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Global Geopolitics

Opinion: Kerry Going Back Home

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, writes that when he visits Havana on Friday Aug. 14 within the framework of the resumption of US-Cuba relations, Secretary of State John Kerry will feel at home because, despite more than half a century of troubled relations, Cuba is the Latin American country which is most naturally "American-Yankee".

BARCELONA, Aug 13 2015 (IPS) - Recovering from a broken femur following a bicycle accident suffered in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – former senator and former presidential candidate – is anxious to accelerate his convalescence and will visit Cuba on Friday Aug. 14, where he will hoist the Stars and Stripes flag over the emblematic U.S. embassy building in Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

But Kerry will not going to a strange place: in reality, he will be going back home. As he catches a glimpse of the Capitol building in the Cuban capital, he will certainly think that it looks familiar – no wonder, it is a copy of the one on Capitol Hill back in Washington.

More than Mexico (from which the United States snatched half of its territory) and Puerto Rico (the peak of the 1898 Spanish-American War, together with the Philippines), Cuba is the land in Latin America which is the most naturally “American-Yankee”. Nothing is more palpable confirmation of this than to see the appalling ease with which anyone who has recently arrived in Cuba from Miami adapts to the local environment.

At this point, one must ask why it has taken so long to “normalise” what should have been a close relationship between the empire and a modest island about 160 kilometres from Key West.

“More was lost in Cuba” has been the cry of several generations of Spaniards as they considered a family or business misfortune. What did the United States lose in Cuba through having maintained that lengthy embargo in place, whose goal has been recognised as a failure?

More than substantial property, most of which actually belonged to Spaniards or their immediate descendants, Washington lost the arrogance of its hegemonic superiority after World War II.

The conversion of Cuba into a Marxist-Leninist state, allied with the Soviet Union – the arch-enemy of the United States – and the total destruction of the capitalist system, plus the exile of a stratum of a remarkable society, was a painful slap on the face of such magnitude that no U.S. president was willing to forgive and go down in history for being the first who had bowed before Castro.

“The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country [Cuba] into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington”

This explains the inertia of maintaining the embargo, an error that bit by bit has been weakened in the economic field. But any explanation must also take into account the primary role played by Fidel Castro, lord and master of the situation.

His leadership will be remembered in history, although probably without absolving him (as he promised when he was condemned in 1956 after his first failed rebellion). He has had no match since Simon Bolívar.  His success is credited to his extreme understanding of the meaning of the United States in the historical evolution of Latin America and its innate identity. Unlike the erroneous vision of other leaders, Castro understood that United States was an intrinsic part of the Latin American personality, and Cuba in particular.

The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington. Nevertheless, he retained the notion that in reality Cubans do not hate the United States, but only despise the temporary occupants of the White House and the detested U.S. security institutions.

Castro knew perfectly well that while Cuba was by defect becoming a nation after gaining independence mortgaged by the Platt Amendment (another of Washington’s errors), it was also becoming inexorably “Americanised”.

The new empire reinforced this error through its support for or tolerance of dictators and corrupt Cuban rulers of the 1930s and 1940s, details that Castro exploited in a ruthless Machiavellian fashion to attempt to demonstrate the alien nature of the United States.

That is why, faced with maintenance of the embargo, Castro responded with actions that provoked the negative reaction of Washington.

When there were phases of relative calm (as happened under the Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton administrations) Castro sent troops to Africa, or shut down planes of Brothers to the Rescue (a Miami-based activist organization formed by Cuban exiles), generating adoption of the Helms-Burton Act which codified the embargo. He also got the European Union to adopt a Common Position, a sort of weak “embargo” to “keep up with the Joneses”.

Why does this scaffolding now appear to be coming down – because the justifications of the past do not have the arguments that are necessary for pragmatism today. The United States needs a secure and steady environment it its backyard. Barack Obama has more important issues to deal with in the rest of the world. Cuba has become a nuisance.

The other reason is because Raúl Castro is not like his brother and is clutching at the straw of the United States “returning home”.

But the change will not be easy. The political conditions of normalisation inserted in the Helms-Burton Act are formidable (disappearance of the Castro brothers or many high officials named by them, establishment of political parties, freedom of expression, elimination of Radio/TV Martí, etc.).

Erosion by slow progress (as in the economic field) will not be sufficient. It will be necessary for Congress to repeal the legislation en bloc. This time Raul is not going to commit a fatal error. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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