Tag Archives: International Relations

CUBA MUST CONTEND WITH A NEW COLD WAR IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

WORLD POLITICS REVIEW, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019

Cuba faces a much tougher international environment today than it did just a few years ago. Relations with Latin America have cooled as relations with Washington have regressed to a level of animosity reminiscent of the Cold War. In response, Havana is looking to old ideological comrades in Moscow and Beijing to compensate for the deterioration of ties in its own backyard.

These setbacks abroad come at a time when the Cuban economy is vulnerable. Export earnings have been falling, foreign reserves are low, and the debt service burden is heavy, as Cuba tries to retire old debts that it renegotiated. Despite the economic reforms begun in 2011, domestic productivity is still weak, making Cuba dependent on foreign investment for capital to fuel growth.

A decade ago, progressive governments dominated Latin America. Cuba had friendly presidents in every major Latin American country except Mexico and Colombia, and even those two were not actively hostile. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez saw himself as a protégé of Fidel Castro, promoting “21st-century socialism” in the hemisphere financed by his country’s vast oil wealth. At its peak, Venezuela provided about two-thirds of Cuba’s oil consumption at highly subsidized prices, with the cost offset by some 40,000 Cuban doctors and teachers serving Venezuela’s poor.

Under Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s state development bank provided $832 million in loans to modernize Cuba’s aging port at Mariel. Pressure from Latin American heads of state at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia in 2012 contributed to President Barack Obama’s landmark decision to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations.

But in recent years, the progressive “pink tide” of leftist governments has given way to a riptide of conservatism. Chavez is gone and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, presides over an ever-worsening political crisis and an economy in free fall, with 80,000 percent hyper-inflation last year. Venezuela’s oil production is down by two-thirds because of mismanagement and neglect. Oil shipments to Cuba have fallen by 50 percent, forcing the government to ration energy consumption by state entities, stunting economic growth.

In Brazil and Colombia, far-right governments have aligned themselves with Washington’s threatening stance toward Havana. New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s denunciations led Cuba to end its “More Doctors” program, under which some 8,000 Cuban physicians served Brazil’s poor, earning Havana $250 million annually. In Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru, progressive presidents have been replaced by conservatives. In short, Latin America has become a much less hospitable diplomatic environment for Cuba. It is no coincidence that on his first major international tour, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s destination was not Latin America, but Russia, followed by North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos.

The reversal of Havana’s fortunes in Latin America has been serious, but the reversal of relations with Washington has been disastrous. In the two years after Obama and Castro announced their plans to normalize relations on Dec. 17, 2014, the two governments re-established diplomatic relations, expanded trade and travel, and signed 23 bilateral accords on issues of mutual interest. Some 60 U.S. companies signed commercial deals with Havana, and the number of U.S. visitors jumped 57 percent between 2014 and 2016. Castro’s strategy of opening Cuba to U.S. trade and investment as part of his plan to modernize the economy seemed to be paying off.

Donald Trump’s election changed all that. In June 2017, Trump declared he was “canceling” Obama’s policy of engagement and tightening the embargo. Then the mysterious medical problems that afflicted some two dozen U.S. diplomats in Havana became the excuse for downsizing the embassy, thereby crippling educational, cultural and commercial exchanges. Washington imposed a travel advisory warning Americans not to go to Cuba, and in the first half of 2018, the number of U.S. visitors plummeted nearly 24 percent. However, cruise ship arrivals increased over the next six months, so the total number of U.S. visitors ended the year flat.

Then John Bolton, who targeted Cuba during George W. Bush’s administration with false claims that Havana was developing biological weapons, became Trump’s national security adviser last April. Speaking in Miami on the eve of the U.S. midterm elections, he ratcheted up the threatening, insulting rhetoric, declaring Cuba a member of a “Troika of Tyranny”—along with Venezuela and Nicaragua—and promising more sanctions to come. The administration is reportedly weighing sanctions on individual Cuban officials, imposing more restrictions on travel to the island, and returning Cuba to the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of international terrorism.

But the most serious sanction under review is allowing Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act—known as the Helms-Burton Act, for its original sponsors—to go into effect. Suspended by every president since the law passed in 1996, Title III would allow U.S. nationals, including Cuban-Americans, who lost property after the 1959 revolution to sue both the U.S. and foreign companies in U.S. courts for “trafficking” in their property—that is, making a profit from it.

During its first two years, the Trump administration continued the suspension of Title III, which has to be renewed every six months. But with a new deadline looming this month, hard-liners in the National Security Council—led by Bolton and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a long-time lobbyist for regime change policies aimed at Cuba—argued against suspension. The result was a short 45-day suspension, giving the Trump administration more time to assess the consequences of letting Title III go into effect.

Activating Title III would open a floodgate of litigation and damage Cuba’s efforts to attract foreign investment since U.S. and foreign firms would be loath to risk getting caught up in costly court fights. It would also prompt counter-measures by European governments unwilling to countenance Washington’s assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction over their firms.

Faced with this new standoff in the Caribbean, Cuba is rejuvenating relations with its old Cold War allies, Russia and China, both of which are expanding their presence in Latin America. Moscow was the first stop on Diaz-Canel’s first major foreign trip last November, and he came away with $260 million in new economic assistance and $50 million in military aid to refurbish Cuba’s aging Soviet-era arsenal. Diaz-Canel and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed that their “strategic partnership” extended beyond just economic cooperation. In Beijing, Diaz-Canel met with President Xi Jingping and signed several economic cooperation agreements. China pledged new investments in communications, energy and biotechnology—sectors where U.S. firms had hoped to gain a foothold before U.S.-Cuban relations soured.

A small island like Cuba has to be integrated into the global economy in order to prosper. Raul Castro clearly recognized that when he sought to repair diplomatic and commercial relations with Latin America and the United States. Historically, Cuba has suffered because of its economic dependence on a series of global patrons: Spain, the United States, the Soviet Union and Venezuela. Cuba’s leaders would prefer to diversify economic ties across a wide range of countries regardless of ideology. But the Trump administration’s renewed hostility, along with the collaboration of conservative Latin American governments, leaves Cuba no choice but to look for allies among Washington’s global rivals.

William M. LeoGrande is professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

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New Book: CUBAN FOREIGN POLICY:,Transformation Under Raúl Castro

Edited by H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

This volume illustrates the sweeping changes in Cuban foreign policy under Raúl Castro. Leading scholars from around the world show how the significant shift in foreign policy direction that started in 1990 after the implosion of the Soviet Union has continued, in many ways taking totally unexpected paths—as is shown by the move toward the normalization of relations with Washington. Providing a systematic overview of Cuba’s relations with the United States, Latin America, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, this book will be invaluable for courses on contemporary Cuban politics.

THE AUTHORS:

Michael Erisman is professor of international affairs at Indiana State University.

John M. Kirk is professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University.

 

PUBLICATION DETAILS:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 314 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-4422-7092-3 • Hardback • April 2018 • $85.00 • (£54.95)

978-1-4422-7093-0 • Paperback • April 2018 • $35.00 • (£23.95)

978-1-4422-7094-7 • eBook • April 2018 • $33.00 • (£22.95)

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Historical Introduction to Foreign Policy under Raúl Castro, John M. Kirk

Part I: Key Issue Areas

  1. The Defense Contribution to Foreign Policy: Crucial in the Past, Crucial Today
    Hal Klepak,
  2. Cuba’s International Economic Relations: A Macroperspective on Performance and Challenges, H. Michael Erisman
  3. The Evolution of Cuban Medical Internationalism, John M. Kirk

Part II: Cuba’s Regional Relations

5. Cuba and Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrés Serbin
6. Cuba and Africa: Recasting Old Relations in New but Familiar Ways, Isaac Saney
7. Cuba and Asia and Oceania, Pedro Monzón and Eduardo Regalado Florido
8. Cuba and the European Union, Susanne Gratius
9. Cuba, Oceania, and a “Canberra Spring”, Tim Anderson

Part III:Cuba’s Key Bilateral Relations

10. The United States and Cuba, William LeoGrande
11. Canada and Cuba, John M. Kirk and Raúl Rodríguez
12. Spain and Cuba, Joaquín Roy
13. Venezuela and Cuba, Carlos A. Romero
14. Brazil and Cuba, Regiane Nitsch Bressan
15. Russia and Cuba, Mervyn Bain
16. China and Cuba, Andrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Part IV: Retrospective and Prospective Views

17. Conclusion, H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

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CUBA, SÍ, VENEZUELA, NO? A DOUBLE STANDARD IN FOREIGN POLICY

BOTH LATIN AMERICAN STATES REPRESS THEIR CITIZENS AND HAVE LITTLE REGARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, SO WHY HAVE THEY RECEIVED SUCH DIFFERENT TREATMENT FROM CANADA AND OTHERS? 

BY:  YVON GRENIER, JUNE 21, 2018

 Original Article: Cuba, Sí, Venezuela, No?

For years the Trudeau government has been exceptionally forceful in its condemnation of Nicolas Maduro’s budding dictatorship in Venezuela.

Canada imposed sanctions last September on key figures in the Maduro regime “to send a clear message that their anti-democratic behaviour has consequences.” In advance of April’s Summit of the Americas, Canada supported the announcement by host country Peru that Maduro would not be welcome to attend. In Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s words: “Maduro’s participation at a hemispheric leaders’ summit would have been farcical.”

Freeland then characterized Maduro’s re-election on May 20 as “illegitimate and anti-democratic,” with Canada announcing further sanctions on key figures in the Maduro regime on May 30. The Organization of American States also passed a June 5 resolution that calls for an extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela from the 34-member organization. Furthermore, Canada will not seek to replace its ambassador in Caracas, which amounts to suspending normal diplomatic relations. And most recently, in a speech at a Foreign Policy event June 13 in Washington, Freeland made a point of mentioning the country, saying that “some democracies have gone in the other direction and slipped into authoritarianism, notably and tragically Venezuela.”

The three main parties in Ottawa are strangely in lockstep to denounce the “erosion of democracy” in that once prosperous and democratic nation. But the Trudeau government is particularly combative. This is a strong contrast to our policy toward the only country in the region that is arguably a worse offender of democratic rights: Cuba. For if “Canada will not stand by silently as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic rights,” its policy toward Cuba has studiously been to stand by silently as the Castro brothers and now President Miguel Díaz-Canel robs the Cuban people of their fundamental democratic rights.

Comparing the state of democracy and human rights

The kind of elections held on May 20 in Venezuela, while clearly unfree and unfair, would represent a positive step toward pluralism in the one-party system of communist Cuba. For one, Maduro banned his main opponents from running, but he did allow two marginal opponents to campaign and compete for the presidency. Neither the Castro brothers nor Díaz-Canel ever had to run against anybody. For decades they were appointed unanimously by a rubber-stamp legislature completely controlled by the only party allowed in the country. Arbitrary detentions, total control of all branches of government by the executive, and violation of democratic rights are systematic and written into law on the island.

While Maduro is accused of violating the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his Cubans counterparts do not need to disregard their 1976 constitution to trample democratic rights; its template is the USSR’s constitution of 1936 (imposed there under the leadership of Joseph Stalin). Cubans visiting Venezuela are pleasantly surprised at how relatively free the media and Internet access are compared to the reality at home. Monitoring organizations such as The Economist Intelligence Unit, Reporters without Borders and Freedom House rank Cuba lower than Venezuela in their indexes of democracy, press freedom, and civil and political rights.

True, violent repression in Cuba is not as overt as it has been recently in the patria of Bolivar, where up to 160 civilians were killed by government forces during the massive street protests of last summer. Arguably, this is because Cuba is a more stable dictatorship, one that has already exported most of its opposition overseas. Short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights activists, independent journalists and dissonant artists appear sufficient to curb public criticism. Incidentally, the number of such arrests “have increased dramatically in recent years” according to Human Rights Watch. The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 5,155 such detentions in 2017. As Venezuela becomes more totalitarian, and more of its aggrieved citizens rush to the exit, it will conceivably experience lower levels of violence and unrest. To recall: in the wake of the 1959 revolution, violent clashes with the “counter-revolutionary” opposition lingered on until mid-1965 in Cuba — Fidel Castro had become a master of counter-insurgency.

According to some observers, the humanitarian situation may be worse in Venezuela, primarily because of rapidly deteriorating access to food and medicine. But then again, it is hard to measure and compare. The Cuban government does not produce statistics on poverty on the island. We know most Cubans are very poor, especially if they don’t have access to remittances regularly sent by their family in exile, a source of income not (yet) available to most Venezuelans.

In other words, while the situation may be worse in some respects in Venezuela, the difference in criticism from outside those countries can be in no way because of Cuba’s superior “democratic behaviour.”

A Cuban fascination versus a newer crisis

And yet, under Trudeau, Canada’s relations with communist Cuba have returned to their former glory. Seasoned advocate of ever-closer Canada-Cuba relations, professor John Kirk, recently waxed eloquent at a conference in Barcelona about a newly found “warm embrace” between the two countries, with increased investments, cultural ties, and exchange of high-ranking government ministers in both directions. The Canadian government, according to its approach presented online, is about “unlocking opportunities” and trade, not about sanctions and denunciations of undemocratic practices.

Contrast Freeland’s comments on Maduro to Trudeau famously saying, in his statement on the death of Fidel, “on behalf of all Canadians,” that “Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.”

When CBC News senior parliamentary reporter Catherine Cullen asked Trudeau whether he believes Castro was a dictator, Trudeau tepidly replied: “Yes.” Yet he sends very mixed messages and seems to prefer overlooking the darker side of the Cuban regime.

One can think of several plausible explanations for this discrepancy, starting with the Trudeau family and its strange fascination with Fidel. Comparisons with US President Donald Trump’s man crush for Vladimir Putin come to mind. One cannot help but wonder if Freeland’s silence on Cuba (it would be a shoe-in addition to her Putin-Maduro axis of evil) is a concession made to the boss.

Other explanations, inter alia: Venezuela is (still) an OAS member, unlike Cuba, though if memory serves, Canada and other principled guardians of the OAS Democratic Charter are invariably sanguine about welcoming Cuba back to the hemispheric fold. Perhaps hostility toward communist Cuba is now perceived as an outmoded residue of the Cold War. Venezuela is a post-Cold War failing state, driven to the ground by a clumsy heir of Hugo Chávez, with no Bay of Pigs or even embargo (the US purchases most of Venezuela’s oil) as convenient excuses.

The most credible justification for such double standards is that Venezuela is in the midst of a crisis, with lots of moving parts, rather than being fully constituted (or ossified) like Cuba, where it is too late for pressures to work. The island fully “slipped into authoritarianism” — just as Freeland described Venezuela recently — in 1952 and then into totalitarianism in the 1960s. Former US President Barack Obama’s rationale for opening up to Cuba was ostensibly that the US tried to topple the regime for longer than he lived, and repeatedly failed. Venezuela is still in flux, increasingly isolated in the region and the world, and consequently, amenable to change under international pressure. Maybe.

Cuba’s impact on Venezuela

Be that as it may, Canada would be well advised to consider the responsibility of Cuban leaders in the current crisis in Venezuela. Cuban infiltration of Venezuelan state institutions is complete, as Cuban “advisers” can be found in virtually every single office, ministry or barrack of the Venezuelan state. Meanwhile, millions of Venezuelan oil dollars (even foreign oil bought by Venezuela and gifted to Cuba) flow into Cuba’s coffers. Venezuela had been an obsession of Fidel’s since the early 1960s and turning the country into a Cuban ally was his greatest foreign policy accomplishment. His smaller and poorer country astonishingly managed to infiltrate what is after all a larger and richer country. When Chávez declared in 2007 that Cuba and Venezuela were a “single nation” with a “one single government,” he was not kidding.

So, in other words, Canada is excoriating Venezuela for trying to emulate a country Canada is proud to have sunny relations with. To be provocative: would the Canadian government like Maduro more if he, like Cuban leaders, banned competitive elections altogether and closed the borders?

Leaving aside the complementary but separate discussion on what policy is best for Canada, one can at least say this: if Canada continues to pick its human rights policies à la carte, raging against violations in one country and glossing over possibly worse ones next door, the world may notice and take neither Canada’s principled position nor its not-so-principled position seriously. And if global consistency is too much to ask (after all, Canada seems to get along fine with China, Saudi Arabia, etc.), at least some regional evenness or just an explanation would be most welcome.

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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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