letter to editor

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would begin normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country we had been at odds with since the 1950’s when it turned to a Communist form of government. 

The adversarial relations with Cuba were natural when the Latin American country was in the orbit of the Soviet Union. However, that country no longer exists, and the Cold War is long over. President Donald Trump blew up his predecessor’s efforts at détente—rolling back nascent travel, trade, and security initiatives and downsizing the newly reopened U.S. embassy in Havana. Just a little more than two years after the start of a historic thaw, U.S.-Cuban relations were frozen once again.  

As writer Richard Feinberg stated in his story “A Return to Detente with Cuba: Biden Must Recover Obama’s Patient Optimism,” Biden must work within the bounds of Obama’s patient optimism and play the long game with Cuba. The country won’t adopt free market economics and become democratic country overnight. However, a policy of détente will achieve positive things that decades of confrontation have not achieved. The lifting of travel restrictions allowed millions of Cubans to meet America’s best diplomatic corps – the Americans who travel to the island and bring American ideals and values. These travelers spent lavishly and supported Cuba’s private entrepreneurs and therefore weakened its authoritarian government run by the Cuban Communist Party. These business startups are building a new form of pluralism in the life of the country.   

Mr. Biden’s administration should start by lifting the sanctions that the Donald Trump administration imposed. Feinberg gave us an idea of things the Biden administration can do to pursue a policy of détente with Cuba: “the Biden administration can unravel obstacles to academic, cultural, and educational exchanges. It can allow Cuban baseball players to join Major League Baseball without having to renounce their Cuban citizenship. Within the constraints of congressional legislation, Biden can encourage U.S. firms and the Cuban American diaspora to do business with independent entrepreneurs in Cuba and with certain state-owned enterprises, such as hotels and resorts, that are not directly run by organs of the security apparatus.” The administration should also work with European allies to pressure Cuba to work on its human rights record.  

Cuba is a country ripe for change. The pandemic hit the country hard, its economy is weak, the government has pledged economic reforms to empower private and cooperative businesses, and to liberalize the agricultural sector, and allow state-owned enterprises some freedom to move, however hesitantly, toward a more market-friendly version of socialism. In addition, Cuba should negotiate a bilateral settlement regarding the property it expropriated years ago from U.S. companies and citizens. Interested U.S. firms should be allowed to swap their financial claims for attractive investment opportunities. Our country could use Cuba to secure the global supply chains of its companies. The country’s location and competitive cost would be an asset.  

Closer relations with Cuba would also keep the country out of the Chinese orbit, our geopolitical competitor. Let’s hope we take an even-handed approach to this country in the future. If not, Chinese power might come to the western hemisphere. 

 

Jason Sibert

Lead Writer for the Peace Economy Project.