“The truth about US policy toward Cuba”. (Discourse with a coda)

Let’s imagine for a moment that, in his last night in the White House, the 19th of January, 2017, President Obama issues a statement entitled “The truth about US policies toward Cuba,” that says:

“Only a few hours before leaving the presidency of the United States, I want to return to a subject to which I have dedicated more time than I would have ever thought I would eight years ago. With the clarity of this eleventh hour, I will talk about the significance of our policies toward Cuba. On December 17th, 2014, I said that this policy has failed to achieve its objective, despite the rigor and toughness with which it remained. I will not be the one to judge President Kennedy, who supported the law of the embargo eloquently and for admirable reasons, when I was just six months old. I believe, however, in the national interest of the United States, to extend the time of the embargo has been a long mistake. Using a cost-benefit analysis, not only in terms of the interests of American companies prohibited from the island’s market, we have paid too much for what we have received. In any case, today it is evident that the economic losses represent a mere fragment of our losses in Cuba. In strictly political terms, that strategy has been counterproductive, because it reinforced internal support for the Cuban government, putting forth the idea of the motherland threatened by a great power. From the Bay of Pigs until today, this patriotism has involved even people who, although they may disagree with the system, object to the United States for meddling in that which they perceive to be their sovereign affairs. Instead of dividing them, this contributed to hardening the consensus and the unity of the government, by facilitating sympathy amongst the majority of the Cuban people. “It is the Blockade’s fault,” has served as a credible argument to justify shortages and immobility, before the people of the island and in the world. It is necessary to affirm that the December 17th policy is pertaining to our national interest, not that of the Cuban government. We do not have to be ashamed of that, because no country, including Cuba itself, creates foreign policy submitting to the interests of others. In terms of alliances with other nations, including many with very different ideologies, the Cubans can teach the world how to navigate them. As their own governance has recognized for decades, these so-called tri-continental alliances have had the primary objective of defending themselves against the principal enemy, which is us, the United States. It is clear that our task today is not to look in the rearview mirror at an irremediable history, but rather to minimize the residual costs of this past war and to maximize the dividends of the peace that we are constructing together. We must remember, for the future, that we cannot return to paying such a high price for hardly any victories. But since they have cost so much, the least that we can do is recognize them. It is not true that the only fruits gotten were ashes on our mouth. There were few triumphs, but there were some. And frankly, in the final hour of my mandate, it is necessary to mention them. In the Cuban case, the on looking world has seen how the axiom that the people vote with their feet is confirmed. Waves of ordinary citizens have left behind their country, since the freedom flights, through the Mariel and the rafters crisis, to the painful march of those who cross the Central American isthmus and Mexico to reach that North that is not a perfect society, but it remains for them, as the verses of our national anthem, the land of the free. So it was under the Cold War, under the Special Period and continues to be today. That is why we are not going to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, nor give up our ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy. Both Cuban Americans and those of the island will thank us. For some, including many Cubans, theirs is the most independent country of the region, because in their economic and political relations internationally, they have become accustomed to not depend on trade and bilateral coordination with the United States. But if the cost paid for our policy has been high, what they have paid for that independence has been infinitely greater. Not only measured in economic terms, according to the billion-dollar bills that Cubans present to us in bilateral talks. The largest of them all has been an enormous state apparatus, justified by the perceived external threat, which with its centralizing weight hinders the current reforms adopted by the Cuban government itself. That is why we should not expect democracy and freedom of entrepreneurship and trade to reach Cuba any time soon; it may take several generations. In any case, while that moment arrives, the US should maintain a close enough relationship and be open to working together. Not only with young people, the small and medium-sized business owners, the NGOs, the churches, but with those who lead state corporations, research and development institutions, universities, bodies responsible for security, law and order, as we have done so far; and also reach out to the media, trade unions, farms, cooperatives, and political organizations themselves. Whatever we do until then and can continue doing later, is for that. As it is about democracy, about the public thing with all and for all, we should not do it in silence nor in a secretive way. If we did it, we would have lost all credibility gained in the Gran Teatro de La Habana on March 22nd. As President Wilson said, “no nation has yet discovered a way to import the world’s goods and services while stopping foreign ideas at the border.” We have replaced our regime change policy to one of constructive engagement; and we have recognized that Cuba is amidst a transition period. It has been decades in the United States and we are not a threat to the national security of the island, and nor is Cuba a threat to the United States. But their authoritarian system and the high profile of national security they maintain, invokes now an alleged ideological and cultural subversion on our part. We need to have patience and persevere, because a return to confrontation and ideological warfare will not help the people of Cuba nor serve our national interest.  We must keep the door open, so that Cubans can opt into it, even if they do so at the eleventh hour. Some may wonder: why should the theme of this farewell message, among other things, be Cuba, an island that is not our ally, devoid of nuclear weapons or terrorist bases, with an economy 233 times smaller than the United States? In my humble legacy as president, this new relationship is a milestone, not only for what it has achieved amidst a half century of hostile inertia, but also for what it symbolizes for our foreign policy in the years to come. If we have achieved in overcoming the legacy of mistrust that has separated us from Cuba, prevailing amidst the predictions that nothing would be possible with a Castro in power, that means that we can work with many others, even if they are not our partners, as long as exists a genuine willingness for dialogue. That is why my recent presidential directive is not limited to proposing a roadmap for my administration, which is now ending, but also proposes a coherent project that can serve future presidents of the United States, no matter their party, which brings together US national interest and that of countries such as a future Cuba, which will remain where God put it, 90 miles from Key West. May that same God accompany us today in the path toward cooperation and bless all of us, Americans and Cubans, the people of the Americas and of the world, in the unceasing pursuit of liberty and prosperity.”

Imagining this farewell message of President Obama is not merely a literary exercise, a mental game, or a diversion; still less a fantasy. It has, rather, a Socratic purpose. It permits us to think, with all of our neurons, especially those of intelligence, of the significance of this new discourse and the challenges of new policies—not in its ends, but in its means, which are those which count in politics. This policy is based, for the first time since the Kennedy era half a century ago, in a clear, long-term strategy, that is not built on threat and force; and even if it naturally responds to the interests of the United States as a power, it does so through a dialogue rationale, since it recognizes Cuba, for the first time, as a legitimate interlocutor. It is a very different strategy than that which encouraged conflict until 2014 and it is not formulated as a will or a simple personal legacy, but from a consensus among the command organs of US foreign policy, that is, as a raison d’ Etat. To the extent that it is defined as such, it is not stated in a secret memorandum (as it was in the Kennedy and Carter eras), but in a single public document, which has no equivalent towards any other nation in the region. Given this condition, it is unlikely that it will leave the scene along with the Obama administration, but rather will more likely become the mother of future policies towards Cuba. This imagined presidential speech could also give rise, from the Cuban side, to reasoning and arguments that will not be limited to express ideological convictions of each one; or to retort to the “truth” of the American president and their new policies for Cuba; or only to repeat the diplomatic response that the island’s government is so able to do effectively and forcefully. I think of other speeches more like a letter or a conversation, that many Cubans could address to their neighbors to the North, with the simple purpose of making themselves known as they are, following the advise of the ancient Athenian philosopher. Those are Cubans with the capacity and criterion to construct well-founded arguments, who would be able to explain their truths about the Cuba where they live and think and discuss, with their own reason and vibrant diversity. If we imagine useful bridges between the genuine national interests of the two shores, there is nobody like these Cubans to build them, and also to defend them.

Vedado, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, October 20th, 2016, National Culture Day.

Translated by: Sasha Zients