Cuban developments and relations

Cuban developments and relations

Posted By Stabroek staff On October 24, 2012- Editorial

Two events relating to Cuba, and occurring last week, placed the country in the spotlight. The first was a marking of the 50th anniversary of the so-called October missile crisis of 1962, when in response to what appeared to be a Soviet attempt to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons to ensure the turnaround of the Soviet warships carrying the missiles. The second was the decision of the government of Cuba to remove any limits on Cuban citizens’ ability to travel out of the country – the lifting of so-called exit visas –  thus allowing free movement to the United States of America where the majority of Cubans living outside of their country now reside.   

The missile crisis was in reality a confrontation between the Soviet Union, led by Nikita Khrushchev and the United States, these being the only states possessing nuclear weapons, with the US in control of immensely more than the USSR. The conclusion of the confrontation was the reversal of the Soviet ships bearing the missiles. It was widely seen as a victory for the US, a major defeat for the USSR, with substantial credit given to what was perceived to be President Kennedy’s sophistication in handling the crisis.

Yet, forty years later, in 2002, Kennedy’s then Secretary of Defence Robert Mc Namara felt it necessary to make an interesting statement: “I want to say, and this is very important: at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war” The lesson drawn by other countries might be what could have been expected to happen. By 1964, China had tested it first nuclear bomb, and in the ensuing years, Israel, India, Pakistan and South Africa were reported as having “developed nuclear weapons capabilities”. South Africa ended its work on such activities after the end of apartheid.

The view that the possession of nuclear weapons by any other country should be anathema to the international community is strongly in evidence today as the countries largely of the NATO alliance have insisted on implementing severe sanctions on countries attempting to develop the scientific capabilities to do so. The latest has of course been Iran. But it is well to recall that this was one of the alleged motivations behind the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein.

Cuba, the centrepiece of the confrontation was largely left to its own devices, these being to become substantially solely dependent on the USSR for its development in the face of the persistent strengthening of the US blockade against it, and the US’s attempts to have others join it in ensuring Cuban economic isolation. In spite of the fact that the US’s immediate neighbours did not really adhere to the blockade, with Cuba becoming a significant market for Canadian tourists, and then allowing private investment in the country, a pattern followed by some European countries, there has been no doubt that the blockade has been the major deterrent to Cuba’s economic development, given the geographical proximity of the two countries.

Today, to a significant extent, the Cuban government, particularly since the assumption of the Presidency by Raul Castro and his introduction of a variety of economic reforms has been removing the impediments to trade and investment, including the indirect ones which the Americans had most resented, like the virtual abolition of private property investment. His government’s latest decision to, as we would say, free up travel, reflects this. And it reinforces a view held by some observers that he feels in a race against time when it comes to guaranteeing the Cuban people that the path which he has now chosen, and which most of them would appear to welcome, is the correct one.

Behind Raul Castro’s present strategy is obviously a perception that an approach of rapid implementation of reforms, in a situation where the country’s financial resources, and agricultural and industrial capabilities require substantial modernization, is likely to lead to popular disappointment, resentment and opposition.

But Cuban decision-making at this time is not solely in his government’s hands. He must be well aware that, interested as investors and countries are in exploiting the variety of resources that the country has, that there must still be those, in Cuba, who would not, after all the travails that they feel they have gone through, appreciate or support the kind of investment that pushes the economy dramatically on a capitalist path. That the commander of the Revolution, Fidel Castro rests in the background cannot be taken, by Raul and his colleagues, as licence for pushing “too far, too fast”.

Against that background, Raul Castro has obviously been seeking international support for his initiatives in various places. His recent visit to China in July of this year will obviously have been to consolidate empathy, and economic and technical assistance, for his own economic experiment, from a country that has made a transition from a formal communist system to what is, in effect, an economic system of state-led capitalism, still driven however by a political system, communist in form, but being gradually forced to open itself to not only domestic pressures, but international influences. The presence of universities in China now connected to various American universities and technical and private sector institutions is only one adventure that the Cubans will have wondered about.

In its reform process, the Cuban government has, however, in the present international environment, established nexuses with other significant international players. The European Union, always under pressure to develop a productive relationship with Cuba by that country’s former “mother country” Spain, with sympathy from Portugal, has gradually developed a system of formalized relations. This has proceeded on the basis of a continuing, so-called “political dialogue”, which allows the EU to do two things. The first is to establish a mechanism for periodically evaluating the state of political relations in Cuba, as a pre-requisite for, secondly, the  establishment and continuation of a programme of economic assistance.

In that context, the EU has been rigidly monitoring relations between the Cuban state and its citizens, emphasizing the appropriate treatment of opponents of the regime. And in response, as it were, to developments in that regard, the European Commission has, in a sense along the lines with the relations that it has with Caricom, agreed a strategy of economic and technical support, the latest in its Country Strategy Paper 2011-2013.

These initiatives, linked to a close monitoring of what is described as the humanitarian situation in Cuba, are reinforced by periodic statements in that regard, as for example in the statement by its High Representative Catherine Ashton in March last year on “the release of political prisoners in Cuba”.

The EU, as Cuba’s largest trading partner, and provider of half of all direct foreign investment in the country, obviously feels that it has the leverage to act in this way. And in that context, the lifting of exit visas by Cuba last week will be welcomed.

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  • Ernesto  On October 27, 2012 at 12:18 am

    JUst a few coments:
    1- The misile crisis was not “in response to what appeared to be a Soviet attempt to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons to ensure the turnaround of the Soviet warships carrying the missiles.”THE SOVIET UNION HAD ALREADY DEPLOYED THE MISSILES IN CUBA. The EEUU made a blockade just to avoid more missiles being deployed in Cuba.An angry Castro ask the Soviets to hit first,he didn’t want the missiles to be removed, neither he was happy because the Soviets didn’t consideres him in the negotiations.
    Raul Castro reforms are only cosmetics and very short , Cuban people want bigger and real changes.They want no more dictatorship 50 years is more that enough.

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