Three American University professors recently traveled to Cuba for research and discussions on Cuba’s reform process – called “Updating Socialism” – and the island’s relations with the United States. Today’s entry looks at the bilateral relationship.
U.S. and Cuban experts at a conference in Havana in December observed that, despite important areas of mutual interest, the Obama Administration has so far shown little inclination to accept a dialogue. Some experts opined that the imprisonment of USAID contractor Alan Gross has become a convenient excuse for Obama to avoid any serious engagement.
Other key points:
- There is no effective political channel for resolving bilateral problems – indeed, no contacts at all at political levels. The Interests Sections in each other’s capitals handle routine matters, but Washington has rejected Cuban requests to continue semi-annual migration talks. Cuba gave the United States a proposal for resolving the Gross situation, which the State Department has not even acknowledged receiving.
- In addition to reiterating longstanding frustration that U.S. policy is stuck in the regime-change mode forged by President George W. Bush, Cuban experts lamented that many Americans latch onto every challenge Cuba faces – such as whether the passing of Venezuelan President Chávez will lead to reductions in oil supplies – as evidence that the Cuban government will “collapse” and therefore that dialogue with it would be foolish.
- Cuban rhetoric espousing the swap of the “Cuban Five” for USAID contractor Alan Gross has fueled powerful political expectations in Cuba, but Havana’s bottom line on the elements of a humanitarian release is far from clear. Experts from both countries are perplexed that Washington will not have a dialogue at any level to discuss whether a deal is possible.
- Many Cuban and American experts believe that one incentive for the United States to improve relations is to rebuild its image in Latin America. But they note – ruefully – that Latin American does not seem to be a priority for the Obama Administration anyway.
The Gross situation is merely the most recent of a long string of issues blamed for the dysfunctional relationship. The real causes of the impasse at this point are whether Washington can shift away from policies and well-funded programs fashioned to achieve regime change in Cuba, and whether the two governments can manage the influence that both have given ultra-conservatives unprepared to broach compromise – be it Cubans opposed to releasing Alan Gross while four of the “Cuban Five” remain in U.S. jail, or Cuban-Americans benefiting from the sort of regime-change operations that Gross was conducting. The lack of a reliable channel for political leaders above both bureaucracies to talk creates the risk of manageable problems spinning out of control, to the detriment of both countries’ interests.