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US Policy Abandons Cuban Freedom for Mere Stability

By: José Azel - Jan 18, 2016, 11:41 am

EspañolIt has now been a year since President Barack Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014. The date has become infamous among many Cubans who view the new policy as a betrayal of their quest for freedom. For others, a rapprochement with the Castro government is the most practical option. This dispute has a strikingly analogous antecedent in Cuban history.

In 1868, at the beginning of Cuba’s first war for independence, Ignacio Agramonte, a young, wealthy, talented, and enormously courageous freedom fighter faced a similar quarrel. Major General Agramonte was a brilliant military tactician beloved by his troops, and also a Renaissance man who was the intellectual force behind the Republic-in-Arms Cuban Constitution of 1869. Agramonte’s cavalry charge to rescue his commander Manuel Sanguily, who had been taken prisoner by a superior Spanish cavalry regiment, is Cuban folklore.

A few weeks into the war, some Cubans who favored making amends with Spain convened a meeting to make their case for an agreement with the Spanish Crown short of independence. Agramonte’s refute was implacable: “Stop at once all the lobbying, the awkward delays, and the humiliating demands. Cuba has no other option but to gain its redemption by tearing it from Spain…”

Today, it is only necessary to substitute Castro for Spain to update the quote.

In the current debate over the new US-Cuba policy, I have been a frequent and vigorous critic of President Obama’s unconditional assuaging approach. I have grounded my opposition arguments mostly on the administration’s flawed logic that misunderstands the very nature of the Castro regime.

That said, it is not unreasonable for the president to postulate a new strategy provided that the objectives remain the same. And therein lies the critical problem. The new US-Cuba policy represents not only a new approach, but also a new objective.

In Agramonte’s days, the objective of the uprising was independence from Spain. Others, however, sought an accommodation with Spain as less disruptive to their pecuniary interests. For them, the overriding objective was not independence, but stability so their businesses could prosper. Similarly, it appears that the overriding objective of the new US–Cuba policy is stability in Cuba, rather than a free society in Cuba.

This is the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from the fact that the administration has made significant concessions to accommodate the Cuban government demanding little in return. The unconditional abandonment of a long standing freedom-based US posture signals a change in objectives.

Notice, for example, that official pronouncements of the new US-Cuba policy exclude mentions of freedom, and focus almost exclusively on arguments of improving the well-being of the Cuban people. At best, policymakers make platitudinous statements about human rights.

A change in strategy, as misguided as it may be, is understandable. However, a change that surrenders the exquisite hope of freedom for the sake of stability is not. Agramonte, a defender of individual freedoms in the best liberal tradition, put it this way: “Ignorance and disregard for the rights of man are the main causes of public disgrace and the corruption of governments.”

Freedom is, by its very nature, disordered. And some argue that, from the point of view of US national interests, stability is preferable to chaos. This is equivalent to affirming that stable oppressive dictatorships are to be favored over messy democratic governance. The new US-Cuba policy seeks stability by siding with oppression and not with liberty. It is a policy that has disarticulated hopes for freedom to the dismay of many Cubans.

General Agramonte faced a similar squabble when some of his friends, who had abandoned the war and yielded to Spain, approached him in an effort to convince him to join them. For them the war was over, and they offered the general an opportunity to “capitulate with honor and to his benefit.”

They argued with Agramonte that he had no weapons or munitions left to continue his struggle for freedom. When asked what elements he had to continue to fight, the valiant general replied: “With my dignity!” And he returned to the fight.

General Agramonte died in combat in 1873 at age 32, a bullet through his head. It took another 29 years, but Cuba finally gained its independence in 1902.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.