Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Cuba and the U.S. under the shadows of their flags

By Jesús Arboleya

HAVANA — On Aug. 14, the Obama administration had what in journalistic terms is called “good press.” Its policy made headlines around the world, not in news about the successful bombings by U.S. drones somewhere, the handling of some domestic racial conflict, or new measures by the Federal Reserve that remind everyone that the economic crisis is not over, but because the U.S. flag flew gracefully and elegantly over a territory considered hostile by antonomasia, which now presents itself beautiful, warm and hospitable.
Even the Republican opposition, present at every action, found itself neutralized to a great degree by the symbolism of the event and its contradictions regarding the Cuba issue. Only a few recalcitrant Republicans spoke critically of the initiative, thus demonstrating the historic obsolescence of their positions.
Secretary of State John Kerry, despite his years and the cane on which he still leans, appeared more dynamic and effusive than usual, leaving an impression of charm that contributed to the event’s success.
His speech was crafted carefully to satisfy the interests of many audiences but, above all, it was directed at the American public, in the knowledge that it contributed to strengthen the image of his administration and his party at a moment when the electoral campaign being waged is marked by the nation’s political polarization.
As expected, he did not fail to criticize the Cuban political system in words broadcast live to the entire population over the national media (as were the responses by the Cuban side), making it clear that the importance of the moment does not transform the nature of a relationship whose contradictions existed long before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
Nevertheless, as a friend told me, what’s most relevant is that, for the first time since 1959, the government of the United States referred explicitly to “the Cuban government” with the respect deserved by its legitimacy, acknowledging a condition of equality between the two countries that has been present throughout the negotiation process and constitutes a rarity in U.S. relations with the rest of the world.
The Cuban people perceived the event with satisfaction but without euphoria, aware that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States is only a first step in the long and complex process of “normalization” of relations between the two countries — as emphasized by both delegations — and includes not only bilateral affairs but also the projection of international policies that are diametrically opposed, especially in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Cuba there is no talk of “victory” and no triumphalism has been displayed, not only because of diplomatic nicety but also because the reality of the new relationship does not solve the nation’s problems, even if obstacles like the economic blockade are overcome.
In fact, the rest of the world is not blockaded and that hasn’t eliminated the structural problems determined by the capitalist world market. Truth is, not even the United States as a nation is safe from those conditions, which explains the economic, social and political problems that affect that nation.
The importance for Cuba of this stage of relations with the U.S. is that it places Cuba in better condition to confront the challenges brought by this reality. But Cuba’s success depends on taking advantage of its potential, especially the well-formed human capital, and on being able to design a model of sustainable, inclusive and sovereign development that will have the majority support of the population.
This implies important economic and political transformations, and they are the subject of the current ideological debate in the bosom of Cuban society. In Cuba’s favor are bulwarks whose preservation and actualization will determine the future of the nation.
In the first place, there is a collectivist mentality that is part of the national culture, based on concrete social results that the great majority of the population wishes to preserve. This determines its rejection of neoliberalism as a social model, notwithstanding the influences that are arriving from everywhere and that will inevitably increase as a result of Cuba’s relations with the United States.
There is also a degree of national independence that enables Cuba to decide its fate all by itself. Unlike other countries, where the objective of national struggles is the development of that confidence, the Cuban people have proved to themselves that they are capable of maintaining and exercising that independence.
This explains the singularity of the negotiations with the United States and the fact that seeing the U.S. flag flying over Havana’s Malecón means something different from what it meant in the past.

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