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Nothing New under the Cuban Sun

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Jul 20, 2015, 12:05 pm
The reopening of embassies has no impact on the Cuban regime's ultimate goal of retaining power.
The reopening of embassies has no impact on the Cuban regime’s ultimate goal of retaining power. (Runrun.es)

EspañolAfter five decades of hostilities between Cuba and the United States, the world eagerly awaits the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, DC, this week. This despite the fact that by doing so the US government may be in breach of its own laws.

According to Mauricio Claver-Carone, editor of the Capitol Hill Cubans blog, current legislation prevents President Barack Obama from resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, given the current state of affairs.

He argues that “the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), which was passed in 1996, reestablishing diplomatic relations cannot happen” until certain conditions are met.

“First, the Cuban government compensates American citizens for illegally confiscating their property valued at $8 billion, the largest seizure of US assets in history, and second, ‘when the president determines that there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba,'” he writes. “It is safe to assume that Havana has not met either requirement.”

Ignoring this legal hurdle, many believe that thawing icy relations with the Caribbean island will immediately be reflected in a relaxation of Cuba’s trade and economic policy, and in the medium term, a democratic reform.

The signs shown by Raúl Castro’s regime, however, indicate otherwise. What the Castros really want — as usual — is to keep their command-and-control economy to benefit their own interests, and never the Cuban people. Any chance of a political reform is completely out of question.

Among these signals from Havana is the formal announcement of the date for the coming Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which was made only five days before the reopening the Cuban embassy in DC. Castro, who serves as first secretary of the PCC, said he chose April 16, 2016, because on that day, 55 years ago, the regime declared that Cuba would adopt a socialist system and founded the PCC.

While some may dismiss the coincidence as unimportant, the move has great meaning within the context of US-Cuba relations. This is Castro’s way of telling the Obama administration that Cuba, despite everything, will continue to be a socialist country.

Furthermore, the invitation to the event explains that the congress “will define the path to continue perfecting our economic and social model, as well as chose members for the Central Committee.” With any luck, many of these old-guard apparatchiks will retire after the party meeting.

Retirement alone, however, will not lead to a significant socioeconomic shift on the island.

“The exit of old leaders and the end of the Cuban social project are normally linked together,” says Jorge Armas of Cuban Americans for Engagement, an NGO that advocates for new relations between Washington and Havana. “Meanwhile, analysts, researchers, and even members of the opposition with pro-embargo views agree that Cubans want changes, but they want changes within the current political system.”

Another signal that causes doubt over the possibility of real reform in Cuba is the Parliament’s announcement that it will study a proposal to allow cruise and ferry lines to offer trips to Havana.

If they were really interested, they would have passed the proposal by now. But the Cuban government insists on delaying a decision, arguing that “one of the most serious problems to condition the potential entry points for ferries and cruises is turning the ships that have been stranded for years at those ports into scrap.”

So far, of the 12 companies that the US government has granted authorization to operate, none have announced when they will start offering trips. There are no real dates set, because, as JetBlue Vice President of Airline Planning Scott Laurence has acknowledged, “with Cuba, everything is uncertain because we don’t have any previous data that would provide some security.”

Even just a few days before the reopening of the Cuban embassy in the United States, Castro continues to add requirements for a full reestablishment of diplomatic relations. On July 15, he said that “it was not possible to conceive of” a normal relationship with the United States while the “blockade” is still in effect, and called on Obama to use his executive powers to dismantle the embargo.

He also says the United States would have to return the “illegally occupied” territory of Guantanamo Bay, if it is looking forward to a new era of relations.

Maybe Raúl’s daughter Mariela Castro is right: the Castro regime will not change with this nor any other negotiation with the United States — at least not in the foreseeable future.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.