Monday, May 18, 2015

History and U.S.-Cuban Relations

Thanks to Steven Hyland for pointing out this excellent article by Lou Pérez on the historical context of current U.S.-Cuban negotiations. Pérez is one of the most respected historians of Cuba and U.S.-Cuban relations, and has published something like five million books on the topic.

His key point is that U.S. and Cuban views of their relationship have always been different, and remain so. That fact alone makes negotiation extremely tricky, in large part because U.S. policy makers tend not to understand--or choose to ignore--the Cuban perspective.

He concludes:

The aphorism that the more things change, the more they remain the same seems to be on full display. Old habits are indeed difficult to break. 
Americans persist in seeking to insert themselves into Cuban internal affairs, the Cubans insist on defending self-determination, vowing never to “renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century.” The policy change announced on December 17 appears to be less a change of ends than of means.

In class I always show this document from the George W. Bush administration, the report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba from 2004. It is a remarkable document that basically asserts the United States will reshape everything you could possibly imagine in Cuba, from schools to trash pickup to protection of coral reefs. From the executive summary:

As a new Cuban government initiates the process of establishing the rule of law, safeguarding human rights, and creating a new climate of opportunity, a variety of programs and services are identified that U.S. public and private sources could provide to the Cuban people over the medium- and long-tem. It is expected that such assistance would come not only from U.S. Government agencies and contractors, but also from philanthropic foundations, non-profit expert organizations, and businesses investing in Cuba’s future. Cuban-American and other U.S. citizens and organizations would be involved in these efforts.

It is stunning in its blindness to Cuban reality and its paternalism. Clearly, the Obama administration is a different animal, but fully jettisoning that paternalism requires effort.


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