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LATIN AMERICA

Cuba and EU work together though US-Cuba relations remain uneasy

Washington urges Havana to expand political freedoms as well as liberal economic initiatives

Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo sitting across from his Cuban counterpart.
Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo sitting across from his Cuban counterpart. AFP

Negotiations between Cuba and the European Union to replace the 2003 Common Position - a document that laid out the conditions for rapprochement between Brussels and Havana as the island becomes more democratic - with a more flexible agreement for cooperation could be completed next year without any improvement in diplomatic relations between the United States and the Castro regime. The American government urges Cuba to open up the economy as well as expand political freedom in the country.

Yet, none of the ministers and foreign messengers who have visited President Raúl Castro in the last few years has seen any sign to suggest the regime will take any initiatives in that direction. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo was in Cuba this week but he did not meet with the president.

Meanwhile, the Barack Obama administration wants to take advantage of this fluid relationship between Madrid and Havana just as former Prime Minister José María Aznar, the leading European proponent of the tough policies backed by then U.S. President George W. Bush, did. Though the Bush-Aznar initiative’s goal was to provoke popular uprisings on the island, the current US government wants to join the détente led by Latin America and Europe by trying to influence its evolution.

Unlike Bush, Obama does not promote mass uprising on the largest island in the Antilles because that could lead to serious consequences but he does not renounce the use of undercover operations that would encourage social discontent strong enough to force the Cuban government to give up power. The regime, however, is used to rebellion and it is sticking to its guns. Aggressive American policies may, however, become less of a priority because the United States has more important problems than engaging in a crusade against Communism in the Caribbean and because almost all of Latin America is more in favor of welcoming the island in all of its regional democratic organizations than “pushing” for democratic changes in Cuba.

Latin America is in favor of the island’s inclusion in all regional organizations

Given that leftists and Social Democrats are in power from Río Grande to Tierra del Fuego, the embargo and the United States’ radical stance against Havana compromise its relationship with the rest of Latin America.

And, Mexico wants to regain its historical influence on the strategic island, which it lost because of the conservative National Action Party’s cooperation with Washington on international policies.

The country which will host the next Ibero-American Summit in Veracruz has pardoned 70 percent of Cuba’s debt to scale to the top of its list for commercial partnerships and political alliances as well as to try to catch up to Brazil and get ahead of Colombia and Argentina. Venezuela is Cuba’s closest ally in the region. “We hope that the European Union signs an agreement with us on political cooperation and then, given what’s happening in Latin America, that Obama will loosen up,” one member of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) said. He is convinced that the developments in the international arena do not favor an extension of Washington’s usual policies that isolate and punish the island. “We know that lifting the embargo depends on Congress but Obama can do other things. For example, allow Americans to travel to Cuba.”

Mexico wants to regain its historical influence on the strategic island

There is a victorious sentiment among the most militant supporters of the regime. The headline on the front page of a leftist newspaper distributed at the Cuban embassy in Madrid says: “The European Union kneels before Cuba: Will the United States soon follow?” “Cuba has made strategic moves without giving up an inch in ideology,” says Cubainformación, a Website published by Asociación Euskadi-Cuba.

Other sources say if the revolution remains mired in political stagnation, Obama will only approve measures that have the backing of the majority of the Cuban community in the United States and those that are likely to benefit the next Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

Meanwhile, the regime is paying attention to how its compatriots in Miami, New York and Nevada behave and the level of influence they wield and it is pleased that the latest polls say the majority of the Cuban diaspora supports a more flexible U.S. policy toward the island. “First generation Cubans control the most anti-revolutionary radio stations in Miami. They make a lot of noise and they seem to represent the entire community but that’s not the case because the majority of Cubans came to the United States starting in the 1980s,” says one veteran Cuban journalist. Last year, 600,000 Cubans made round trips to the island to visit family members.

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