“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Yogi Berra (former catcher for the New York Yankees)
Naturally, I’m unable to predict what will happen in the U.S. presidential elections this upcoming November 8th. As Carpentier once said, it’s not my job to know. What I mean is that the interlinings of power in the United States, along with its internal conflicts, are not as evident as to enable any sort of solid or exact conviction about who is going to win. I have witnessed too many elections to believe in the experts’ predictions. Of course, if every U.S. citizen who could vote did so, the Democrats would always win. Or rather, if all blue-collar workers, women, Latinos and African-Americans were to head to the ballot box on November 8th, Hillary Clinton’s party would win without a doubt. But we’re talking about a country in which absenteeism (people who couldn’t care less about voting) is much higher than in most other countries—over one-third of the eligible voters in the last presidential election. Is it reasonable to think that, in order to know what is going to happen with those that do vote, it’s enough to follow the polls or the endorsements of a peculiar press of an ever more peculiar country? Or to believe that if the Washington Post or the New York Times do not like a certain candidate, he or she won’t stand a chance? Even though some political commentators in Latin America, including Cuba, may think this way, these elections are a master class in the fallacies of this line of thinking. The predictive models for political elections are as sophisticated as those for meteorology, with equations and more, yet the variables that alter these models are far less controllable. If one were to delve into the work of the main electoral sociologists, one can appreciate, apart from the enormous uncertainty associated with absenteeism, that the imponderables range from new voters (those who came of electoral age in the past four years) to undecided voters (“turncoats,” as an old friend of mine called them), which consist of a considerable mass of voters who support a governor or a senator from one party and a presidential candidate from another; or, those who simply decide that very day for whom they are going to vote as they travel from their house to the ballot box. The options available to U.S. voters are typically fewer than those available to their European counterparts—and even in comparison to the “barbarians” to the south. U.S. voters cannot even chose between the Left and the Right because not only does the United States lack a true Left, but even a Center-Left, as Bernie Sander’s campaign—incapable of challenging this—demonstrated. As such, the net difference between one candidate and the other tends to be the same as the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Yet the fans of these two beverages know very well that they do not taste the same—of course not; thus, in the end, whether Coke or Pepsi wins, the margin for the popular vote is always very tight, of course—even when representations of the electoral vote make it seems like a blowout. If the electoral polls were an exact science, or responded to common sense, the press would have been able to predict beforehand that Truman would win the 1948 elections (instead of prematurely pronouncing that the winner was the Republican governor of New York, Thomas Dewey), or that a young Senator Kennedy would defeat the experienced politician and Vice President Nixon in 1960 (against whom he was predicted to lose, and almost did), or that this very Nixon would defeat the egregiously anti-war Democrat George McGovern (in 1972), in spite of the rampant protests against the war in Vietnam; or that George H. Bush, the political veteran and Republican Vice President that harvested nothing less than the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even triumphed in the First Gulf War, would lose to the governor of a state as inconsequential as Arkansas in 1992. As opposed to some Cuban political commentators, who claimed that it was impossible for an African-American to win the 2008 presidential elections, and who now considere inconceivable the victory of the Republican candidate, I fear that this “fascist and racist monster” could actually become the next President of the United States, not only because of what history teaches us, but what our present context permits. Let’s not forget that, in politics, what matters most is not a possible United States, but a probable one. However, instead of gearing up for war, like we did when the cowboy Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter (in 1980), or when the unthinkable Bush Jr. successively defeated two considerably capable Democratic candidates—Al Gore and John Kerry (with or without fraud, Bush won)—let’s frankly consider the implications of the probable undoing of our future relations with the United States. The normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba has the copyright of Barack Obama—one of the few incontestable legacies of his administration, without a doubt. It won’t be the legacy of Mr. Trump’s, nor that of Mrs. Clinton’s. For no other president will it mean as much as it did for President Obama. For that very reason, what happens between now and January 20th will prove decisive. To say it like NASA, assuming that its propulsion is able to overcome the Earth’s pull, the normalization ship will be able to fly by itself beyond January 20th. If it isn’t able to reach this point of no return, or some unforseen problem affects the ship’s operation, or the ship needs more political propulsion, the normalization will prove more uncertain, whether the commander in charge is Trump or Clinton. And if something can go bad, it will go bad—NASA dixit. In spite of this risk, looking at it from a calmer perspective, the current context is not the same old beans, as some political educators on our own turf assure us. For example, the issue of Cuba has not been a major issue in that incredible brawl they call electoral debate, as it was in 1960 between an aggressive Kennedy and a seemingly meeker Nixon. In other words, the campaign as such has not served to polarize the candidates’ positions on Cuba. And it’s beacause, for the first time, both positions look very similar both to one another and to current policy. Let’s consider for a moment the hypothesis that Mr. Trump wins. His isolationist policy (which has a long tradition in the United States), would be disastrous (if it were to become real policy) for the majority of Latin American countries, as the Mexicans know quite well. However, this very posturing (even more so than Mrs. Clinton’s) could well lead to the end of Cuban Adjustment Act, a key point in the Cuba agenda. In spite of his opposition to NAFTA, and to his bravados in Florida, nothing indicates that he is in favor of the blockade, nor that he is opposed to the flow of U.S. investment to the island, including his own. Perhaps the idea of a Trump International Habana Libre, right on Calle 23, similar to the one he just inaugurated in the very historic building that once housed the old post office on Pennsylvania Avenue, wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea to him. Let’s not forget that the primary gene in the capitalist DNA is profit. Although I know that this very idea would give chills to many Cubans and to millions more around the entire world, Cuba and the Cuban people must be prepared for this Republican alternative, and be capable of pushing this ship forward and beyond the gravitational field of the Cold War. If we calmly examine the scenario of having a female Democratic president for the first time, we find that this year and a half of electoral campaigning has divided political opinion and quite negatively impacted the United States political class. Those who vote for Mrs. Clinton will include a not inconsiderable number of citizens who don’t hold her in very high regard, and even consider her corrupt, yet who are also terrorized by the idea that a creature like her opponent could abuse his powers of executive action. In other words, if she wins, she will have one of the worst ratings of any presidency within the first months of assuming power. This initial weakness isn’t good in general, and it’s even worse for controversial issues such as some on the Latin American agenda, not to mention the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, or relations with Russia and China. In this context of greater interests and existing agreements, the issue of Cuba will surely descend in the list of priorities, given its geopolitical weight, and could certainly lose the attention it had within U.S. foreign policy high command—a decisive factor in the normalization process. Cuba and the Cuban people should forsee this deceleration, and do whatever possible to compensate, exerting greater initiative in areas where we share national interests with the United States and in which we can mutually benefit from cooperation—building bridges with new interlocutors and considering hitherto unknown alternatives. I’m writing this piece from Ohio, a key swing state, on the eve of Election Day, with civic organizations madly preparing to mobilize voters for both candidates. Just yesterday, a high school teacher told me that, if Trump wins, she would move from the United States for the next four years. Before saying goodbye, she asked, with a smile: “Will they grant me assylum in Cuba?”
Dayton and Cincinnati, November 7th, 2016.