Conference of Latin American Studies Association (LASA), Washington DC, May 30-June 1, 2013. Panel 343 – Cuba and the United States: what it will take to normalize relations between the two countries, and the global ramifications.  José R. Cabañas is Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC.

United States – Cuba Relations: Myths and Facts

In the post reelection of President Barack Obama, several theories have been formulated on whether there is a shift regarding U.S. bilateral policy toward Cuba. If that were the case, in the process of decision making, consultants and politicians have to deal not only with real facts, but also with myths that have been repeated for years in the imagery of the American press and some domestic political science of poor quality. We will refer to some of them (myths and facts), which are not the only ones and are not ranked in order of importance. I will mention each of them followed by our comments:


U. S. relations with Cuba are a domestic issue for the United States instead of a foreign policy one. Considering how the U.S foreign policy is formulated, almost all issues of its foreign policy are related to domestic policy: it was necessary to "convince" the American people of the "threat" posed by terrorism before pushing the country toward a permanent war against an invisible enemy in the Middle East.

Notwithstanding, quotations from any of the U.S. presidents during the nineteenth-century may prove that the U.S. policy to try to take possession of Cuba dates back to years before the triumph of the revolutionary project in January 1959 and, of course, even before larger groups of immigrants settled in South Florida.

We cannot ignore the fact that certain refinement in politics, better structure and financing of some of these groups enabled them to better insert in the decision making process of the United States, but this was never a decisive factor and, by no means, they were a defining element in the presidential elections.

A simple fact: the Cuban extreme right-wing of South Florida could never impose the Republican vote in any of the three main counties where it has settled, namely Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward.

Fostering U.S.–Cuban economic relations cannot be possible until the nationalization issue is solved. As known, the process of nationalization in Cuba during the 60s of last century took place ??based on Act 851, which was passed by the revolutionary government to that effect. This instrument provided for the use of compensation on the same terms established by the International Law.

In fact, the Cuban authorities were able to reach agreements on compensation which favored the interests of several countries that were representing their citizens, whose properties in Cuba were nationalized. There are no claims pending in the cases of Spain, France, Italy, and others. Cuban law provided for the compensation for the interests of U.S. companies by using the country’s income from the sale of sugar in the U.S. market, which was part of the benefits of the sugar quota allocated to our country.

Unfortunately, one of the first reactions from Washington to the process of nationalization in Cuba was the suspension of the quota, which made it impossible for compensation. However, for years the U.S. federal agencies exempted companies and persons included in the list of "claimants" from paying taxes for the same value of the claim; so they already received their compensation.

More recently, some of the main "claimants" have passed away or don´t exist anymore as natural or legal persons and others have stated that they are not longer interested in the subject. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that in a scenario of possible bilateral negotiations, Cuba has also updated its figures on the human and material damage caused by the blockade and other hostile polices imposed by the United States.

Exercising pressure will bring about changes and ultimately the Helms-Burton Act (LHB in Spanish) and in general the blockade policy will lead to changes in Cuba. This law and all the anti-Cuba plans that preceded it have been probably the greatest economic and political fiasco in the history of U.S. foreign policy.

Given the enormous amount of resources allocated to destroy Cuba, one might ask: what is the tangible result U.S. political classes have obtained in return? The Chamber of Commerce of the United States has estimated that the annual cost of the blockade against Cuba represents a loss to the U.S. economy in the order of 1.2 to 3,600,000,000 dollars.

They have tried everything against Cuba: from using military force, encouraging mass migration until bacteriological warfare and hiring mercenaries. No country in the history of humanity has grown and developed its society as Cuba, which has been under the attack of, or at least without maintaining relations with the first economic and military power of any era.

Cuba is still a Third World country with economic difficulties, but also with an extraordinary ability to share the little it has and not what it has left. The premises on which the LHB is based, and its most recent interpretation encompassed in the "change of regime" programs, are the very negation of any system of nations and of the respect for the rights of others to ensure peace.

It is impossible to promote bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States due to the existence of specific obstacles. Cuba has reiterated its willingness to discuss and reach an agreement on a variety of topics, without preconditions and by observing a relationship between sovereign equal parties.

Recently, the argument set forth by the U.S. for not moving forward has been the trial and conviction of a USAID "contractor" in Cuba. Those who have spent years studying U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations may recall arguments such as Cuba’s relations with the USSR, the Soviet military presence in Cuba, Cuba´s support to national liberation movements, the Cuban military presence in Africa, the alleged violation of human rights and many other arguments.

In pre-revolutionary Cuba, while dealing with issues of bilateral relations with Cuba, there were annoying factors like the ones that exist today between the U.S. and a number of countries that have built a different social system, have a different interpretation of democracy or of the political participation of its citizens and business practices.

In none of these cases, these differences have led Washington to establish a policy of blockade or even think about breaking off bilateral relations. The foreign policy of a country is not defined by some details and differences, but by principles (or lack of them) and by the political will.

We have to wait until the historic generation of the Revolution disappears because younger generations have different values. Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Rene Gonzalez, more commonly known as the Cuban Five, have accumulated 15 years of an unprecedented experience in U.S. jails and courts.

Some federal agencies have studied their behavior and do not understand how these men have been willing to give part of their youth and their lives for the love of their people, the country that is waiting for them. That is because of the respect they have for their profound convictions.

They are undoubtedly exceptional people, but at the same time are just an example of the new generations of Cubans who have had the opportunity to be men and women of decency thanks to the Revolution, of those who know that you can endure hunger but not dishonor.

Today the average age of the National Assembly of Cuba is 49 years, similar to the average age of the Council of Ministers and of the governors of the provinces.

Cuba is isolated and in desperate need of foreign economic partners. Cuba has diplomatic relations with 190 member countries of the UN system. One hundred and six countries and international organizations are represented in Havana. The main scene of the failure of the policy of isolation against Cuba is precisely Latin America and the Caribbean.

That region has undergone a profound transformation process and has traveled in time from the unfortunate exclusion of Cuba from the OAS in 1963, until the election of Cuba as president of the Community of Latin American States in 2013. Meanwhile, Cuba has been elected twice president of the Non-Aligned Movement, member of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and countless bodies of the United Nations system.

In no multilateral issue Cuba has received a contrary vote by any of the 188 member countries of the United Nations system as the United States does receive during the voting against the blockade. Cuba is building a sustainable economic system, oriented to services and value-added production, benefiting from the performance of the major investment of all these years: human talent.

Cuba has mentioned on several occasions the complementary value of foreign investment for the country’s economy, while recognizing the importance of its contribution in various sectors, but is not building its future depending on favor by foreign capital.

For 30 years Cuba has sponsored terrorism. In 1982 under the administration of Ronald Reagan, Cuba was included in the spurious mechanism of the list of states sponsors of terrorism. The main reasons given then were the support given to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the party in power today, the support to the FMLN (in Spanish) in El Salvador, which is in power today, besides the support to other liberation forces who came to arms when all peaceful alternatives failed, such as the inhabitants of New England did in the 18th century against the English power.

At their convenience, U.S. officials have also referred to the presence in Cuba of FLQ and ETA militants, who traveled to our country at the request of the governments of Canada and Spain, respectively, and have remained there under their supervision. Likewise, they have mentioned the presence of Colombian guerrilla fighters in the island.

The latest developments surrounding the Colombian peace process relieves me of giving more explanations. It must be added Cuba’s adherence to the main international instruments against terrorism and the timely cooperation with U.S. authorities in this regard, as the willingness shown by the Cuban government on September 11, 2011, when it offered the airspace and airports of the island to U.S. airlines so that they could use them.


Cuba is not a priority in U.S. foreign policy agenda. According to the statements by key U.S. executives, the strategic concerns of the country are related to the evolution of China and Russia and the endless wars that are taking place in the Middle East.

In Latin America, in a scenery of post-neoliberalism and free-trade agreements, the United States has not been able to coordinate regional policies, or even understand the origins of the social processes taking place in the region nor the extent of them.

The OAS is becoming a bureaucracy that exists to defend their self-preservation, and mechanisms such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR in Spanish), the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR in Spanish), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA in Spanish), the Central American Integration System (SICA in Spanish), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish) offer alternatives linked to the interests of the Latin American and Caribbean countries.

In this context, the Cuban market does not and will not have the potential to be a significant partner for the U.S. economy. However, we cannot rule out the importance the Cuban market has for certain sectors and geographical areas of the U.S. economy.

In the last 10 years, for purchases made under license in the U.S., Cuba has paid 5 billion dollars in cash, without the benefits of the credit and without using its own merchant fleet.

The day we will resume bilateral trade relations, the exchange will be in both directions because Cuba has services and products in spheres such as healthcare, education and information technology, just to name a few, which compete with the standards of more developed economies and are considered unique at the global level.

There is a historical and ethical need for the United States to break the bonds of the dirty war against Cuba. Since 1959, successive Republican administrations have had a direct relationship, and in some cases personal, with major terrorist plots against Cuba and its leaders.

Successive Democratic administrations to date inherited and continued to carry out these plans or simply were victims of blackmail and were incapable of controlling the main actors of the Cuban counterrevolution.

The Obama administration has no links with the horde that at some point made ??the war against Cuba its cause, in which there are no ethics or principles, or made ??it their way of life at the expense of the federal budget of the United States. A new generation of U.S. politicians is in a unique position of being able to turn the page and leave behind commitments and methods on how to make foreign policy, which are the negation of the values ??they claim to defend when it comes to domestic policy.

The Obama administration will leave office with no legacy in foreign policy. During the eight years of George Bush administration, the so-called War on Terror embroiled the U.S. in endless conflicts, reduced their economic capacity to meet the challenges of emerging powers and caused a significant political damage in respect to its allies.

The Obama administration has not even remotely met its election promises regarding the conflicts in the Middle East, and it constitutes a paradigmatic fact its inability to close the concentration camp established at Guantanamo Bay, where the greatest amount of human rights violations are taking place per square centimeter.

A different perspective on Cuba and, with it, the possibility of establishing a new kind of relationship with a new Latin America and Caribbean will make possible that Barack Obama withdraws to Chicago or his native Hawaii with something else than a library with his name.

Several national security issues cannot be faced by the United States without cooperating with Cuba. In January 2010, Cuba submitted to U.S. authorities a draft agreement to jointly combat Drug Trafficking. In June of the same year, a similar proposal was submitted for an Environment and Natural Disaster Prevention.

In February 2012, Cuba handed in a proposal with a program to Fight Terrorism. These are just three areas that due to the geographical position of both countries and the accumulated experience, it is feasible and necessary that specialists and agencies from both countries share information and resources.

When the United States regards health and education of its citizens as national security issues, unlimited areas of cooperation with Cuba will emerge.

A country that claims to be a democratic system cannot turn its back to the will of its people. For years, the biggest U.S. pollsters have consistently provided figures ranging between 60 and 70% of the samples that favor a change in policy toward Cuba. A similar majority has publicly expressed that the policy of the economic blockade and political isolation has failed.

A bigger number has spoken out against limiting the rights of the average U.S. citizen to travel to the island. Among Cuban-Americans, particularly since 1990, a vast majority has favored the normalization of relations with their country of origin and, especially, the development of what has been called the family agenda, which includes visits to and from the island, exchange of remittances and goods, postal mail, telephone service.

How is it then that a small group of lawmakers hamper once and again the adoption of measures to respond to this claim and, furthermore, use McCarthyist techniques to frighten mid-level officials who always fear that their promotions are not approved?

Certainly, doubt remains about the alleged American exceptionalism when it comes to the formulation of a policy toward Cuba.