Nothing Trumps Sovereignty


We in the U.S. owe the government of China about $1.2 trillion. That’s the value of the U.S. Treasury securities held by China that our government sells to finance our debt.

So, here’s a mind exercise: What would happen if China came to us and said, we’d be happy to cancel the debts you owe us, but you’d have to adopt China’s communist system as your own?

$1.2 trillion is a lot of money. But, even in a country as polarized as ours, you wouldn’t find a taker. You could bring that offer to any American among the 7.9 million people who visited the Lincoln Memorial last year, the 4.2 million who went to see the Statue of Liberty, or the 2.4 million who traveled to see Mt. Rushmore in 2015, or to any one of us today.  The only answer you’d hear would sound like a colorful variant of “hell no.” If anyone in our government said yes, it would stir a revolt.

That’s like the devil’s bargain at the center of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The deal it offers to Cuba is as simple – and as poisonous – as our imagined debt deal with China. Our policy tells Cubans that if they’d just drop their communist system and replace it with ours, we’d stop trying to bankrupt their economy to force their government to collapse.

We’ve been offering this deal for six decades, and the policy has failed because Cubans won’t sacrifice their national sovereignty in exchange for having our embargo lifted.

In Havana on December 17, 2014, when Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced their agreement to resume diplomatic relations, we witnessed what seemed like a collective sigh of relief; from the students who marched joyfully past the monuments to Cuba’s wars of independence to the texts exchanged among hard-bitten Habaneros (so-called “Godless communists”) who praised St. Lázaro for his righteous intervention in bringing hostilities with the U.S. to an end.

In remarks broadcast unedited on Cuban state television, President Obama proposed a new deal for Cuba. While he pledged to keep standing for American values in Cuba, he promised not to do so at the price of Cuba’s sovereignty. He said, “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.”

Although Congressional action is needed to lift the embargo, the President promised to change regulations, e.g. those within his reach to spur more travel and trade, without first extracting concessions from Cuba’s government. This relief from coercion – plus the prospect of closer ties with the U.S. and more prosperous, peaceful times for Cuba’s people – excited that impassioned reaction. Since December 17th, the President has kept his word, implementing wave after wave of Cuba policy reforms.

Historically, Cubans, so deeply affected by U.S. policy, have followed our presidential elections closely; though this season, they’d been less engaged. Both major party candidates had said they supported Mr. Obama’s decision to normalize relations, although Mr. Trump added that he would have cut “a better deal.”

However, in a recent speech he delivered in Miami, the Republican Party nominee said he would reverse President Obama’s policies, unless President Raúl Castro met every one of his demands. This has jolted Cubans into paying much more urgent attention to the 2016 campaign.

As the Associated Press reported, “Cubans are suddenly envisioning the possibility of a U.S. president who would undo measures popular among virtually everyone on the island, from hard-line communists to advocates of greater freedom and democracy.”

This proves that Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, our top diplomat in Cuba, was absolutely right when he said in an interview with Temas, a Cuban journal this week, “Americans and Cubans have a lot more in common than they think.”

In the U.S. and Cuba, we both love our sovereignty. Sovereignty is a cherished thing that cannot be dealt away. Not for all the T-bills in China, and not for “a better deal” with Cuba.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba’s Foreign Minister speaks to U.S.-Cuba relations at UN General Assembly

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly this week, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, addressed the advances made thus far in U.S.-Cuba relations, and the remaining obstacles to fully normalized relations, including the embargo and U.S. control of the naval base at Guantánamo Bay. He highlighted the two countries’ progress in diplomatic relations, and bilateral cooperation on “mutual interests.” He continued, “Executive measures adopted by the U.S., although positive, are insufficient,” he said. Next month, the General Assembly will consider Cuba’s resolution to condemn the U.S. embargo.

In Miami, Trump morphs back into a Cuba hardliner, Marc Caputo, Politico

Last week, during a speech in Miami, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reversed his position on Cuba policy, declaring that he would dismantle President Obama’s regulatory changes “unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.” He continued, “Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners. …Is that right?”

According to Politico, Mr. Trump – who had earlier expressed agreement with President Obama’s Cuba policy – is now making a play for the Cuba hardliner vote in South Florida. However, Marc Caputo writes, he will need more than the “tepid” support he has now from Cuban-American voters to win the politically significant state in an election just over six weeks away. A poll released last week by Florida International University shows an unprecedented 63 percent of Miami-Dade County Cuban Americans oppose the embargo, while registered voters, who comprised 55 percent of respondents, support President Obama’s policy changes.

President Obama’s new approach to U.S.-Cuba relations has enjoyed strong support on the island. As Cuban diplomat and educator Dr. Carlos Alzugaray told the Associated Press, “I don’t think it will be very easy for Trump to reverse some things. …Break diplomatic relations? Put Cuba back on the list of terrorist states? Those things are almost impossible.”

Recommended reading: Cuba After the Gold Rush, Sarah Stephens, NACLA Report on the Americas

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, examines the role of U.S. commercial interests in ending the embargo. “Business has an important role to play in bringing the normalization process between Cuba and the United States to its long-anticipated conclusion,” she writes. “That role should not be exaggerated or minimized, but used intelligently to leverage its strengths, and to acknowledge that other forces – such as NGOs working with peers in Cuba on citizen engagement, as well as diplomats and political leaders of both countries – have important roles to play so that the embargo can be dropped for good.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

In Cuba, Japan’s PM raises North Korea nuclear program with Fidel Castro, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro in Havana on Thursday to discuss North Korea’s nuclear test program, Reuters reports. Following their meeting, a spokesperson for Japan’s Foreign Ministry said that Prime Minister Abe had “pointed out the necessity for the international community to respond to this rigorously in unity.” Cuba maintains an alliance with North Korea; an envoy from Cuba’s government met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un this summer.

Reuters also reports that Prime Minister Abe and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro signed an agreement to restructure Cuba’s medium- and long-term debts to Japan, and Prime Minister Abe expressed his hope that the deal will lead to increased investment in Cuba by Japanese companies, saying, “I believe firmly that Japanese companies can, as reliable partners, make a notable contribution to a Cuba that is updating its socio-economic model.” “Cuba is an extremely attractive investment destination for Japan…As the U.S. has eased sanctions, Cuba has made efforts to improve its investment environment,” he said.

Prime Minister Abe said Friday that his visit to the island “has turned a new page” in Japan-Cuba relations.

Granma notes that Cuba has now signed debt restructuring agreements with 13 of the 14 members of the Ad-Hoc Group of the Paris Club.

EU submits Cuba normalization accord for approval, AFP

The European Commission adopted proposals on the signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba and to eliminate the EU’s “Common Position” on Cuba that predicates renewing diplomatic ties on Cuba undertaking democratic reforms.  These actions are milestones in the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the European Union which began in 2008.

Members of the Council of the European Union will review both proposals and are expected to approve them within months. Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, said in a written statement, “The bilateral Agreement between the EU and Cuba is the result of a fruitful and constructive work the EU and Cuba have done together, and marks the turning point in our relations.”

Ms. Mogherini and Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, met Thursday at the UN General Assembly in New York. According to an EU press release, Ms. Mogherini told Mr. Rodríguez that she anticipates the Council’s review of the normalization proposals “will be swift and smooth, and invited Mr. Rodríguez to attend the signing ceremony of the agreement in Brussels” upon the completion of the approval process.

Iran’s president meets Castros in Cuba to reaffirm friendship, Reuters

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani met with President Raúl Castro and Fidel Castro in Havana after the two presidents attended the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela. Presidents Rouhani and Castro signed a memorandum of understanding on banking, as well as accords for bilateral cooperation in health, education, and science. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Havana last month with a business delegation as part of a region-wide diplomatic tour.

Brazil Seeks to Replace Cuban Doctors with Brazilians in Rural Health Program, Rogerio Jelmayer, Wall Street Journal

The administration of Michel Temer, the new President of Brazil, says it will halve the number of Cuban doctors employed by the country’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program over the next three years. The announcement comes just two weeks after Brazil’s government said it was in the process of extending the contracts of the Cuban doctors the country’s employs. Over 60 percent of the 18,240 doctors placed around the country by Mais Medicos are Cuban; the government plans to replace up to 4,000 Cuban doctors with Brazilian doctors. The Mais Medicos program, like many of the medical cooperation programs that Cuba contributes to globally, serves as a source of foreign exchange for Cuba’s government, which is reimbursed for the costs of the services provided by Cuban doctors.

In Cuba

Cuba announces major Wi-Fi expansion on iconic Malecón, Associated Press

ETECSA, Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company, will make five miles of the Malecón, Havana’s seafront boulevard, a Wi-Fi hotspot by the end of the year. Cuba has tripled the number of Wi-Fi zones on the island, from 65 at the end of last year to more than 200 at the beginning of September.

Recommended reading: No more drama. Action., Ricardo Torres, Progreso Weekly

Dr. Ricardo Torres Pérez of the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy urges faster implementation of Cuba’s economic reforms and considers the longstanding and more recent factors contributing to Cuba’s ongoing economic difficulties, from structural issues in the country’s economic system and export shortfalls to decreased oil shipments from both Venezuela and Brazil. “The current crisis arose from a combination of internal and external situations, the latter having attracted greater attention,” Dr. Torres writes. The major underlying issue, he argues, is “the incapacity to generate enough hard currency to cover the nation’s requirements for economic and social development.”

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