheme implemented gradually from 1960, after the beginning of reconciliation between Cuba and the Soviet Union, and then consolidated in 1962.
The objective of this embargo, accompanied by 1961 the diplomatic relations between the two countries, was to precipitate the fall of the Cuban regime set up after the 1959 revolution, the United States being the traditional trading channel for Cuban economy. But the decades have passed without the economic and financial restrictions do not produce conclusive results.
Added in the early eighties on the blacklist of the State Department of countries supporting terrorism (referring to the support for guerrillas fighting against the South American regimes allied with Washington), Cuba had been the new target for US restrictive measures in 1992 and 1996 after two US private planes were shot down by the Cuban army.
One of the provisions of the Helms-Burton Act passed by Congress was designed to fill a gaping flaw in the system: the fact that the US is actually the only country to impose the blockade. But American presidents have always suspended component providing for sanctions against other nations trading with Cuba.
For decades marked by a pervasive state control, the authoritarian regime of Fidel Castro had been brought to arm’s length by its Russian ally, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, from 1990. Venezuela Hugo Chavez and other countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) would take over a decade later, without managing to preserve the Cuban regime of painful questioning after the replacement of Fidel Castro by his brother Raul, and a timid economic and political opening.
The widely shared in Washington report of the inefficiency of the measures adopted against Cuba however long faced a powerful lobby of Cuban exiles driven out by the revolution and settled in Florida. Barack Obama, who campaigned for the Senate in 2004 advocating the removal of the embargo had revised his judgment four years later, during the campaign for the presidential election of 2008, and adopted the doxa with coercive US measures as an effective leverage to force Cuba to reform.
Change of opinion
But the time has come to also weigh on the beliefs of the Cuban-American community. In July, a survey of Florida International University showed that within it, a majority (52%) of respondents now speak in favor of a lifting of an embargo which was supported by 87% in 1991.
The same study showed that 68% wanted the restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana and that 81% were willing to vote for a candidate willing to replace the embargo through measures to improve human rights.
Such anachronism, the arrest of American Alan Gross, released Wednesday in 2009 coincided with measures taken by Obama in addition to those already taken by Bill Clinton in 1998. The United States are already reverted a leading trade partners of Cuba, especially for food, and nearly 100,000 Americans visit the island every year. On October 28, the UN General Assembly voted for the 23rd time a motion calling for the lifting of the US embargo that only Congress can decide. Both countries were opposed: the United States and Israel.
Cuba-US: Cuban diaspora bitter about reconciliation with Havana
Surprised by the announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, the Cuban diaspora in Florida has nonetheless welcomed the decision of Barack Obama with skepticism and severity.
In Miami, “became the capital of the Cuban exile, the news was greeted with euphoria, sadness, anger, suspicion and caution,” wrote the Miami Herald. Not all are like Vivian Mannerud, defender of the right to travel freely to Cuba, which called for better relations with Havana and celebrated what was for her “the true end of the Cold War.”
One of the first to speak out against the decision of the US President, while many rejoiced at the possible lifting of an old embargo of more than fifty years, was Republican Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents left Cuba to settle in the United States. He said Obama “gave the Cuban government all it wanted, and received no assurance or advance in democracy and freedom”, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
For him and other Republicans, says SunSentinel, “the president’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba may jeopardize any attempt to establish democracy and human rights in Cuba.”
“Cubans still do not have the right to vote, to speak, to demonstrate, to choose their economic future. What will they have? A little bit better economic situation for a while,” says to the New York Times Rodriguer Alex, 63, one of those Cubans who welcomed “with bitterness” Obama’s decision.
“The game worth the candle”
In its editorial, the Miami Herald weighs eight points – the good and the less good – of the agreement. For the second, he insists:
“The opening offered to Cuba by Obama will not change the situation as many have said. The situation did not really change until Cuba moves effectively towards implementing democratic reforms.”
“There is no question of doubting the historical significance of the president’s decision. It required a lot of courage, it represents the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. […] But anyone hoping to see a free Cuba one day can only hope that the game is worth the candle.”
Discordant voices in the pessimism, the editorial of John Torres in Florida Today seems much more pragmatic and recalls that this agreement, far from “rewarding a tyrannical and brutal regime” is important for reasons of “compassion”, and to support its point refers to the anecdote about the toilet paper.
“I remember seeing on TV a story about a Cuban baseball player who moved in the United States many years ago […]. The day his wife saw supporters in New York throw toilet paper from the windows in sign of joy, she almost burst into tears. She told that toilet paper was a luxury on the island. Those are the real consequences of the embargo and isolation, none of this has brought regime change or democratic advances.”
So yes, one can conclude, some bitter issues should be resolved. The violated human rights should be addressed. But in the end, all of this, it concerns many people, not governments or their ideologies. These are just people suffering under a regime that oppresses them and would welcome small basic things we have and take for granted: food, a house, drugs and even toilet paper.