Barely one year and a half after the announcement of a decision to initiate a process aimed at normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States, it becomes convenient to do a balance of that process, inasmuch as people’s perception often ranges from the opinion that everything has been resolved to the assertion that almost nothing has moved forward — and the answer does not seem to be at either extreme.
Sometimes, one is surprised by the swift evolution of negotiations on certain issues. Diplomatic relations were reestablished; accords were formalized on 10 areas of common interest, and negotiations on dozens of others look promising. This demonstrates the existence of a complementarity determined by our nature as neighbors and other international exigencies.
Two of the most striking elements (overlooked by many analysts) have been the political premises and the organization under which this process has been conducted. Both parties have acknowledged that the negotiations are held on the basis of equality and mutual respect, which is particularly important for Cuba, and a bilateral commission has been created to guide and control the negotiations.
A great variety of state institutions have taken part in the negotiations and have established their specific relations, which facilitates communication on an instrumental scale, as well as a dialogue between specialized functionaries, an antidote against the obstructions that bureaucracy generally creates at other levels.
Present also at the negotiations are topics that reflect the existing disputes, whose solution is much more complex because they define the nature of the possible relations.
Some are of a systemic nature and have to do with antagonistic differences that will hardly be solved in the predictable future. Nevertheless, there are others that could be resolved if there is a willingness in the parties and junctures that might facilitate agreement.
One such case is the demand for mutual compensation. This issue has precedent in many parts of the world and formulas have generally been found to satisfy the demands of the contenders. In the case of Cuba and the United States, once an opportune moment has arrived, there is no reason to think that a solution won’t be found.
Most of the analysts consider that the days of the blockade are near an end, although nobody can say for sure when or how its elimination will occur. Both parties coincide on the need to put an end to this policy; what’s being discussed is the extent of the executive measures that Obama’s administration might take to deny the blockade its efficacy and facilitate the advance of the process, despite the obstacles before it.
In any case, even if those executive measures are expanded and some Congressional amendments reduce the blockade’s practical value, so long as the policy exists, sheltered by the laws that regulate it, it will be impossible to speak about a normal relationship between two sovereign nations.
The U.S. government has expressed its refusal to discuss the closing of the naval base installed in the Cuban territory of Guantánamo. In addition, bills have been introduced in Congress that try to make that position bulletproof, complicating matters even more.
The U.S. political discourse doesn’t even emphasize the bilateral treaty to perpetuity that has protected the base for more than a century, due to its lack of political and legal legitimacy in terms of international order and the violations to which it has been subjected.
The argument, then, is reduced to the “national interest” of the United States, a position that doesn’t even have a basis on the U.S.’s need for defense, inasmuch as at various times the American military leaders have said that the Guantánamo base is obsolete for defense purposes.
In any case, everything indicates that “Gitmo” will continue to be a topic of friction between the two countries, although historically Cuba has avoided making it an excuse to sharpen the tensions. At this time, there is a climate of coexistence that includes regular contact between military staff from both sides.
The so-called “programs for the promotion of democracy” are part of U.S. foreign policy and constitute a source of contradiction with many countries, given that, when they’re not the result of bilateral accords, they violate national sovereignty.
In the case of Cuba, these programs have the stated objective of stimulating and financing the external and internal opposition movements. In them, the U.S. invests no less than $20 million a year, with the paradoxical result that the money often bankrolls groups that oppose Obama’s policy toward Cuba yet have a scant ability to attract domestic support.
It is hard to think that the United States will renounce a practice that it considers part of its hegemonic right in the world and part of its strategic objectives toward Cuba. Still, if the process toward the normalization of relations continues, that practice might become less specific and aggressive, and more respectful of Cuban sovereignty—at least from a formal point of view. This wouldn’t solve the problem but would broaden the levels of negotiation regarding the issue.
The problem of emigration is so important to both countries that it was the only topic of negotiation for many years. At present, bilateral conversations are being conducted in a normal manner, with a high degree of observance of the 1994 accords. So, apparently and so far, both countries are satisfied with the terms agreed upon.
The main problem is the application of the interpretation of “dry-foot-wet-foot” for the acceptance of illegal migrants who step on U.S. soil. That policy is applied only to Cuban migrants. It responds to an executive decision that has no legal force and implies more problems for the United States than for Cuba, inasmuch as many of those persons have left the island legally.
Hopefully then, this practice will be halted sooner rather than later, although that wouldn’t by itself eliminate the problem of illegal emigration and another type of negotiation would be required to deal with it.
Linked to this is the application of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which has become the political umbrella that justifies the exceptionality with which Cuban immigrants are treated in the United States.
In reality, seen in strictly legal terms, the Adjustment Act does not constitute a “migratory” problem for Cuba, since it was not designed to accept the ingress of immigrants but to settle their legal status once they’ve settled in the United States.
On the other hand, its consequences have been so contradictory that now the Cuban-American far right is proposing its revision, because it favors the political insertion of the new immigrants, most of whom today vote against the Adjustment Act.
Rather than repeal the Adjustment Act or maintain its exclusivity toward Cubans, the fair thing to do would be to apply it to all legal immigrants in the U.S., given that it has proven to be more humanitarian and effective in easing the settlement of those persons under conditions that benefit the whole of U.S. society.
However, its repeal might be too much to ask, in the xenophobic climate that today exists toward immigration in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Therefore, it is most likely that, in the future, the privileges that Cubans now enjoy will be eliminated and they will have to go through all the vicissitudes that characterize the treatment given to most everyone else, regardless of the relations between Cuba and the United States.
Looking to the future, it will be very difficult for anyone who is elected President of the United States to ignore the advances in relations with Cuba, the concrete benefits that the improved relations have meant for both countries, and the existence of a widespread consensus in favor of the continuation of this process. Still, we cannot assure that the process will be irreversible, given the infinity of variables that might affect its fate.
Truth is, we’re living in a world where uncertainty prevails. And that’s another characteristic of the so-called “process toward the normalization of relations” between Cuba and the United States.
Jesus Arboleya is a Cuban investigator, specializing in relations between Cuba and the U.S. He has a Ph.D. in Historical Science and has published a dozen books.
This article was first published in CubaDebate on July 7, 2016 and was translated by progresoweekly.