Cuban President Raúl Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced almost a year ago that we would begin the process of normalization of relations between the two countries, after more than 50 years of strained relationships including a U.S. embargo.
It is no surprise that experts can’t agree on what will happen. Diplomatic relations with Cuba will be unlike diplomatic relations with any other country. Cuba is unique and fascinating in many areas: geography, environment, history, politics, and culture. While there are daunting challenges ahead, I will focus this piece on strengths I gained awareness of during my first trip to Cuba in April 2015.
It’s ironic that so many Americans want to “visit Cuba now before a whole bunch of Americans go there and spoil it.” What really amuses me is that while I poke fun at the idea, that’s exactly what I did. I had been on several political delegations to other Latin American countries, especially the ones with revolutionary new constitutions that empower people and even nature: Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Many of my colleagues couldn’t believe I’d never been to Cuba, the country that has been independent of super-power domination for decades.
I used the term “Americans” above, but I want to switch to a term for people from the U.S.A. that differentiates us from the rest of the people living in this hemisphere. “Estadounidense” is the Spanish word, based on Estados Unidos. (I’ve often wondered if we should adopt an English-language word, “USers” for US people, since we have about 5% of the world’s population and use about 20% of the world’s resources.)
Among the people most afraid that “Americans will spoil Cuba” are … Canadians. They’ve been enjoying Cuba for years and many Canadians are not keen on the prospect of loads of estadounidenses descending on the island.
This leads me to the first item on my list of strengths likely to help Cuba remain Cuba, and not be overrun by the United States of America.
1. TOURISM IS NOT NEW. Cuba has hosted tourists for a long time, including Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans. Cuba has resorts, stunning nature, excellent beaches, and even golf courses, not to mention great music, and vintage cars from the 1950s. Cuba has learned from successes and mistakes in its tourism development during the past 25 years.
2. NEW FOREIGN INVESTMENT LAWS. In 2014 Cuba passed a new foreign investment law that gives tax breaks and more investment security to foreign-owned companies engaged in joint ventures with the Cuban state and between foreign and Cuban companies. The law does not permit foreign investment in health care and education, and that sounds like a valuable protection for Cubans.
3. THEY’VE SURVIVED. Cuba and Cubans have a long history of successfully surviving economic and military hostility aimed toward them by the greatest economic and military power the world has ever known – the U.S.A. – 90 miles from their shores.
4. LATIN AMERICA IS STRONGER NOW. The region is certainly stronger than it was in 1959 when the Castro government began, and even stronger than it was 20 years ago before Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. The region is now so strong that both Bush and Obama went down to obtain the FTAA, a free trade agreement for all countries in the Americas, and both Bush and Obama came back empty-handed. (Meanwhile, U.S. activists are trying to “Flush the TPP” – a truly bad free trade agreement – and are struggling against formidable bipartisan support.) Cuba is well integrated into the rest of the Americas, and is not isolated in the world.
5. JOSÉ MARTÍ. He is the Cuban national hero whose statue is found in the town centers. Many people consider that the Cuban Revolution began with Martí in 1868, reached a new level in 1959, and continues to this day. Martí also authored poetry, political theory, revolutionary philosophy, and even writings for children, called The Golden Age. It seems all Cuban children and their parents, regardless of political ideology, are familiar with these readable teachings about history and science as well as formation of character and civic consciousness. What writings do most children in the United States have in common? The Bible? The Gettysburg Address?
6. STRONG FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ORIENTATION. This strength is tangible in Cuba, and it has helped Cubans survive during the “special period” after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and during all the obstacles they’ve encountered in more than 50 years of the U.S. embargo.
7. CUBAN PRIDE. Cubans are very proud of being Cuban, and they are not eager to be changed into something else.
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These are my thoughts and reactions regarding “What will happen next?” As indicated at the start, I believe it’s hard for anyone to be an expert on Cuba. Questions about Cuba lead to more questions, mysteries, complications, and contradictions. No wonder so many people – including the Miami-Cubans – want to go back again and again.