Washington’s policy toward Cuba is a relic of the Cold War. It was imposed in 1960 by the U.S. government to cause hunger among the Cuban population with the aim of overthrowing the government. That was the time when “the domino theory” prevailed. Washington thought that the Cuban Revolution would drag the rest of Latin America toward Soviet communism, so it had to be crushed. It is a theory that has been discredited by historical events.
That state policy is anachronistic today. It is held up by the inertia of Washington politicking. But if you talk to U.S. officials about the blockade, they confess that it is time to turn the page over and normalize relations between the two countries. What happens is that, to Washington, Cuba is not a priority.
The alleged “Cuban-American lobby” is not responsible for U.S. policy toward Cuba. The power of the petty little groups in Miami is a myth. The truth is that they profit economically from the “regime change” industry.
It is a multimillion-dollar industry in Miami because almost all of the millions of dollars that Washington has budgeted [for regime change] stay in Miami — distributed among the many little groups of Cuban-Americans who are committed more to the money they receive from Washington than to the policy they defend. They are dinosaurs who died years ago but still don’t know it.
The truth is that most Americans and Cuban-Americans aspire to a normal relationship between the two countries. They want to visit Cuba, get to know the Cubans, learn a bit more about the Cuban culture that vibrates on the island, exchange ideas, dialogue, go to an Ivette Cepeda concert at the Telégrafo Hotel, to Kcho’s studio in Romerillo, to the University of Havana, to listen to Frank Delgado at El Sauce, or simply sip coffee at the Plaza Vieja. A relation as normal as the one the U.S. maintains with Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Spain — or with Vietnam. That is why so many people travel daily on charter planes from Miami to José Martí Airport.
A premise that impedes the possibility that the U.S. government establish relations with Cuba is the assumption that Washington must negotiate the lifting of the blockade with the “carrot-and-the-stick” approach — the idea that Cuba must give in and make concessions of national sovereignty to Washington in exchange for normalization. Cuba has never negotiated in that manner and never will. National sovereignty is not negotiable. Just as Washington imposed the blockade against Cuba unilaterally, so it has to lift it without interfering in the island’s internal affairs. Cuba belongs not to Washington but to the Cubans.
Another obstacle to the lifting of the blockade are the prisoners. A necessary condition for the normalization of relations is that Cuba release the American prisoner Alan Gross, but also that the United States release Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labaniño, and Tony Guerrero. After serving more than 15 years in prison, Fernando González will be released in late February, without any clemency from the U.S. government. Gerardo is serving two life terms plus 15 years. Unless the president of the United States takes a step in this situation, Gerardo will have to die twice until he can leave the maximum-security prison where he has been held for more than 15 years.
President Obama does not need to ask Congress and the little groups in Miami for permission to release Gerardo, Ramón and Tony. The U.S. Constitution authorizes the president to grant them executive clemency and free them with a stroke of the pen. I am sure that that gesture would be immediately reciprocated by Havana and Mr. Gross could immediately reunite with his wife, Judy, and family in Washington.
The whole world rejects the U.S. blockade against Cuba. Last October, 188 countries at the United Nations voted in favor of a resolution asking the United States to lift the blockade. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against it. During the latest Summit of the Americas in 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and others declared that that would be the last summit if Cuba is not invited. Ironically, the American policy of isolating Cuba has ended up isolating the United States itself.
President Obama has the power to achieve the release of the prisoners through a tit-for-tat policy and this is the best time to do it. He is the president of the United States. Let’s hope he lives up to his office and abandons the policy of hostility toward the Cuban people and — with the aid of Congress — makes the normalization of relations between the two countries one of his legacies. It is what Americans themselves want and what Cubans of good will wish, on both shores of the Straits of Florida.