Every political movement in Cuba is followed by the harbinger of the end of an era. It happened with the death of Fidel Castro, with the thawing of relations with the United States, with the new economic policy of the Cuban government as well as with Raúl Castro’s decision to step aside from the party.
The demonstrations on Sunday reignited the red flags. To confront it, the Government of Cuba decided to move on familiar ground: it rejected the protests’ claim for democracy and denounced a “new aggression organized from the United States to suffocate the revolution.”
At times like these, relations between the United States and Cuba dominate center stage. Economic sanctions are the root of the whole problem for the Cuban government. But how much truth is there in this? Can a less aggressive US policy lead to greater openness on the island?
Philip Brenner is Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the American University in Washington, a specialist in the United States’ relationship with Cuba, and the author of the book Cuba Libre: 500 years in search of independence.
For Brenner, the economic sanctions fuel the social discontent that led to these protests, although he does not believe they are organized from outside. The professor is convinced that the best way to achieve greater democratic openness in Cuba is not with threats and explains why there are no changes in foreign policy towards the island inherited by Trump.
Miguel Díaz-Canel said that the United States has “a policy of economic suffocation to provoke social outbreaks in the country.“, How much truth is there in this?
If we take into account that, in these protests, part of the problem has been the frustration and anger of the people at the lack of vaccines, food and medicines, it can be read that way. The lack of vaccines and anger over the scarcity of resources are largely the result of US foreign policy. But this does not mean that the protests were planned. I do not believe it. If you watch the videos, you will see a lot of people who he is simply looking at what is happening, taking photos. The opposition is not organized. Which is very unusual.
In what do we see it?
In scope. There were protests all over the island, in small places where nothing like this had ever happened before. The Cuban government must recognize that this is not simply a “provocation by the United States.” Of course, there are provocations from the United States but I do not think it is enough to explain what is happening now.
Can a less aggressive foreign policy of the United States towards Cuba improve the situation on the island?
Every time the United States relaxed the tension with Cuba, things improved, there was a greater openness. If we want human rights in Cuba, the best way to do it is not with threats, but by relaxing the tension. It is a lie when they say that nothing changes. We see it in history. After 2015, with the policy of Barack Obama, the Government of Cuba allowed the use of the internet, they lifted the limit on remittances that someone in the United States could send to relatives in Cuba, they resumed commercial flights, they modified the Constitution to allow private companies, released political prisoners, many things were done. It is not true to say that everything remained the same.
Did the United States’ position towards Cuba change with the arrival of Biden?
Biden did nothing to change things.
Why do you think that happens?
First, because of internal politics. The politicians who surround the president believe that Florida can only win with an increase in the Cuban-American vote and they think that for that they have to have a tougher policy. I think that is a mistake. Obama won Florida with a thaw policy towards Cuba. Cubans in Miami want the embargo but they also want permits to be made more flexible.
(The latest survey that evaluates how Cuban-Americans They see the policies of the United States towards Cuba, published in 2020 by Florida International University, detected that 60% of those who live in South Florida support the policy of economic sanctions but also support the sale of food (69%) and medicines to the island (74%), maintain diplomatic relations (58%) and resume flights to all regions of the island).
What are the other elements for which Biden does not change his position towards Cuba?
Biden also needs the support of two highly influential senators of Cuban origin to advance with other types of measures in Congress. One is Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. The other is Marco Rubio of the Republican party in Florida and a high-level member of the Subcommittee on Foreign Relations on the Western Hemisphere.
Where is the issue on Biden’s agenda?
Biden has other priorities. In fact, Biden has not even formalized the appointment of the Undersecretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, responsible for ties with Latin America. Julie Chung, who held that post, was appointed ambassador to Sri Lanka a month ago. So when you have an absence of this type it means that no one will make decisions on the subject.