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October 18, 2016

Obama’s Policy Directive and Cuba-U.S. Relations, Nino Pagliccia

Obama’s Policy Directive and Cuba-U.S. Relations

17 October 2016

Today 17 October 2016 the new amendments to the U.S. sanctions on Cuba will come into effect. The announcement came three days ago from the U.S. treasury Department. On that same day the Obama administration released the accompanying document titled “Presidential Policy Directive – United States-Cuba Normalization.”
Understanding and implementing the nuts and bolts of the amendments expected to soften the commercial, economic and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the U.S. on 7 February 1962, will take some time. But it may be interesting to look at Obama’s policy directive related to this set of amendments.
In large part the document does not reflect a different vision from what Obama had laid out in his announcement of 17 December 2014 [1] or his speech in Havana on 22 March 2016. [2] However, this document seems to be addressed to members of Congress to reassure them that the changes and upcoming amendments do not represent a threat to the legislators that still support U.S. sanctions on Cuba.
In fact, from the beginning the directive states “The vision of the United States for U.S.-Cuba normalization is guided by the … national security interests, as described in the 2015 National Security Strategy.” It is followed by a litany of phrases about “universal values”, “rules-based international order”, “access to Cuban markets” by U.S. businesses, and the standard pitch for private sector in Cuba. Ultimately, it says, “Our policy is designed to support Cubans' ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Although Obama recognizes that Cuba and the U.S. differ on the subject, it is hard to disregard the arrogance of that statement knowing how much Cuba has done for Cubans in human rights. Precisely to make up for human rights abuses from the U.S. before 1959.
Since 17 December 2014 there have been some changes in Cuba-U.S. relations such as re-opening of mutual embassies, direct flights and mail delivery, and telecommunication advances. The priority objectives for the medium-term U.S.-Cuba relationship listed by Obama are six. Their interpretation must take into account the track record of U.S. foreign policy in the region:
1. Government-to-Government Interaction. This is an interaction that is already going on between the two states in regular bilateral meetings of commissions covering an array of topics.
2. Engagement and Connectivity. Linkages via Internet has been a main goal for the U.S. particularly with Cuban youth.
3. Expanded Commerce. There seem to be a welcome recognition of “the priority given to state-owned enterprises in the Cuban Model.” However, the goal is “to encourage reforms.”
4. Economic Reform. The direction of these reforms is certainly towards a capitalist free-market economy.
5. Respect for Universal Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, and Democratic Values. This paragraph starts with the sentence, “We will not pursue regime change in Cuba.” This is hard to believe! The first policy statement of the Torricelli Act (Cuban Democracy Act) that is currently part of the U.S. blockade of Cuba says: “It should be the policy of the United States–(1) to seek a peaceful transition to democracy.” [3] As far as we know there has been no formal retraction from the intention of regime change in Cuba. The regime changes pursued by the U.S. government in recent years in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela speak more loudly than a simple statement.
Neither has there been a retraction from false statements such as Cuba’s “military interventions and subversive activities throughout the world”, Cuba’s “suppression of dissent through intimidation, imprisonment, and exile”, or its “involvement in narcotics trafficking.” The Helms-Burton Law (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996) has even more serious made-up accusations: “threats from the Castro government of terrorism, theft of property from United States nationals by the Castro government.” [4] Regime change attempts may well be the most serious risk that Cuba will have to fend off in the near future.
6. Cuban Integration into International and Regional Systems. There is only one reference to the Organization of American States (OAS), and no mention that Cuba is already “integrated” into ALBA and CELAC. These last two international bodies exclude the U.S. membership and therefore are not seen favorably.
On the issue of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station that is one of Cuba’s priorities for normalizing the relationship with the U.S., Obama’s directive reiterates what we already knew, “The United States Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.”
On the “embargo”, Obama states, “My Administration has repeatedly called on the Congress to lift the embargo.” However, his conviction fails when he says “Even if the U.S. Congress were to lift the embargo, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued economic reform in Cuba.” The U.S. hopes to be the instigator of those reforms as stated above.
The analysis of the presidential policy directive cannot conclude without a reference to the roles and responsibilities within the U.S. government. One in particular must be mentioned: The U.S. Department of State “will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming” in Cuba. This is a reference to the dreaded USAID, well known for its illegal interventions through “independent” contractors!
This will likely be the last of Obama’s undertaking related to Cuba as he is on his last few weeks as president of the United States. Historians will consider the new U.S.-Cuba relations as part of his legacy in foreign policy in this hemisphere. The impact on Cuba is yet to be determined and it will largely depend on who will be the next president and his/her priorities. We do know one thing for sure, for the U.S. to have a normalized relationship with Cuba the blockade must be totally lifted and the occupied territory of Guantanamo must be returned to Cuba.
Finally, we need to ask: Can this policy directive give us an idea of what will the U.S. position be on the upcoming Cuban resolution at the UN “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” on October 27? [5]
The timing of issuing this policy directive is interesting being so close to that date. How will U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers vote?
We only have a vague reference to the Cuban resolution: “The USUN [U.S. Mission to the United Nations] will also participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the United Nations, as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”
Will the U.S. and Israel be the only countries voting against Cuba’s resolution again? We will only know on October 27.

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Nino Pagliccia

NINO PAGLICCIA has two Master’s Degrees from Stanford University and is a retired researcher on Canada-Cuba collaborative projects at the University of British Columbia. He has published many peer-reviewed journal articles and has contributed chapters to books on topics about Cuba, the Cuban healthcare system and solidarity. He has been a long-time activist and has organized groups to do voluntary work in Cuba for almost 15 years.

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