Normalization of Relations With Cuba Is All But Irreversible Now
President Obama's new directive mandates positive engagement, as opposed
to perpetual hostility, as the new modus operandi.
By Peter KornbluhTwitterYESTERDAY 2:37 PM
With just under 100 days remaining in office, President Obama has
launched a final offensive to assure that his administration's effort to
normalize relations with Cuba will outlast his presidency and be
recorded as one of the most dramatic breakthroughs in the annals of US
foreign policy. With great fanfare, on October 14 Obama issued a
comprehensive directive as well as new regulations to further normalize
relations and nullify key aspects of the 55-year-old economic embargo
that, to date, the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to lift.
Most importantly, the new presidential directive mandates positive
engagement, as opposed to perpetual hostility, as the modus operandi of
future US policy toward Cuba.
"This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've
already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and
intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and
our people," said Obama as he summed up his purpose in a White House
press release. His directive, the president noted, takes a
"whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban
government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible."
AN IRREVERSIBLE POLICY SHIFT
Since Obama and Raúl Castro announced a breakthrough in relations on
December 17, 2014, the reversibility of Washington's rapprochement with
Havana has been the central question. Could political, commercial, and
cultural bridges between the United States and Cuba be constructed—and
firmly reinforced—so that the process of normalization could withstand
current and future enemies of reconciliation?
Donald Trump is one such enemy. In September, he turned Obama's Cuba
policy into a campaign issue by threatening to roll back the advance in
relations. "The next president can reverse them," Trump declared to a
largely Cuban-American audience in Miami, "and that is what I will do
unless the Castro regime meets our demands." Via Twitter last week,
Trump reiterated that he would "reverse Obama's executive orders and
concessions toward Cuba until freedoms are restored."
Described by US officials as "the manual" for US government agencies to
institutionalize a policy of engagement, the new Presidential Policy
Directive will make it harder for the next president to reverse course.
Titled "United States-Cuba Normalization," the 12-page
directive—referred to officially as "PPD-43"—describes "priority
objectives for normalization" and "directs actions required to implement
this PPD" for all government agencies to follow in the future.
The directive includes a report card on the considerable success of
reconciliation efforts in less than two years:
We have re-established diplomatic relations and have made progress
toward the normalization of our bilateral relationship. We opened our
respective embassies, six U.S. cabinet secretaries visited Havana, four
Cuban ministers visited the United States, and I became the first
sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928. We established a
Bilateral Commission to prioritize areas of engagement, and we concluded
non-binding arrangements on environmental protection, marine
sanctuaries, public health and biomedical research, agriculture,
counternarcotics, trade and travel security, civil aviation, direct
transportation of mail, and hydrography. We launched dialogues or
discussions on law enforcement cooperation, regulatory issues, economic
issues, claims, and internet and telecommunications policy.
At the same time, Obama's PPD is a repudiation of past efforts to roll
back the Cuban Revolution. "We will not pursue regime change in Cuba,"
it states categorically. "We will continue to make clear that the United
States cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of
Cuba is up to the Cuban people."
BEYOND CIGARS AND RUM
The directive, along with new Treasury Department regulations that went
into effect yesterday, have generated headlines for removing the $100
limit on the amount of cigars and bottles of rum US travelers can bring
back from Cuba; "Obama lifts restrictions on Cuban rum, cigars," read
the USA Today coverage. But the new initiative opens the door to far
broader economic, humanitarian, and cultural interactions. Moreover, it
redefines some of the more contentious US programs, loosens sanctions,
and circumvents the embargo on two-way trade with Cuba. Among its
For the first time, the United States will begin importing, marketing,
and selling Cuban medicines and pharmaceuticals, once they are approved
by the FDA.
Cubans with access to the Internet and electronic payment options can
now purchase a wide variety of US consumer goods—from auto parts to air
The Cuban government can now buy certain US agricultural implements on
credit. Bush-era regulations required cash-in-advance purchases.
To facilitate commercial shipping between the two countries, the
Treasury Department has removed the onerous requirement that foreign
ships carrying goods to Cuba have to wait 180 days to dock in US ports.
US contractors and specialists can now provide goods and services in
Cuba to assist in the development and support of public housing,
transportation, water management, waste management, non-nuclear
electricity generation, hospitals, and primary and secondary schools in
Cubans students and scholars who want to study or conduct research in
the United States will benefit from expanding grants, scholarships, and
The $400 ceiling on purchases by US travelers in Cuba has been removed.
Travelers are now free to buy whatever they want during trips in the
future—including rum and cigars!
In defining future US policy, Obama's directive also redefines, but
doesn't end, the congressionally mandated USAID "democracy programs"
that, as quasi-covert regime-change operations, have created ongoing
tensions with, and indignation in, Havana. "We will pursue democracy
programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other
similarly situated societies around the world," states the PPD.
Transparency has become the new code word for Cuba policy. Unlike most
presidential directives, which are highly classified, PPD-43 is
unclassified. "We used to have secret plans for Cuba. Now, our policy is
out in the open — and online — for everyone to read," National Security
Adviser Susan Rice emphasized as she rolled out the new initiative at
the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last week.
In her speech, Rice quoted a Cuban expression: "Es el mismo perro con
diferente collar," meaning "It's the same dog with a different collar."
"Well, esto es un perro diferente — this is a different dog," Rice
argued. "This is real change."
THE CUBAN VIEW AND THE EMBARGO
After decades of multi-form US intervention, el mismo perro is what some
Cuban officials continue to see. "We are not stupid," Cuba's ambassador
to Mexico, Dagoberto Rodriguez, declared in harsh terms during an
interview with the leading Mexican magazine, Proceso. "We realize that
the policy of the United States continues to have the same objective" of
subverting the revolution. From the foreign ministry in Havana, Cuba's
chief negotiator with the United States, Josefina Vidal, issued a
somewhat more diplomatic response. Obama's directive was a "positive
step" toward normalization, she said, but "does not hide the purpose of
promoting changes in the political, economic and social order, nor hide
the intentions to further develop interventionist programs." Overt or
covert, the Cuban government objects to the democracy-promotion
programs, and Cuban officials believe Obama can do more to gut the
embargo than he has.
As the new trade regulations went into effect this week, Vidal led a
demonstration of several thousand students at the University of Havana
to protest the continuation of the embargo and focus attention on the
upcoming annual United Nations vote to condemn it. A number of students
wore T-shirts with a new Twitter hash tag: #YoVotoVsBloqueo—I vote
against the Blockade. While Obama's directive calls on Congress to lift
the trade sanctions and declares that "we will continue to work toward
that goal," the Cuban government is making the most of its yearly
opportunity to rally the world community against the embargo and
denounce US policy. For 24 years in a row, the UN has overwhelmingly
voted to condemn the embargo and US violations of Cuba's sovereignty.
Last year's vote was 191 to 2, with only Israel voting alongside the
Conceivably, this year's tally could be 193 to 0—if Washington and
Havana could agree on more temperate language for the resolution that
reflects the ongoing process of normalization and Obama's executive
efforts to poke holes in the embargo. With the UN vote scheduled for
October 26, the White House faces an opportunity to make a dramatic and
unprecedented move against the Republicans in Congress. The United
States could either abstain, or vote to support, a UN resolution against
a set of sanctions over which President Obama officially presides, but
politically opposes. "World opinion matters," Obama noted during a
recent interview with The New Yorker magazine about his Cuba policy. "It
is a force multiplier."
Regardless of how the United States votes at the UN, Obama's
rapprochement with Cuba will become a case study in the history of US
foreign policy. With the legacy of Obama's presidency in mind, the White
House positioned the new initiative as part of a broader model of
diplomacy and negotiation in a dangerous world. To underscore that
point, the rollout of the new PPD came on the 54th anniversary of the
CIA's discovery of intermediate-range Soviet missiles in Cuba—the
beginning of the dramatic superpower crisis over a Caribbean island that
nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. In the conclusion of his statement on
his new Cuba initiative, Obama articulated the larger lesson he hopes to
leave behind: "The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today's
actions," he said, "should remind the world of what's possible when we
look to the future together."
Source: Normalization of Relations With Cuba Is All But Irreversible Now
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