Featured Q&A: On Status of U.S.-Cuba Relations

Thursday, June 18, 2015
From The Inter-American Dialogue's Latin American Advisor:

Q. The U.S. government on May 29 removed Cuba from its state sponsors of terrorism list, a key step in the Obama administration’s push to normalize relations with the Caribbean island nation. The previous week, negotiators from the two countries ended a round of talks without an agreement on opening embassies in each other’s capitals. Does Cuba’s removal from the terror list mean that embassies and full diplomatic relations are just around the corner? What are the main obstacles standing in the way of closer ties between the two countries? To what extent will political opposition in the U.S. Congress prevent normalized relations?

A. Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs:

“The Obama administration is so desperate to deflect attention from an unbroken series of drubbings on Cuba in Congress (and seven years without a single achievement in foreign affairs) that it is likely to declare victory on Cuba and move on to other matters with a higher likelihood of success. Administration spokespeople no longer even refer to the Cuba initiative as ‘normalization,’ but rather simply as ‘resumption of diplomatic relations.’ The reason, according to diplomats wishing to remain anonymous, is the recognition that ‘normal’ relations with a regime presided over by the Castro brothers and their appointees are not possible. The congressional defeats could have been foreseen: a majority in Congress knows President Obama’s initiative is the polar opposite of how successful foreign negotiations should be conducted, especially with a lawless regime. Had Ronald Reagan approached the USSR in the way that Obama has courted Cuba, we would still be in the Cold War, or worse. Consequently, the president has lost all Congressional votes on Cuba so far this year, some by margins as high as 120 votes. Contrary to how Reagan negotiated with the Soviets (leveraging our position of strength and with a pro-U.S. strategy), Mr. Obama has made no demand for irreversible reforms by the Cubans, has unilaterally granted the bankrupt Castro government access to dollar-bearing U.S. tourists and has asked Congress to open the largest market in the world to Cuba’s military-controlled economy, an economy where workers are so disenfranchised that even if they work at foreign-run enterprises they can be paid only by the state and receive 5 percent of what the foreign ‘investor’ gives the Castros for the use of the worker. Thus, the Cuban system has been described as ‘virtual slavery’ by international labor watchdogs. The Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba has been so obsequious that observers joke the U.S. flag in front of our Embassy in Havana will bear white stars and white stripes on a white background."