Lok Sabha TV Insights: US – Cuba Relations – New Era
In another tectonic shift in geopolitics, US and Cuba reopened embassies in each other’s Capital city changing the course from hostility to rapprochement. These hostilities were reminiscent of Cold War era. Cubans had to face harsh and brutal sanctions, embargos and blockades at hands of US and its allies. USSR was sole patron of Cuba and after former’s collapse in 1991 latter became almost an orphan. But Cubans have demonstrated remarkable self-respect and had learned to live by scarce means. There are lots of outstanding issues which need to be addressed on both sides and resolution is not likely to be a cakewalk.
Cuba was originally a Spanish colony and in 1893 US, helped Cubans to get rid of colonial rule. Since then there were various US friendly regimes. US corporations held sway on Cuban economy, by owning different industries such as sugar, tobacco, railways, electricity generation etc. Overtime US economic influence reduced Cuba to a colony and there was baffling inequity. In 1953 another US backed dictator – Batista took over control. His regime was corrupt to core and quite inefficient. This was also the year when Fidel Castro started his guerilla war. In few years Fidel and its supporters controlled vast tracts of Cuba, where they introduced land reforms and hence winning over the common men. In contrast, Batista’s response was brutal which alienated Cubans and as Castro gained tremendous sympathy. It was finally in 1959, Fidel Castro helped by Che Guevara overthrew Batista from power.
At first US supported Castro believing him to be at worst atleast a Market Socialist. But soon Fidel Castro nationalized some US factories and big companies. In response US snapped ties with Cuba in 1961 and imposed trade embargoes. Later that year, Batista supporters (who fled to US) backed by US, tried to invade Cuba from Bay of Pigs. This was routed by Castro forces. Sensing opportunity, USSR immediately stepped in promising to buy all Sugar and other products of Cuba and implicitly agreeing to provide security from US threat.
However, in 1962 Cuba became centre of world’s worst nuclear crisis seen so far. By this time Nuclear race was at its zenith. USSR had just few years back developed long range missile (ICBM) to which US responded by developing its own Atlas Missile. Further, US installed short range Jupiter missiles in countries lying on USSR periphery, such as Turkey. To this threat USSR head Nikita Khrushchev responded by installing missile bases in Cuba which were less than 100 miles from US coast.
This was detected and reported by US spy planes and that time it seemed that world is on brink of nuclear war. US navy blocked Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba. Both leader J.F. Kennedy and Nikita arrived at agreement and guarantee was given by US that Cuba won’t be invaded again and missiles bases from Turkey be removed.
Today, USSR has ceased to be a communist/socialist country while Cuba almost continues to be so. Today if there is one country which can claim that Socialism works, it is Cuba. Cuban health and education services are among best and most economical in the world. When Ebola virus hit Africa last year, Cuba was first to respond by voluntarily sending his medical personnel team. However, with US sanctions and embargoes, Cuban people have been subjected to extreme scarcity of supplies. There were times when there sugar crops got infested and their economy in turn suffered severe depression. It was perhaps due to tremendous respect for Cuban leader Fidel Castro that people have learned to live this way without complaining much. In international politics Cuba matters much above its weight and that’s because Cuba has kept socialist ideology alive.
President Obama has claimed that this development is not merely symbolic and all relations with Cuba and its people will be normalized soon. But it is unlikely that Cuba will make any remarkable change in its polity or economic policies. Either US can accept Cuba or keep relation with it as it is. Some major outstanding issues are –
- Cuban Community in US
U.S. has large Cuban diaspora, most of whom are descendants of Batista supporters or erstwhile rich Cubans whose properties were nationalized. These people fled from Cuba at time of revolution seeking help of U.S. These people are still seeking compensation for their losses from Cuban government. This has been used by U.S. government to pressurize Cuba on various occasions. To this Cuba responds by making its own list of losses suffered from trade embargoes and claiming it from U.S.
- USA’s democracy promotion program
There are laws in reference to Cuba which mandates U.S. executive to impose embargo unless it transforms in a democracy. U.S. has been meddling in affairs of other countries under cloak of democracy promotion. U.S. believes that democracy is only right kind of government (except for its allies in Middle East). But Cuba has no such plans as power passed only few years back in hands of Raul Castro from Fidel Castro. Raul Castro has already identified his successor as he is expected to retire soon.
- Cuban Trademarks appropriation by US companies
Due to trade embargoes, some of the iconic trademarks of Havana Cigars and some other stuff have been appropriated by U.S. corporations. Cuba will claim its right over those trademarks
- Cuban membership of Bretton wood Institutions
As of now Cuba is not member of IMF and World Bank. First thing Cuba will need for rehabilitation of its economy is dose of investment. But it has to be seen that if it is admitted as member in these institutions and even admitted whether it agrees on structural adjustment plans.
For most matters it is US Congress which holds ultimate key. Majority of Americans are in favor of normalization of ties, but there are extreme rightist hardliners too. This breakthrough if carried along as per intentions will be remembered as a major landmark in geopolitics. When last year Raul Castro and Obama announced reestablishment of diplomatic relation, it came as a pleasant surprise for whole world. Many leaders commented that they never expected to see such day in their lives. It can be just hoped that successors of Obama will build further on his legacy and wouldn’t fall in trap of hardliners.