Tag Archives: International Relations

LATIN AMERICA LEADERS URGE SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS TO REJECT CUBA’S NEXT HANDPICKED RULER

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Miami Herals, April 11, 2018 06:05 PM

Original Article: Latin America Leaders Urge Summit Participants To Reject Cuba’s Next Handpicked Ruler

LIMA, PERU

Former Latin American presidents on Wednesday urged participants in the upcoming VIII Summit of the Americas to reject the new Cuban government scheduled to take power next week.

The former leaders of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, and of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, issued the statement on behalf of the 37 former heads of state and government that are part of the Democratic Initiative in Spain and the Americas.  They urged summit participants to “reject the presidential elections called by the dictatorship” and “refuse to recognize as legitimate the newly elected members of the National Assembly, the Council of State and its president because they do not represent the will of the people.”

The declaration, read from the halls of the Peruvian congress, also demands an end to the Cuban government’s repression of opponents and the release of political prisoners.

The former government leaders also endorsed a proposal for a binding plebiscite on whether Cubans want “free, just and pluralistic elections” pushed by the Cubadecide coalition headed by Cuban opposition activist Rosa María Payá.  Latin American leaders who will meet at the Summit of the Americas on Friday and Saturday “have a commitment to democratic stability in the region,” Payá said. “It is time for democracies in the Americas to pay their historical debt to the Cuban people.”

Several Cuban opposition activists, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, as well as Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio Rodiles and Jorge Luis García “Antúnez,” also urged Latin American governments earlier this week to repudiate “the Castro dictatorship and its dynastic succession.”

They also demanded the release of political prisoners and official recognition of the Cuban opposition as legitimate political players, and asked for more economic and political sanctions against the Cuban government. Quiroga and former Colombian President Andres Pastrana traveled to Havana last month to receive the Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life prize, but were turned away by authorities at the airport. The prize was organized by the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy, headed by Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late opposition activist.

Cuban activist Rosa María Payá with the former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, in Lima, Peru

The selection of a new Cuban ruler when the island’s National Assembly meets April 19 is nothing but a “dynastic succession … a change of tyrants in a dictatorial system,” Quiroga told el Nuevo Herald. “How can an election be democratic with 605 candidates for 605 seats and a single party?”
Cuban leader Raúl Castro is expected to be replaced next week as head of state and government by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, although he is also expected to remain head of the Communist Party.
The former Bolivian president added that Peru’s invitation to Castro to attend the summit was “incoherent” because Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s invitation was withdrawn.
“My only complaint to those who decided to exclude Maduro from the upcoming summit is that a narco-tyrant, who has been in power for 18 years and wants another six, is excluded because he’s about to turn Venezuela into a new Cuba, while those who have destroyed democracy in Cuba for 60 years are welcome.”
Before the news conference, Rodríguez, Quiroga and Payá met with the president of the Peruvian congress, Luis Fernando Galarreta Velarde.

“The Venezuelan problem has a starting place that many people at times forget, and that starting place is Cuba, Galarreta said. There’s a risk for the region “if we continue to avoid looking directly at the situation in those countries.”
Asked whether Peru would refuse to recognize the new Cuban government, Galarreta said that the country’s foreign policy was handled by the foreign ministry, not the legislature, but added that Congress would forward the former Latin American president’s petition to the executive branch.

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ORDER FROM CHAOS: WHAT WILL BE RAUL CASTRO’S LEGACY?

Richard E. Feinberg, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America Initiative

Brookings, December 4, 2017

Original Article: Order from Chaos
In many ways, Raúl Castro’s 10-year presidential rule, ending in February 2018, has been utterly disappointing. Cuba’s economy is stagnant and economic reform has stalled. Political power remains highly centralized and secluded. The island’s educated youth are fleeing in droves for better opportunities abroad. And the Trump administration is renewing U.S. hostility.

Nevertheless, during his decade in power Raúl Castro oversaw historic shifts in Cuban foreign and domestic policies. Raúl initiated some policy innovations, deepened and consolidated others, and merely watched while forces beyond his control drove other changes. Regardless, these changes have paved the way for the successor generation of leaders—if they dare—to push Cuba forward into the 21st century.

MORE FRIENDS

Fidel’s younger brother, now 86, can be especially pleased with his achievements in foreign affairs. Cuba had been a colony of Spain, a dominion of U.S. capital, a cog within the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) system. Now, for the first time in its 500-year history, Cuba has escaped the grip of a single world power.

Today, Cuban traders circumnavigate the globe, engaging both state-directed and free-market economies. The top trading 10 partners in goods in 2016 were (in rank order): China, Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Germany, and Vietnam. The next tier of merchandise trading partners (between $275 million and $100 million) includes the United States, France, Algeria, the Netherlands, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago. No single country accounts for more than 20 percent of total merchandise trade.

This trade diversification began in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Raúl’s economic team extended and consolidated it. Under Raúl, Cuba also expanded the number of countries that purchase its main service export—the labor of educated professionals, especially in the medical field. While Fidel initiated large-scale service exports to Venezuela, Raúl followed suit with Brazil and dozens of other developing countries.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has also diversified the sources of foreign investment. For example, in the economy’s bright spot, international tourism, investors hail from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, China, and Malaysia, among other locations.

A small island economy cannot hope to be fully autonomous; it must adapt to global constraints. But by diversifying its economic partners, Cuba has minimized its vulnerability to external dictates, and maximized its own margin for maneuver. This diversification of economic partnerships has paid handsome diplomatic dividends. Cuba has become an accepted participant in various Latin American forums and diplomatic initiatives; overcame its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas leaders’ meetings; gained membership in the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); and gained access to resources at the multilateral Andean Development Corporation (CAF). President Donald Trump is alone in his efforts to damage the Cuban economy through comprehensive economic sanctions.

BREAKING IDEOLOGICAL BARRIERS

The slow, halting pace of economic reform has discouraged many Cubans, especially recent university graduates. Conservative forces resisting change remain strong within the Cuban Communist Party. Nevertheless, Raúl leaves a legacy that could greatly facilitate the work of reformers in the future. (I will further evaluate the economic reforms and pathways forward in a February 2018 Brookings policy brief.)

Raúl’s legacy lies not in standard measures of economic performance, such as per capita GDP growth, labor productivity, or investment rates, where results have varied from disappointing to disastrous. Rather, Raúl’s legacy in economic policy lies in breaking once forbidding ideological barriers. True, Raúl’s public statements often have been contradictory and shifting, as he apparently sought to balance conflicting tendencies within the Cuban Communist Party. But in key areas, Raúl demolished or at least cracked these obstacles to change: rejection of globalization (a favorite Fidel bugaboo), fear of foreign investment, and hostility to private business and markets. He also transformed relations with the United States.

In daily life, Cubans have left behind the comfort of social uniformity and relative economic equality for the more tumultuous worlds of greater social heterogeneity and income inequalities.

Raúl is no cheerleader for globalization. But he set aside his brother’s heated denunciations of multinational corporations and “exploitative” markets. Instead, he went about the practical business of building economic relations with a multitude of governments and foreign corporations. Without much pomp and circumstance (although there was the occasional ribbon-cutting), Raúl advanced the process of normalizing Cuba’s integration into global markets.

Raúl’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with “the historic enemy,” the United States, dramatically revised his regime’s foreign policy doctrine. The hegemon just across the Florida Straits was no longer an imminent, existential threat, readily justifying economic deprivations and tight political restrictions. Notwithstanding the altered attitude in Washington today, so far a number of the concrete gains from the Obama era détente remain in place, notably the facilitation of travel (commercial airline flights and cruise ships) and the generous flows of remittances to many Cuban families, whether for household consumption or business start-ups.

Of the reforms most directly attributable to Raúl, the suppression of the special (and expensive) permit to travel abroad was among the most important to many Cubans. As a result, most Cubans can freely leave the island (provided they can acquire an entry visa elsewhere), to be enriched by their contact with foreign lands and ideas. Greater access to mobile technology and rapidly expanding social media, permission to sell homes and cars, and more freedom to stay in once-forbidden tourist hotels have also improved life for many Cubans during his tenure.

De facto, by building commercial partnerships worldwide, and by accepting the freedom to travel, Cuba has now embraced core components of globalization.

OPENING TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT

To stave off complete economic collapse in the early 1990s, Fidel had invited in limited foreign investment. El Comandante en Jefe made these concessions holding his sensitive ideological nose and again closed Cuba’s borders once he felt politically secure. In sharp contrast, Raúl has publicly chastised his ministers for not accelerating foreign capital inflows (although he hesitated to fire them).

Periodically, the government releases a “Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment.” Each edition is fatter and glossier; the 300-page 2017-2018 version features 456 projects with a cumulative price tag of $11 billion. Yes, most projects have remained on paper, victims of bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape; but these documents are products of an inter-agency process whereby many ministries and state enterprises join in a collective waving of hands to the international commercial community.

In a 2011 official document outlining proposed reforms, foreign investment was derided as “complementary,” a secondary afterthought. In contrast, when addressing Havana’s annual international trade fair in 2017, Raúl’s minister for foreign trade and investment sang a very different tune: “Today foreign investment ceases to be a complement and has become an essential issue for the country.”

Mariel, the new economic development zone facing the Straits of Florida, has gotten off to a slow start, having approved over three years only 26 projects worth about $1 billion. However, 15 of these projects have broken through another ideological barrier: allowing 100 percent foreign ownership.

LEGITIMIZING PRIVATE PROPERTY

Fidel disliked and distrusted private property. In 1968, for example, he nationalized remaining mom-and-pop businesses. In contrast, over the last decade the government has issued hundreds of thousands of licenses to small-scale private businesses. Raúl has also encouraged some 200,000 Cuban families to farm as homesteaders (although not all survived). In addition to these authorized private businesses, many Cubans augment their income in more-or-less tolerated gray-market activities. Altogether, as much as 40 percent of the Cuban workforce have at least one foot in the private sector.

Recently, Raúl criticized private business for illicit activities, and the government halted the granting of new business licenses. Nevertheless, these concessions to anxious Communist Party stalwarts appear to be a temporary pause. The ideological foundations, and public constituency, for the acceptance and eventual expansion of a market-driven private sector have most likely been set too deep for a full-blown counter-revolution to succeed.

SOCIAL RELAXATION

This increase in economic pluralism has unleashed public debates on economic policy. Criticism of government performance is widely voiced with less fear, even if journalists and academics are still careful not to directly confront senior authority.

Another major shift that accelerated during the last decade: the evolution of Cuban society from socialist uniformity toward a more heterogeneous mix of property relations, income levels, and social styles. While legal statutes remain to be written, property can now be private (often in partnership with diaspora capital), cooperative (in numerous variations) and foreign-owned, as well as state controlled.

Income inequalities have become more visible, even if less jarring than in other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Many Cubans still honor social solidarity. But the transition toward a more normal, relaxed, and individualistic society is unmistakable. On Havana’s streets, Cuban youth—increasingly exposed to international tourists, travel opportunities and the worldwide web—sport the variety of hairstyles, tattoos, music, and other signatures of global youth.

These ideological adaptations do not guarantee speedy policy changes, much less their faithful implementation. The Cuban government is grappling with a severe foreign exchange crisis, and the sudden, unanticipated chill in bilateral relations imposed by the United States. All the more reasons for the next generation of Cuban leaders to build upon the diversity of international economic associations and the new ideological currents unleashed during the reign of the second and last Castro brother—and to launch their island state into deeper phases of global integration and economic transformation.

Richard Feinberg

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CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE: MAIN CHALLENGES

Vegard Bye. Senior Research Fellow Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo. vegard.bye@sum.uio.no

Complete Article: CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE

Abstract

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, where a complete and generational change of leadership is unavoidable (between 2018 and 2021). The country and its Revolution is up against some unavoidable and complicated choices in the coming four years. With the rapidly approaching end of the Castro era, without any clear new leadership structure in sight, and with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc particularly among the younger generations, a deep legitimacy crisis is looming. What are the principal challenges ahead, and how can and will they be solved?

  1. Introduction

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, as a complete and generational change of leadership seems inevitable between now and 2021. The country and its revolution will be facing a series of complex, unavoidable choices in the next four years. With the end of the ‘Castro era’ and no clear new leadership structure in sight, combined with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc, particularly among the younger generations,1 a deep legitimacy crisis is looming.

This study analyses some of the main challenges represented by the new international setting particularly concerning relations with the USA and the change from Barack Obama (2008–2016 to Donald J. Trump (2016) in the White House. These issues include how the economic crisis is undermining the welfare state that was once the pride of the Cuban Revolution, and the political challenges that may ensue; and how the monolithic character of the Cuban power structure is being put to the test by the increasing differentiation of interests between the early winners and the early losers of the economic reforms. The study also indicates some of the dilemmas of post-totalitarian political transformation identified in the theoretical literature, and relates these to other similar processes. Finally, we present some paradigm choices facing the next generation of leaders, and then discuss how a game of power, hegemony and legitimacy may unfold in post-Castro Cuba. While the most likely outcome still seems to be the continuation of some type of authoritarian and neo-patrimonial system, it is also possible to imagine some key post-Castro decisions that could take the country in a more pluralistic and participatory direction – although President Trump’s return to confrontationalism is making that even less likely. The harsh choice may be between re-building legitimacy and reverting to a much more repressive system.

Discussing political structures and their possible transformation is highly complicated regarding a system as opaque as that of Cuba, where there is no academic or media tradition of open analysis of power structures or ready access to reliable data. Such discussion may become quite speculative, as it is virtually impossible to underpin crucial observations about power relations with firm quantitative data – turning the choice of methodology towards qualitative analysis. Still, we believe it is worth putting together the available theoretical and empirical elements that may give indications about the future direction of a country that has played such a significant role in world politics and political/ideological discussions – a role quite out of proportion to its small size. Cuba offers a laboratory for the analysis of transformative politics.

……………………………….

  1. Conclusions

As yet, fairly authoritarian scenarios appear to be the likely outcomes of the transformation process. However, there remains the question of how absolute is the power that Cuba’s formal power bloc continues to exercise – and whether other options may emerge, against the odds, as the post-Castro generation prepares to take over the reins. Recently revealed remarks by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the most likely presidential candidate in February 2018, leave few expectations for a prompt break with the past.15

The information monopoly has been definitely broken in Cuba – although the information hegemony may still be in place (Hoffmann 2016). Young people, also party loyalists, encounter no problems in seeking alternative information and views about the outside world as well their own country, including about the root causes of the economic failure. This will have consequences for how the next generation of leaders will need to communicate with the populace, and take public opinion into account, if they want to build a new capital of legitimacy. Moreover, the Party’s social hegemony appears to be slipping away, particularly among younger Cubans who hardly care about what happens at a Party Congress or in other formal decision-making bodies. This may even mean an actual loss of absolute political power – how relevant, then, will the three documents of principle discussed at the 7th Party Congress and ‘supported’ by the mid-2017 session of the National Assembly will be for the future of Cuba?

On the other hand, there seem to be no indications of counter-hegemonic forces developing, within or outside of party and state structures. Still, we should remain aware to the possibility that the looming ‘crisis of legitimacy’ in Cuba might become a ‘crisis of hegemony’ or of ‘authority’ (see Gramsci 1999Anderson 1976). It is no simple matter to apply such concepts, originally developed for analysing social and class forces in early industrial Europe, to the transformation process of a post-totalitarian system or an authoritarian socialist system searching for alternatives. However, the alternative Gramscian concepts of a passive revolution vs. the creation of a counter-hegemonic bloc may still be relevant. In the former, the bourgeoisie (or nomenclature in the Cuban case) would allow certain demands by looking beyond its economic-political interests and allowing the forms of hegemony to change (typically in the way the Nordic model was conceived in the 1930s). This would imply that the Cuban power elite might have to look for a similar adaptation of its hegemonic bloc in order to meet the emerging legitimacy crisis, particularly after 2018. The alternative might well be a deep organic crisis, tempting new social forces to set about building a counter-hegemonic historical bloc, leading to what Gramsci called ‘creating the new’ (which in Cuba would be some kind of post-socialism), rather than ‘restoring the old’ through a passive revolution.

One possible source of challenge to the existing hegemony of the Cuban political system would come from civil society, perhaps feeding on the growing self-confidence felt by private entrepreneurs as their critical economic role becomes more visible and recognised by the regime. ‘What is threatening to authoritarian regimes’, noted Przeworksi (1991: 54–55), ‘is not the breakdown of legitimacy but the organisation of counter-hegemony: collective projects for an alternative future. Only when collective alternatives are available does political choice become available to isolated citizens.’ Thus, according to Przeworski and building on the Gramsci concept of hegemony, the emergence of civil society organisations in itself becomes a relevant force for regime transformation only in a situation of falling legitimacy, if civil society organisations manage to organise a ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’. This has not yet happened in Cuba, nor is there any sign that it is about to happen. That being said, however, serious problems of legitimacy at a critical juncture may result in a new situation.

Moreover, no negotiation scenario is yet on the table in Cuba. Linz and Stepan (1996), Przeworski (1991) and Saxonberg (2013) all introduce the issue of negotiations at specific points during post-totalitarian transformation. Przeworski sees the issue of alliance building between groups willing to negotiate on the part of the regime and civil society as decisive for the outcome of any negotiation: ‘visible splits in the power bloc indicate to the civil society that political space may have been opened for autonomous organization. Hence, popular mobilization and splits in the regime may feed on each other’ (1991: 57).

Cuba has not yet arrived there: power-bloc splits are not evident, nor is there anything like a counterpart with which to negotiate. For that to happen, the combination of regime crisis –perhaps with the prospects of serious repression – and the emergence of a counter-hegemonic alternative would be required. It can only be speculated whether and under what circumstances such a situation might emerge.

Scenario forecasting in Cuba is a highly risky business. Here we make an attempt, identifying three basic scenarios that will gradually emerge with greater clarity as decisions and circumstances unfold in the time ahead:

  1. A neo-patrimonial system, whether ‘socialist’ as in China and Vietnam, or an ‘oligarchic’ variety as in Russia or Angola;16
  2. A transnational neo-authoritarian system: neoliberal capitalism based on massive US and other foreign direct investments, with the full dismantling of the current state and power structure (Cuba as a mini-Florida);
  3. Transformation to a mixed economy with a more pluralist and participatory polity, and the reconstruction of a welfare state: a negotiated process towards some kind of social democratic system.

As shown in Figure 1, we hold that a series of strategic decisions by the post-Castro generation of leaders in favour of more market-oriented economy is what might take Cuba in a less authoritarian direction, while simultaneously helping to rebuild the welfare state.

Vegard Bye

 

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“IT’S OVER”: HOW I CAPTURED CHE GUEVARA. Fifty years on, Gary Prado Salmón recalls the guerrilla leader’s final hours in Bolivia.

By Clare Hargreaves

‘It’s over’: How I captured Che Guevara“, Financial Times Magazine, 6 October 2017.  (Gated paywall, but with limited access when registered.)

Courtesy of Larry Willmore and his Blog “Thought du Jour” (TdJ)
To visit the TdJ weblog, go to: http://larrywillmore.net/blog/ — To receive TdJ emails, go to: http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/thought_du_jour/join and follow instructions.

October 8th was the 50th anniversary of the capture of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia. General Gary Prado Salmón, who was the last person to speak with Che, recalls those final hours in an interview with a Financial Times columnist.

*** I [Gary Prado] asked him [Che]: ‘Why did you come to Bolivia? One of the things you say in your book on guerrilla warfare is that if any country has a democratic government, even with some problems, it’s very difficult to foment revolution there.’ (We had a democratic government in Bolivia — President René Barrientos had been elected one year earlier — and we had a parliament, a free press and so on.) He didn’t reply, so I asked again …. He said: ‘It wasn’t just my decision, it was a decision taken on other levels.’ ‘What levels? Fidel?’ I asked. ‘Other levels,’ …. Of course, it was clear the comand had come from Cuba.

I asked him if he’d heard about the national revolution we’d had in Bolivia in 1952 and he said, ‘Yes, I was here.’ So I asked: ‘Why did you come here to offer people land when we’ve had a very profound land reform already? That’s why no peasants are joining your movement.’ He replied: ‘Yes, we were wrong about that, we had the wrong information.’
[…]
As for Che’s achievements, he committed a lot of mistakes here as a guerrilla leader. He contradicted everything he’d written in his books. That’s what led him to fail. …. He was good at theory but when the chance came to practise his ideas [in Bolivia], he was a total failure.”

Gary Prado Salmón (born 1938) was a captain in Bolivia’s elite US-trained 2nd Ranger battalion. He is author of The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia (Praeger, 1990) and now teaches international relations at a private university (UTEPSA) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

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More on: THE NORTH KOREA-CUBA CONNECTION

 Tuesday, June 7, 2016, North Korea Cuba Connection

By Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat:z Flag-Pins-North-Korea-CubaOn May 24, 2016, the Korea Times reported that senior officials from North Korea’s governing Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Communist Party of Cuba held talks on strengthening ties between Pyongyang and Havana. This meeting followed Cuba’s congratulatory rhetoric toward Kim Jong-un after his re-election during last month’s historic Workers’ Party Congress. That congress was the first such-meeting since 1980.

While relations between North Korea and Cuba have been close since the Cold War, this revelation is an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba. North Korea’s close ties to Cuba can be explained by a shared normative solidarity against American values and perceived American imperialism. This ideological bond is formed out of historical experience and has occasionally manifested itself in symbolically significant shipments of arms and manufactured goods. These trade linkages persist to this day, despite tightened UN sanctions and strides towards a less confrontational U.S.-Cuba relationship.

North Korea and Cuba: A Cold War-Born Ideological Alliance

Over the past half-century, Cuba has been one of North Korea’s most consistent international allies. This alliance has caused Havana to resist diplomatically recognizing South Korea, despite growing economic cooperation with Seoul. Cuba’s firm pro-Pyongyang stance has deep ideological underpinnings, stemming from both countries’ shared Communist experiences. In 1960, Che Guevara visited North Korea, praising Kim Il-sung’s regime as a model for Fidel Castro’s Cuba to follow.

While both regimes preserved authoritarian systems and the trappings of a planned economy, their ideological synergy did not translate into convergent governance trajectories, as Guevara predicted. As Wilson Center expert James Person argued in a July 2013 BBC article, North Korea wanted to avoid Cuba’s dependency on Soviet weaponry following Khrushchev’s retreat from confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This resulted in North Korea transitioning toward a military-first policy, to the detriment of the country’s economic development. Meanwhile, despite visiting North Korea in 1986, Fidel Castro avoided creating a cult of personality resembling Pyongyang’s, as he felt that statues erected in his honor were incompatible with the Soviet Marxist-Leninist principles that he adhered to.

Despite their divergent development courses, both countries have remained close allies to this day, and there are signs that the bilateral relationship has strengthened further under Raul Castro’s rule. Panama’s interception of a North Korean ship in 2013 containing Cuban arms concealed under bags of sugar represented the most significant Havana-Pyongyang commercial linkage since the 1980s. Despite Cuban attempts to downplay the controversy, Panama’s foreign minister regarded this action as just part of a much larger Cuba-North Korea arms deal. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also condemned Cuba for violating international sanctions.

The U.S.-Cuba normalization has done little to shake Cuba’s close ties with North Korea. In March 2015, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared that Cuba maintained solidarity with the North Korean regime, despite Pyongyang’s increased international isolation. Rodriguez justified his stance on the grounds that Cuban foreign policy is based on upholding just principles and resisting Western interference into the internal affairs of countries.

While leading North Korea expert Andrei Lankov interpreted these statements as proof that Cuba’s criticisms of U.S. imperialism would continue unabated despite the normalization, some NK News analysts have contended that Cuba’s show of support for North Korea may be more rhetorical than substantive. Cuba is mentioned only sporadically by the North Korean state media, and in a limited range of contexts. This suggests that the Obama administration’s Republican critics may have overblown the strength of the Havana-Pyongyang bilateral linkage.

Even if the extent of the relationship has been periodically exaggerated, Cuba’s September 2015 and May 2016 reaffirmations of an alliance with North Korea suggest that the ideological partnership remains alive and well. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s visit to Cuba for the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit on June 4 and Seoul’s open calls for normalization with Cuba are unlikely to cause illicit trade between Cuba and North Korea to diminish or become more covert. This is because the symbolic significance of arms shipments and small-scale trade deals between the two countries still outweighs the economic benefits Cuba could glean from enhanced South Korean capital investments.

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

Despite the immense international controversy resulting from Cuba’s 2013 arms sales to North Korea, sporadic trade linkages between the two countries have continued largely unhindered. In January 2016, Cuba and North Korea developed a barter trade system, which officially involved transactions of sugar and railway equipment.

According to Curtis Melvin, an expert at the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Korea Institute, barter trade is an effective way for Cuba and North Korea to evade international sanctions without depleting their hard currency reserves. Cuba’s use of sugar as a medium of bilateral trade has close parallels with Myanmar’s historical use of rice in exchange for North Korean military technology assistance. This form of trade has been vital for the North Korean regime’s survival in wake of the Soviet collapse and more inconsistent patronage from China.

While Cuba’s ability to use North Korean railway equipment remains unclear, NK News reported in January that Kim Jong-un was planning to modernize the DPRK’s railway networks, This development initiative could result in heavy industry production that can be bartered to Havana.

While trade in civilian goods between Cuba and North Korea appears to be on the upswing, trade in illicit arms continues to be the most symbolically potent and controversial form of bilateral trade. A 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report noted that a large number of North Korean arms brokers speak fluent Spanish. This language training demonstrates the importance of Cuba as a trade destination for the DPRK. The SIPRI report notes that Cuban arms dealers are especially attractive because they can deal with North Korea with a sense of impunity. This contrasts sharply with a British arms dealer who faced prison time in 2012 for purchasing North Korean weapons.

While the 2013 incident remains the most recent confirmed incident of weapons trading between Havana and Pyongyang, recent revelations of a lost U.S. Hellfire missile turning up in Cuba have sparked fresh concerns about a revival of the long-standing arms trade.

Cuba has consistently insisted that its arm shipments to the DPRK are for repair purposes, and therefore do not violate sanctions, which only ban one-way arms transfers. But Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal recently speculated that Cuba’s intelligence sharing and close cooperation with the DPRK constituted a highly pernicious blow to the prospects of U.S.-Cuba normalization.

While the Obama administration has removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and taken a big stride toward lifting the Kennedy-era embargo on Cuba, Havana’s continued cooperation with Pyongyang is an alarming blow to the normalization process. The current linkage between anti-Americanism and the Cuban Communist Party’s regime security makes a shift in Havana’s North Korea policy unlikely in the short-term. It remains to be seen if Castro’s planned retirement in 2018 will take Cuban foreign policy in a more pragmatic direction, and allow South Korean diplomatic overtures to finally be successful.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzCaptureVice President Miguel Diaz-Canel meet with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang over  the world’s widest conference table.

zzzzzzzzzzCapture Jong Un posed for a photo with a Cuban delegation, led by Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez (third left)

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CUBA’S SOUTH KOREAN AND NORTH KOREAN CONNECTIONS

SOUTH KOREA AND CUBA MOVE TOWARD ESTABLISHING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

June 7, 2016 – Hankyoreh

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/747159.html

During a meeting with his Cuban counterpart in Havana on June 5, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se apparently communicated Seoul’s sincere desire to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Yun is the first South Korean Foreign Minister to visit the country.

There were no reports about the initial reaction offered by Cuba, which has a special relationship with North Korea and considers the North a “brother country.” Rather than moving directly into negotiations about normalizing relations, South Korea and Cuba are likely to follow up the meeting of foreign ministers with a number of subsequent deliberations.

Yun met Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the Palacio de Convenciones, a Cuban government building in Havana, on Monday.  “I emphasized that the time has come to further realize the potential that our two countries have, and I expressed our intention of moving in that direction,” Yun told reporters immediately after the meeting. Yun’s use of the phrase “the time to realize our potential” presumably expressed a desire to normalize diplomatic relations.

“The meeting ran for 75 minutes – an unusually long period of time – and the mood was very amiable, serious and candid,” Yun emphasized.  “They talked about issues of mutual interest, including bilateral issues, global cooperation and personnel exchange. We said everything that we wanted to say, and the Cubans were seriously engaged in the conversation,” said a source who was present at the meeting.

During the meeting, Yun explained the significance of his visit to Cuba by quoting Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  “The Cubans were very pleased by Yun’s remark,” the source said.

Yun did not say exactly how Rodriguez had responded to the idea of normalizing Cuba‘s relations with South Korea. “Personally, I felt that a tacit bond was forming between us,” he said.

“As they say, well begun is half done. Moving forward, we’re thinking about following up with a variety of deliberations,” Yun said, suggesting that the two countries had not immediately initiated negotiations for establishing official diplomatic relations.

The two countries are likely to use a number of ongoing deliberations, including meetings between senior officials, to speed up the normalization process.

In Feb. 2015, Yun announced to the National Assembly that he would push to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.  The South Korean government made its first official overture to Cuba about discussing the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2000, during the presidency of Kim Dae-jung.

THE NORTH KOREA-CUBA CONNECTION

June 07, 2016 – The Diplomat – Samuel Ramani

http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/the-north-korea-cuba-connection/

On May 24, 2016, the Korea Times reported that senior officials from North Korea’s governing Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Communist Party of Cuba held talks on strengthening ties between Pyongyang and Havana. This meeting followed Cuba’s congratulatory rhetoric toward Kim Jong-un after his re-election during last month’s historic Workers’ Party Congress. That congress was the first such-meeting since 1980.

While relations between North Korea and Cuba have been close since the Cold War, this revelation is an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba. North Korea’s close ties to Cuba can be explained by a shared normative solidarity against American values and perceived American imperialism. This ideological bond is formed out of historical experience and has occasionally manifested itself in symbolically significant shipments of arms and manufactured goods. These trade linkages persist to this day, despite tightened UN sanctions and strides towards a less confrontational U.S.-Cuba relationship.

North Korea and Cuba: A Cold War-Born Ideological Alliance

Over the past half-century, Cuba has been one of North Korea’s most consistent international allies. This alliance has caused Havana to resist diplomatically recognizing South Korea, despite growing economic cooperation with Seoul. Cuba’s firm pro-Pyongyang stance has deep ideological underpinnings, stemming from both countries’ shared Communist experiences. In 1960, Che Guevara visited North Korea, praising Kim Il-sung’s regime as a model for Fidel Castro’s Cuba to follow.

While both regimes preserved authoritarian systems and the trappings of a planned economy, their ideological synergy did not translate into convergent governance trajectories, as Guevara predicted. As Wilson Center expert James Person argued in a July 2013 BBC article, North Korea wanted to avoid Cuba’s dependency on Soviet weaponry following Khrushchev’s retreat from confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This resulted in North Korea transitioning toward a military-first policy, to the detriment of the country’s economic development. Meanwhile, despite visiting North Korea in 1986, Fidel Castro avoided creating a cult of personality resembling Pyongyang’s, as he felt that statues erected in his honor were incompatible with the Soviet Marxist-Leninist principles that he adhered to.

Despite their divergent development courses, both countries have remained close allies to this day, and there are signs that the bilateral relationship has strengthened further under Raul Castro’s rule. Panama’s interception of a North Korean ship in 2013 containing Cuban arms concealed under bags of sugar represented the most significant Havana-Pyongyang commercial linkage since the 1980s. Despite Cuban attempts to downplay the controversy, Panama’s foreign minister regarded this action as just part of a much larger Cuba-North Korea arms deal. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also condemned Cuba for violating international sanctions.

The U.S.-Cuba normalization has done little to shake Cuba’s close ties with North Korea. In March 2015, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared that Cuba maintained solidarity with the North Korean regime, despite Pyongyang’s increased international isolation. Rodriguez justified his stance on the grounds that Cuban foreign policy is based on upholding just principles and resisting Western interference into the internal affairs of countries.

While leading North Korea expert Andrei Lankov interpreted these statements as proof that Cuba’s criticisms of U.S. imperialism would continue unabated despite the normalization, some NK News analysts have contended that Cuba’s show of support for North Korea may be more rhetorical than substantive. Cuba is mentioned only sporadically by the North Korean state media, and in a limited range of contexts. This suggests that the Obama administration’s Republican critics may have overblown the strength of the Havana-Pyongyang bilateral linkage.

Even if the extent of the relationship has been periodically exaggerated, Cuba’s September 2015 and May 2016 reaffirmations of an alliance with North Korea suggest that the ideological partnership remains alive and well. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s visit to Cuba for the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit on June 4 and Seoul’s open calls for normalization with Cuba are unlikely to cause illicit trade between Cuba and North Korea to diminish or become more covert. This is because the symbolic significance of arms shipments and small-scale trade deals between the two countries still outweighs the economic benefits Cuba could glean from enhanced South Korean capital investments.

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

Despite the immense international controversy resulting from Cuba’s 2013 arms sales to North Korea, sporadic trade linkages between the two countries have continued largely unhindered. In January 2016, Cuba and North Korea developed a barter trade system, which officially involved transactions of sugar and railway equipment.

According to Curtis Melvin, an expert at the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Korea Institute, barter trade is an effective way for Cuba and North Korea to evade international sanctions without depleting their hard currency reserves. Cuba’s use of sugar as a medium of bilateral trade has close parallels with Myanmar’s historical use of rice in exchange for North Korean military technology assistance. This form of trade has been vital for the North Korean regime’s survival in wake of the Soviet collapse and more inconsistent patronage from China.

While Cuba’s ability to use North Korean railway equipment remains unclear, NK News reported in January that Kim Jong-un was planning to modernize the DPRK’s railway networks, This development initiative could result in heavy industry production that can be bartered to Havana.

While trade in civilian goods between Cuba and North Korea appears to be on the upswing, trade in illicit arms continues to be the most symbolically potent and controversial form of bilateral trade. A 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report noted that a large number of North Korean arms brokers speak fluent Spanish. This language training demonstrates the importance of Cuba as a trade destination for the DPRK. The SIPRI report notes that Cuban arms dealers are especially attractive because they can deal with North Korea with a sense of impunity. This contrasts sharply with a British arms dealer who faced prison time in 2012 for purchasing North Korean weapons.

While the 2013 incident remains the most recent confirmed incident of weapons trading between Havana and Pyongyang, recent revelations of a lost U.S. Hellfire missile turning up in Cuba have sparked fresh concerns about a revival of the long-standing arms trade.

Cuba has consistently insisted that its arm shipments to the DPRK are for repair purposes, and therefore do not violate sanctions, which only ban one-way arms transfers. But Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal recently speculated that Cuba’s intelligence sharing and close cooperation with the DPRK constituted a highly pernicious blow to the prospects of U.S.-Cuba normalization.

While the Obama administration has removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and taken a big stride toward lifting the Kennedy-era embargo on Cuba, Havana’s continued cooperation with Pyongyang is an alarming blow to the normalization process. The current linkage between anti-Americanism and the Cuban Communist Party’s regime security makes a shift in Havana’s North Korea policy unlikely in the short-term. It remains to be seen if Castro’s planned retirement in 2018 will take Cuban foreign policy in a more pragmatic direction, and allow South Korean diplomatic overtures to finally be successful.

 

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CUBA’S SHAMEFUL FRIENDS

Yoani Sanchez,

14ymedio, Generation Y, Havana, 25 May 2016  

 zzCapture
14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

 People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

 In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

 In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

 The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.

ZZ Alexandr-Lukashenko-poder-Bielorrusia-CC_CYMIMA20150808_0003_16 Alexandr Lukashenko, who  has been in power in Belarus since 1994

  z Raul_Castro_y_Kim_Yong_Chol_Korea_Norte_f_Estudio_RevolucionCuban President, Raul Castro Ruz, received on Tuesday afternoon May 24, Kim Yong Chol, a member of the Politburo of the Worker’s Party of Korea.

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THE LEADING CANADIAN EXPERT ON CUBA, MARK ENTWISTLE, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CUBA, ON LATE-NIGHT CHATS WITH FIDEL, THE HARPER YEARS OF DIPLOMACY AND HOW TO DO BUSINESS IN HAVANA

RICHARD BLACKWELL

 The Globe and Mail Last updated: Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 2:52PM

Original: How to Do Business in Havana

When Mark Entwistle was Canada’s ambassador to Cuba in the mid-1990s, a knock on the door of his Havana residence might mean Fidel Castro was dropping by for a chat.

“He had a house that was maybe half a kilometre up from the official residence of the Canadian ambassador,” Mr. Entwistle said. “He used to stop by all the time. By himself. There would be a knock. It would be this big hulking figure, and he would ask if he could come in and say hi and have a gin and tonic. We’d talk in the backyard, we would talk in the living room. It was a quite remarkable thing. I kept pinching myself because … love him or hate him, he is one of the historic figures of our lifetime.”

Mr. Entwistle has parlayed his deep connections into a consultancy practice that helps Canadian and American companies prepare to do business in a Cuba increasingly open to foreign corporate involvement. His work with American firms has exploded since Dec. 17, 2014, the day U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced an unprecedented thaw in relations after more than five decades of distrust and detachment.

Mr. Entwistle is in a unique position to understand the subtleties of the change in U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations. He spent years in Canada’s foreign service, with postings in Israel and the Soviet Union. He then served as spokesman for the department of external affairs and press secretary to prime minister Brian Mulroney, before being sent to Cuba as Canada’s ambassador from 1993 to 1997.

After 15 years running his own consulting firm, he teamed up in 2012 with former Onex Corp. executive Tony Melman, and former politician and Magna International Inc. executive Belinda Stronach, joining their merchant bank Acasta Capital. There, he runs the Cuban advisory arm – a division called Acasta Cuba Capital.

Mr. Mulroney describes Mr. Entwistle as “the leading Canadian expert on Cuba” whose combination of diplomatic and business skills gives him a unique perspective. As ambassador, he was a “sure pair of hands” with a “problem-solver bent,” the former prime minister told me in a brief phone chat. While Cuba is still somewhat archaic with a Byzantine political structure, “Mark is the kind of guy who can guide Canadian and American companies through these different layers of difficulty,” Mr. Mulroney said.

Indeed, Mr. Entwistle has a sophisticated and nuanced take on Cuba and its moves to open up relations with the United States. But I have to admit that his personal anecdotes are what grab my attention most during our three-hour lunch at Sassafraz in Toronto’s Yorkville area. I’m so captivated that by the time I finish my Arctic char and he polishes off his nine-spice roast chicken breast (him much later, as he is doing most of the talking), the restaurant – which had been packed and noisy – is completely empty.

Mr. Entwistle’s close relationship with Fidel, and the degree of access he had to the Cuban government when he was ambassador, was mainly a result of Canada’s unwavering support during the depths of the U.S. chill. “We were players in many ways,” he said. “That is not the case now. There are so many competitors, and now that the Americans have arrived it is sucking up all the oxygen.”

But during Mr. Entwistle’s time as ambassador it was not unusual to get a call in the middle of the night and be summoned to Fidel’s office. “He would ask questions … he was very interested in Canadian politics … what it was like living beside the United States.” Sometimes Fidel would come to the Canadian ambassador’s residence for formal dinners, especially if Pierre Trudeau – then long retired – was in town. Mr. Trudeau was “one of the very few people that I ever saw Fidel sit and listen to, in true listening mode, not interrupting [or] formulating what he was going to say next,” Mr. Entwistle said. “It was not a mentor role, because Fidel Castro would never have a mentor. It was as an inadvertent confident. It was personally very important to Fidel.”

As a former diplomat, Mr. Entwistle is hesitant to use harsh words, but he is unequivocal about Canada’s weak efforts to take advantage of our long-standing warm relationship with Cuba. “I think it has been squandered,” he said, although “it is not gone. It is still there. The Cubans, in a way, are waiting for us to come back.”

Aside from mass tourism, and the operations of Toronto-based mining giant Sherritt International Corp., “there is effectively no major Canadian [business] play in Cuba. Against the backdrop of history, of what we used to share together, the Cubans find it odd.”

Some, but not all of the blame, can be placed on the Stephen Harper government, which was leery of appearing to be too close to a communist regime, Mr. Entwistle said. The relationship “has never been hostile, even in the glacial period of the Harper years. It was just benign neglect. The relationship is in sort of an auto-pilot mode, with the exception of all our tourists, who drink the mojitos.”

With a new government in Ottawa, and the Americans ready to descend on Cuba, it is time for us to refresh the relationship and take advantage of an economy poised for takeoff, Mr. Entwistle said. “Canada has been gifted an asset, which is years of unbroken diplomatic relations. It is to this day recognized in Cuba. We get given space that we probably don’t deserve. We are given a hearing … But the goodwill has a half life [and] it has been ticking away for a long time.”

It may not be too late to take advantage of the relationship, but if Mr. Entwistle’s business in the United States is any indication, we need to get moving, and soon.

American business sees Cuba as a potential gold mine since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the lifting of some sanctions, he said. Havana is “humming and buzzing” with Americans ready to take advantage of the new relationship – but the U.S. trade embargo is still in place and it is unclear how the complex web of restrictions can be lifted without support in Congress.

Some potential U.S. investors are trying what Mr. Entwistle calls “crazy stuff” such as attempting to buy up beachfront property – even though it is owned by the state. But many others are making more cautious overtures.

The real game changer, he said, would be a further climb-down in travel restrictions, to allow general tourism from the U.S. – letting average Americans see the place for themselves. Some estimates suggest four million Americans would go in the first year after the ban is lifted – a tsunami of visitors Cuba could not handle at the moment.

Despite the U.S. business curiosity, Cubans are intent that a renewed domination of their economy by Americans will not occur, Mr. Entwistle said, and they are not prepared to revamp their political structures at the behest of the United States. Cubans are, psychologically, much more independent than they were before the revolution, he said. “They have discovered the value of their own assets, which they didn’t truly understand before.”

There will likely be some further political reforms after Raul Castro steps down as president in 2018, Mr. Entwistle said, including a move to a more representative government. But that will happen on Cuba’s own terms, and not in response to U.S. pressure. Indeed, he said, awkward U.S. efforts to use intelligence programs in Cuba to push for regime change – such as a recent attempt to get Cuban hip-hop artists to put anti-government content in their lyrics – is counterproductive.

In the meantime, Americans – or Canadians – who listen carefully to what the Cubans want in terms of economic development, and are patient in nurturing relationships on the island, could do very well there, he added.

Many Americans Mr. Entwistle takes to Cuba for the first time are “bug eyed” about what they see. “They have big saucer eyes, and they are usually quite nervous going in because they have been brought up believing it to be a prison camp,” he said. “Then they say ‘This a normal county. There are no tanks on the street.’ ”

Eventually, the American entrepreneurial instinct kicks in, Mr. Entwistle says. “The business guys’ antennas start bouncing like crazy. They say: ‘Oh my God … the opportunities here!’”

 z

Gary McMahon (IDRC), Ambassador Mark Entwisle, Francisco Leon, UN CEPAL) and Lourdes Tabares U de La Habana). at the inauguration of the Carleton University – University of Havana Masters Program in Economics, Havana, November 1993

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U.S.-CUBA NORMALIZATION ALLOWS MEXICO AND CUBA TO REPAIR OLD TIES

William M. LeoGrande, World Politics Review, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015

Complete Essay Here: Cuban-Mexican Relations WPR 11-30-15

imageCUBAN PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO AND MEXICAN PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENANIETO November 15

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WHAT DOES THE POPE’S VISIT MEAN FOR CUBA?

Ted Piccone, Brookings Institute, | September 18, 2015 12:30pm

The leaders of three odd bedfellows are coming together this week: a 2,000-year old global institution known as a defender of the status quo, a 239-year old revisionist democratic superpower, and a 56-year old Communist revolutionary regime. How will they move the needle toward change? We are about to find out.

Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba this week—followed immediately by a meeting with President Barack Obama on the pontiff’s first-ever trip to the United States and President Raúl Castro’s inaugural appearance at the United Nations General Assembly shortly thereafter—together offer a compelling sequence of events that can move mountains. Or at least a few boulders from the thorny path of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Roll out the tickertape 

Let’s start with the Holy Father’s visit to Cuba, an island he knows remotely through his many years of service as a leading Latin American bishop and his book on Pope John Paul II’s dialogue with Fidel Castro in 1998. The hugely popular pope arrives in Cuba as an agent of change in at least two ways: as a promoter of religious freedom and a more activist church that is already providing critical social services to Cuba’s downtrodden citizens; and as a key facilitator of the breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations announced last December.

In the former, Pope Francis builds on the earlier groundwork of Popes John Paul II and Benedict who devoted time and energy to restoring—gradually and incompletely—the place of religious faith in Cuban society. Their man in Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, whose non-confrontational approach has won both critics and fans, has played a critical role in bridging the yawning church-state divide and negotiating the release of over 150 political prisoners.

The Pope’s role as “guarantor” of the normalization process between Cuba and the United States, particularly its human rights elements, helps give the White House some political space to push Congress to lift the embargo even in the face of Cuba’s often violent harassment of opposition figures. The Pope also brings an overwhelmingly positive message of reconciliation among all Cubans on and off the island and a humanistic approach to the excessive depredations of both communism and capitalism. The visit should inject another wave of enthusiasm and hope around the possibilities of gradual but positive change on the island.

The embargo thorn

For the Castro regime, the Pope’s visit is another perceived endorsement of Cuba’s standing as a country that punches well above its weight in international affairs. A longstanding critic of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the Vatican will help Cuba remind the world that the United States should not only unconditionally end the embargo, but pay up for the all the damages it has caused.

In case the point is missed on anyone, Cuba this week launched its annual campaign for yet another vote at the United Nations this fall condemning the embargo. The vote may not look as lopsided as previous years if other governments choose to endorse the olive branch Obama has extended to Havana. The Pope himself is unlikely to inject himself in the middle of this fight.

 A conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.

But his speech to the U.S. Congress on September 24, another first for any pope, offers an irresistible opportunity to call upon legislators to consider, in at least moral terms, the benefits of engagement and reconciliation over isolation and punishment, a point that would fit in nicely with his theme of mercy and forgiveness. The same message, of course, ought to apply to the Cuban government and its heavy-handed treatment of its own citizens. Raúl Castro’s gushing comments of someday returning to the Catholic Church suggests he gets the importance of religiosity in various forms to Cuban society (evangelicalism, Santeria, and Catholicism, among others). But a conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely in the short term, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.

In search of positive legacies and soft landings

For President Obama, the big bet to normalize relations with Cuba is shaping up to be a positive legacy the White House will go to some lengths to protect. It is already proving highly popular among Americans of all persuasions and even more popular in Cuba itself. The initial enthusiasm he received—including by other heads of state at the Panama Summit of the Americas last April—has carried the ball forward at a steady clip, as embassies reopened in both capitals this summer and talks proceed to improve bilateral cooperation on several fronts.

With the latest announcement of another round of unilateral measures by Obama to expand travel, remittances, and telecommunications, and trade with Cuba’s emerging private sector, the reality that only Congress can fully lift the embargo is sinking in, and starting to get more attention. As Obama told a business audience on September 16: “my biggest suggestion would be for [the business community] just to start having a conversation on a bipartisan basis about lifting the embargo.” He went on to say, however, that it shouldn’t happen “all in one fell swoop.”

It won’t. With competing bills in Congress for and against weakening or lifting the embargo, and nearly all Republican presidential candidates aligned against such a move, no one should expect any reversion, sudden or otherwise, to a pre-Castro era.

Which is precisely where the three main actors on the stage—the Pope, Raúl Castro, and Barack Obama—want to be: positioned as agents of gradual but positive change. They all hope for a soft landing for a nation transitioning from decades of trauma and triumph to a more stable, open, and—perhaps—more “normal” future.

yFidel and Pope John Paul, 1998

POPE, PRESIDENT CASTRO GESTURE OUTSIDE PALACE OF REVOLUTION IN HAVANARaul and Pope Benedict XVI, 2012

Image: Pope Francis meets Cuban President Raul Castro at the VaticanRaul and Pope Francis, May 2015

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