Few nations feel the fallout of a U.S election more than the island of Cuba, just ninety miles away, where millions have never known life without a U.S. bloqueo hanging over their heads.
During the height of the Cold War, bringing down the Castro government, which was closely allied to the Soviet Bloc, was a matter of national security. But after the Berlin Wall fell, Cuba no longer mattered. As long as Cuba wasn’t exporting revolution, serving as a hub for narco-traffickers, or gushing U.S.-bound rafter refugees, it no longer mattered whether U.S. policy objectives and tactics were realistic, effective or even in the national interest.
From President Reagan to President Obama and the various Republican contenders who sought to replace him (including presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney), Cuba is a pit stop on the Florida campaign trail, and little else. How else to explain Mitt Romney’s unfortunate “Patria o muerte, venceremos!” gaffe before a disgusted crowd of Cuban Americans during a 2007 campaign stop, when some careless campaign staffer must have thought it’d be great to throw in a beloved Cuban expression to win fans in electoral-vote rich South Florida, but instead just fanned the flames of insult to injury by arming Romney with that famous Fidel Castro sign-off. And of course, in the crucial election years of 2004 and 2006, President George W. Bush empaneled lofty commissions to plan every last detail of a Cuban transition to market democracy, and then update the plan, none of which has come to pass. And though President Obama promised a “new beginning” with Cuba early in his presidency, it’s amounted to not too much more than a new beginning with potential swing Cuban American voters keen on visiting their families in Cuba whenever they like. It was Barack Obama in 2004, by the way, who said in no uncertain terms that it was time for the U.S. to lift its embargo of Cuba.
(On the flopped ‘new beginning’ some will point to Cuba’s imprisonment of an American USAID subcontractor, Alan Gross, for more than two years as the end of the new beginning. And while I think the Cuban government could and should show clemency toward Gross - and now a critic on the other side will say the U.S. could and should show clemency toward the Cuban Five - one cannot ignore the reality that the Obama administration’s continuation and stubborn defense of USAID democracy programs beefed up under the Bush administration that snuck Americans onto the island without host country consent to break that country’s laws, whatever we might think of them, might have played a role, a big one, in all of this.)
Obama’s approach, precisely because it seeks to cater to a more moderate segment of Florida’s electoral pool, is less strident and more reasonable than that of his predecessor, who was instead maximizing the hard-line faithful. And yet, more reasonable doesn’t necessarily mean Cuba matters more to the current occupant of the White House any more than it did to the last. President Bush was willing to separate families, while President Obama seems oblivious to the historic changes in Cuba underway today, both because real events and impacts on the island aren’t the point. Domestic political advantage is.
Perhaps that is why this pointed commentary from the internationally acclaimed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, reflecting on Obama’s pragmatism and reminding us that while Cuba may not matter to the U.S., U.S. elections always matter in Cuba, may not cause a much-needed course correction in a Romney or Obama White House come 2013.