Thursday, July 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial July 3, 2015

Normal ties at last? After 56 years of hostility and acrimony, the US and Cuba have finally decided to bury the hatchet. The restoration of diplomatic ties after 54 years has been signalled by both Havana and Washington. Cuba has indicated the reopening of their respective embassies in each other’s capitals will probably take place by July 20. The breakthrough comes after 18 months of behind the scenes talks brokered by Canada and Pope Francis and six months after both sides declared their intent to normalise ties in December 2014. US President Barack Obama called it a historic step forward. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he will visit Havana later this summer to hoist the US flag over his country’s embassy, currently designated as the US interests section under the protection of the Swiss government. Cuban President Raul Castro has written a letter to President Obama setting out his country’s hopes that both sides will adhere to international laws and conventions in respecting each other’s sovereignty and independence and refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs. For President Obama the development constitutes a rare foreign policy success after setbacks elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East. Although he has asked Congress to undo the economic embargo against its southern Caribbean neighbour, the Republicans who dominate Congress have been resisting. The two sides have also agreed on a prisoner swap. Although the breakthrough in relations is a positive overcoming of a Cold War relic of confrontation between the Communist government of Cuba and the US, the apparent bonhomie cannot totally camouflage the real problems that both sides will now have to confront when they get down to normal business. Cuba has rightly and uncompromisingly asked for the 53-year-old economic embargo to be lifted and the Guantanamo Bay base occupied by the US since 1903 to be returned to Cuban sovereignty. It should not be forgotten that the prison at Guantanamo Bay has gained terrible notoriety for the prisoners of the war on terror being held there without legal or other rights. Cuba also wants the US to stop beaming radio and television propaganda into the island and refrain from other subversive actions that Washington parades as steps to encourage democracy in Cuba. The ostracisation of Cuba by the US started soon after the Cuban revolution under the dynamic leadership of Fidel Castro triumphed by overthrowing US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Within two years, relations with the then Eisenhower administration plummeted after Cuba nationalised American businesses on the island and Fidel declared himself a Marxist-Leninist. The economic embargo followed, and the Bay of Pigs invasion was not far behind in 1961. A global crisis was triggered by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, with US President Kennedy playing ‘chicken’ with Moscow over the Soviet missiles installed in Cuba to deter any further US invasions. Eventually the world turned back from the brink of a possible nuclear war amidst compromises by both sides. Khrushchev removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba on the basis of pledges by Washington never again to invade Cuba. Reports said the Soviet Union in turn extracted the withdrawal of nuclear missiles from its southern periphery in NATO member Turkey that directly threatened the Soviet heartland. While the two superpowers retreated into uneasy co-existence, revolutionary and national liberation movements in the third world attracted Cuban support and earned Havana Washington’s ire. Cuba’s revolutionary leader Che Guevara gave up power and position in Cuba to dedicate himself to revolution in Africa (Congo) and Bolivia, sacrificing his life in the latter country. His death made him a revolutionary icon and put him and Cuba squarely in the world’s eye, particularly youth rebelling against the given order in the 1960s. The anticipated collapse of the Cuban revolution in the wake of the implosion of the Soviet Union, disappointingly for the Cold Warriors of the west, did not happen. The brave Cuban people have withstood invasions, subversion, economic strangulation and attempted international isolation at the behest of the US and emerged triumphant and unbowed on the world stage. Such a people, such a revolution will not yield easily to the hopes of Washington that it can subvert the socialist orientation of Cuba through engagement and subtle manouevres. Under President Raul Castro, a worthy successor to his brother Fidel, the Cuban people are poised to move on to bigger and higher achievements now that Goliath has finally admitted the defeat of its irrational hostility.

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