August 2015        

Letter from Havana

Seán Joseph Clancy

On 1 July the Cuban flag was hoisted outside what has now become the Cuban embassy in Washington, a short distance from the White House.
     After their unilateral fracture by Washington more than half a century ago, and interim strained relations that brought the world close to a nuclear abyss, diplomatic relations were formally restored.
     The Cuban minister of foreign affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, after a meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, that extended well beyond the allotted time, presided over the historic event. Kerry will do something similar in Havana on 14 August in what both sides describe as the first steps on what will undoubtedly be a long and rocky road to normalisation. Strange concept!
     The upgrading of what was, up to 1 July, the US Interests Section in Havana, operating through the good offices of the Swiss embassy (the same was the case for the Cuban Interests Section across the Florida Straits), to a fully functional embassy is in many ways more stylistic than it is substantial. Obama has not been granted the necessary funds by Congress—estimated at about $6 million—for the conversion of the building in Havana and other associated costs (extending a den of spies does not come cheap); and he has no chance of having an appointed ambassador approved by the legislature. What were section chiefs are now chargés d’affaires.
     The economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba, still fully in force, could never be described as normal. Nor could the illegal occupation of Cuban lands in the province of Guantánamo for the US naval base and torture camp.
     it is not normal for a government to invest more than $30 million dollars annually in plans to subvert the constitutional government of a neighbouring state, or to illegally broadcast television and radio programmes with the intention of destabilising a sovereign nation.
     President Evo Morales of Bolivia recently said, in an address to the Argentine parliament during an official visit, that the only reason there had not been a coup in the United States is that there is no US embassy in Washington! “Normal” will be hard define, given such realities.
     Add to these and other abnormalities the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966). Known as the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, this guarantees any Cuban, documented or otherwise and regardless of criminal record or any other factor, recognition as a political refugee, financial support, health insurance, and fast-tracked citizenship entitlements. It does not matter that these “refugees” can freely return to their country of origin, having had their case approved in the United States, and can thus enjoy the best that both states have to offer.
     The ludicrous logic of this situation is not sufficient for a review of the act or the flawed underlying policy. Its symbolic and propaganda value far outweighs principles of good governance.
     By refusing to comply with the issue of visas in accordance with accords, the United States deliberately provokes illegal migration and then cynically claims that thousands “flee the regime”—a valuable propaganda tool that enriches people-traffickers and results in many accidental deaths (though difficult to quantify), disappearances, and assassinations.
     Obama, despite making many of the right noises and having taken some brave steps—though more, I suspect, in search of his own legacy than from any real understanding of the Cuban reality—needs now to use his executive powers to their full extent to put some meat on the bones of his Cuba project.
     He may come to visit us here in Cuba soon after the Pope (described by Fox News this week as “the most dangerous man on the planet”!), who will be visiting in September; and one might expect that, just as when Clinton was coming to the Emerald Isle, he will have some ace or other up his sleeve to maximise the feel-good factor.
     Unlike Ireland, however, with its treacherous betrayal by elected felons and a tragic slide into neo-liberal moral and material misery and inequality, Cuba knows the value of its independence, sovereignty, and hard-won socialist political and cultural identity.
     Cuba will not be duped into conceding one single millimetre to a neighbour whose stated and unchanging aim is to destroy the very basis on which society here—however imperfectly—functions as the Cuban people themselves have determined it ought.
     A long and rocky road to normalisation indeed.

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