What Is the Meaning of Obama’s “Normalization” of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba and the Partial Lifting of the Embargo?


Decision comes after more than
53 years of military, economic
and diplomatic attempts by the
U.S. government to overturn the
revolutionary process in Cuba


 On December 17, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the "normalization" of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the lifting of several restrictions on personal, economic and financial activities imposed by the U.S. government in January 1961, when the blockade was enacted. This "normalization," Obama said, was the result of 18 months of negotiations among Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama, and Pope Francis.
APTOPIX Vatican Pope Obama
What is the meaning of this retreat by U.S. imperialism in relation to an embargo that has strangled the Cuban Revolution for the past 53 years?
In trade union and left-wing political circles around the world, but especially in Latin America, Obama's decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba was hailed as an unmitigated “victory” -- a “historic triumph” for the Cuban government and the Cuban Revolution.
There is some truth to this assertion, but the characterization of "historic triumph" is unilateral. Moreover, by not warning of the dangers that now threaten the gains of the Cuban Revolution -- primarily the dismantling of social ownership of the means of production and the monopoly over foreign trade -- these political forces may actually be tail-ending the new policies that imperialism has in store for Cuba.
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Failed U.S. Policy Over Five Decades . . .

What is true is that the 53 years of attempts by U.S. imperialism to overthrow the revolutionary process in Cuba have failed. These efforts include the attempted military invasion at Playa Giron in April 1961 (Bay of Pigs invasion), an attempted invasion that was smashed by the armed resistance of the Cuban people; the economic blockade; the creation and support to armed anti-Castro groups on Cuban soil; the sustained sabotage of economic and civilian installations; the infiltration of spies; the burning/destruction of sugarcane fields; the attempts to assassinate the revolution’s main leaders; the violation of Cuba’s air and sea space by U.S. airplanes and warships; and the provocation of the October 1962 Missile Crisis. . . . All these attempts failed.
In his speech, Obama defended U.S. policy toward Cuba over the past five decades but acknowledged its failure, stating: “Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. . . . But though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation has joined us in imposing these sanctions.”
What is also true is that it was a victory when the Obama administration was compelled to free the last three of five Cuban political prisoners in the United States known as the “Cuban Five.” Securing their freedom has long been a campaign of democratic-rights activists in the United States and across the Americas.
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. . . Sets Stage for a Tactical Shift
So, in the face of this failure of U.S. policy toward Cuba, it became necessary for U.S. imperialism to shift its tactics and adopt new policies that could produce the result that has been, and remains, the overarching goal of U.S. policymakers: regime change and the change of Cuba’s economic system. Of course, Obama did not state this goal explicitly in his speech, preferring instead to talk about “promoting our values” and “empowering the Cuban people.”
A “fact sheet” issued by the White House in conjunction with Obama’s speech defines more precisely what is meant by promoting U.S. "values" when it talks about “providing alternative . . . opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.”
Cuba, the White House statement notes, has implemented economic reforms in recent years that have produced positive results, but these must be deepened. "A policy of engagement will foster the necessary reforms."
An article in the December 18 Wall Street Journal cited Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Blake in this same vein. Blake, who traveled to Cuba with Democratic congressmen to obtain the release of U.S. spy Alan Gross, said: "Every day there are more Republicans who realize that the policy we have adopted over the past 50 years has done nothing but keep the Castro regime in power. They realize that we must do something different to weaken the Communist regime."
Pressure on Cuba to dismantle nationalized industries and state services will accelerate. The 500,000 public-sector jobs placed on the chopping block by the "liberalization" of the public sector initiated by Raul Castro in 2009 shows that the process of attacking the conquests of the revolution is already underway.
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The White House statement underscores the pressures to come: “The policy changes will make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba's nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”
These free-market “reforms” will have devastating consequences in a country where, according to Carlos Alonso Zaldívar, former Cuban Ambassador to Spain, “six million out of 11.5 million Cubans depend on social protection in the form of pensions and subsidized services and products, while 68 percent of the national budget goes to social spending. Given this reality, millions of Cubans rightfully fear that the new market openings will reduce, if not totally end, this social spending. These millions will resist the proposed changes.” (El País, Spain, January 1, 2015)
The Continental Dimension of the Shift in U.S. Policy Toward Cuba
Another key factor in Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba is the current isolation of the U.S. government on the Latin American political scene and its need, to quote Obama’s speech of December 17, to assert “renewed U.S. leadership in the Americas.”
Given the growing crisis of U.S. domination worldwide, especially in the Middle East, Obama has set out to promote greater U.S.-controlled “stability” in its own backyard. The emergence of the Bolivarian Alliance countries (ALBA); the unwillingness of the Chavista regime in Venezuela to bend to U.S. dictates; the election of populist presidents in Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay; the re-election of Dilma following her pledges to assert Brazilian sovereignty . . . all these have been thorns in the side of U.S. imperialism. And these thorns have dug in deeper as a result of the United States’ refusal to lift the embargo on Cuba and to allow Cuba to participate in the various Summits of the Americas organized by the Organization of American States (OAS).
At the 6th Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, 2012, the United States was totally isolated and discredited in relation to Cuba in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the delegates. The U.S. government’s refusal to allow Cuba to participate in the Summit (using its veto power) was backed by only two countries: Panama and Canada.
In the face of the threat of the ALBA countries to boycott the 7th Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama on April 10-11, 2015, the Panamanian government, one of Obama’s two allies, bucked its U.S. sponsor and invited Cuba to attend the Summit. This occurred prior to Obama’s normalization speech. Some Latin American specialists argue that Panama’s invitation to Cuba may have forced Obama’s hand, prompting him to make his Cuba normalization announcement when he did.
According to the website of the OAS, “Obama has announced that he will attend the Panama Summit and is looking forward to joining Raúl Castro in Panama to confront, together, the challenges facing the countries of the Americas.” In his December 17 speech, Obama said as much: “This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future. And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.”
There can be no doubt that Obama and the U.S. government will be pressing the Cuban leadership to help them stabilize the situation througout the hemisphere in the interest of U.S. imperialism. This is underscored by Obama’s insistence that U.S.-funded “civil society” organizations in Cuba must also be present at the Summit in Panama and that all must adhere to the capitalist, “free market” Inter-American Charter. (There is a reason that Fidel Castro repeatedly characterized the OAS, the sponsor of these various Summits, as a “Trojan Horse of U.S. Imperialism.”)
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“Respecting Cuban Sovereignty?”
Again, this new orientation by U.S. imperialism is couched in the most “progressive” of terms, as when Obama stated, “We can never erase the history between us, but we believe today that the Cuban people should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination."
Who can believe that Obama and U.S. imperialism will respect the self-determination of the Cuban people when around the world -- from Venezuela to Palestine to Haiti -- Obama is trampling upon the most fundamental rights of peoples to self-determination?
Take the case of Venezuela: On December 18, a day after he made his statement on Cuba, Obama signed a law passed earlier by the U.S. Congress that imposes sanctions on Venezuela for “violating the democratic rights of the forces opposing the government of Nicolás Maduro."
What hypocrisy! It was the Obama administration that financed and orchestrated the terrorist actions of the anti-Chavista groups, continuing the policy of George W. Bush, who organized the failed coup against Hugo Chávez on April 11, 2002. These "opposition forces" were the ones that murdered Venezuelan workers and students with their street blockades and that sought to bring down, with this chaos, the Maduro government -- a policy that failed!
With regard to Palestine, it is U.S. imperialism which, together with the Zionist State, has financed and promoted the offensive against the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. It is U.S. imperialism that has supported -- and continues to support -- the blockade of Gaza!
And in relation to Haiti, Obama has maintained his support for the 10-year-old, UN-backed MINUSTAH occupation of Haiti that is responsible for untold deaths and the suppression of all democratic and political rights in Haiti. It is the U.S. government that has financed and imposed all the corrupt regimes, including the current Martelly regime, which is universally despised by the Haitian people. It’s Obama who continues to back a murderous government that shoots on its people, with the aid of U.N. troops, when they demand, “Down with Martelly! MINUSTAH Troops Out of Haiti Now!”
Obama has no right to demand anything of the nations and peoples of Latin America. In fact, when he insists that the Cuban delegation to the 7th Summit of the Americas must include U.S.-funded civil society organizations, he is, once more, violating the sovereign right of the Cuban government to decide who will represent its nation at international gatherings.
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A Policy of “Engagement,” But Not the Lifting of the Embargo
This must be stressed and repeated: The new policy of "engagement" does not mean the lifting of the embargo, and nor does it mean that the U.S. government will close its torture base in Guantanamo. According to the White House, what’s involved are simply the "first step toward the liberalization of trade relations between the two countries."
The U.S. government will help the nascent private sector in Cuba obtain special permits to promote the growth of U.S. exports, particularly agricultural exports, to Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be able to open offices in Cuba. Cuba will also be removed from the State Department’s list of countries that "support terrorism." This will enable the international financial institutions (IMF, WTO, World Bank, etc.) to grant "financial assistance" to Cuba ... with the “conditionalities,” of course, that Cuba institute “reforms” to its economy and that it implement the Structural Adjustment Policies demanded by these institutions should it fall behind on the repayment of the loans.
In his speech, Obama made it clear that the embargo was adopted as law by the U.S. Congress and its repeal, therefore, can only result from a vote by Congress. In other words, with the new Republican-dominated Congress, we should not expect an end to the embargo any time soon. What we can expect, though, is that the promise of lifting the embargo will be wielded to extract more and more concessions from the Cuban leadership.
The demand for the total, immediate and unconditional lifting of the embargo is therefore still very much on the agenda. This must be coupled with the call to close the U.S. military base in Guantanamo and to respect the sovereignty and self-determination of the Cuban people and nation, which means defending the gains of the Cuban Revolution -- first and foremost the defense of social property, which is now more threatened than ever.
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