Fifty Years After the Beginning of the Embargo, Obama Has the Key / Iván García

Half a century ago, on October 19, 1960, Eisenhower ordered the seizure of goods to the island to begin. Just two months later, on January 3, 1961, Cuba and the United States broke off diplomatic relations. A year later, on February 3, 1962, Kennedy signed the document that formalized and extended the trade and economic embargo against Cuba.

It is the chronological summary of two countries which, in the first 59 years of the twentieth century, had maintained good relations, always with a strong American presence in all spheres of national life.

Fifty years later, from a Cuba ruled by two authoritarian elders who have never adapted to the end of the Cold War, you can not expect miracles.

By their own initiative, the Castros will never make profound political and economic reform. They have become a pair of dinosaurs, and in the words democracy, internet and globalization they see an imperialist monster.

As for any who oppose them, they accuse them of being paid in gold by Washington. Breaking the inertia and creating a climate of dialogue and trust with their government is not easy. They are textbook paranoids.

But we must try. The fragmented internal opposition, as well as having their hands tied by the regime, is more about making noise, gossiping and undertaking extravagant projects, than presenting worthy ideas.

If the U.S. think tanks are salivating over the idea that in Cuba people will be thrown into the streets by the harsh economic measures, they may be disappointed.

It will hardly happen. What could happen, with the intensifying the domestic situation, is that in a massive and disorganized way, thousands of Cubans may throw themselves in the sea on top of anything that floats, heading towards the coasts of Florida.

A stampede the Americans don’t want. So, other alternatives to release pressure and keep the pot from blowing its lid have been tried. Madrid has tried, through its Foreign Minister Moratinos, to look for a gap in the Castros’ wall of mistrust and fear. To date, he succeeded in getting the release of 52 political prisoners. That is no small thing.

But it’s the United States that the brothers want as a partner of dialogue. For reasons of historical, geographical and political reality. Obama continues playing deaf.

Beaten down by a severe crisis that has gripped the pockets of consumers, an economy that does not recover, a number of unemployed that remains in the red, November elections in which Democrats are fighting hard, and a wayward and dangerous Middle East, it’s natural that the American president pays no attention to the conversational desires of former guerrillas.

The tenant of the White House barely cares about the problem of Cuba. But he should pay attention. It is a much simpler case than the other conflicts on his agenda. All he has to do is pick up the phone to chat with them. He can do nothing. But only through consideration of lifting the embargo and repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act can he initiate the beginning of the end of the olive-green dictatorship.

The embargo, for the simple reason that it is the hackneyed excuse of the Castro regime to justify its poor economic performance and pass on the responsibility for everything that doesn’t work in the entire country to the old “blockade.”

To abolish the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants automatic residence to Cubans who touch U.S. soil, would be a strategic move to prevent a mass exodus.

When America ceases to be the “enemy,” then the regime will have two choices: open and urgently needed changes, or drop the mask and continue its personal rule, without freedom, without concessions to the opposition, without presidential elections.

At times, politics is easier than it looks. Between the two countries there is no secular hatred, nor have there been any major wars. Only imperial cravings from the 19th century to the 20th, and a clumsy and almost always outlandish diplomacy.

The White House has in its hands the potential to stimulate a package of political and economic reforms in Cuba. For now, the key is still in a drawer in the Oval Office. For now, Obama prefers to leave it there.

Photo: Pete Souza, official photographer of the White House. Obama straightens a picture in the Oval Office on May 10, 2010. Taken from The White House’s Photostream on Flickr.

October 23, 2010