Will the Sun Rise in Cuba?
Every day the sun rises in the east, and we awaken and prepare for a day that isn’t significantly different than yesterday. However once in a while, a new perspective opens – suddenly and without warning – completely changing the world in one day.
A new dawn appeared when US President Obama and Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro, announced the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries. For Americans and Cubans, this dramatic development is as extraordinary a political event as the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Exactly how things will change in Cuba and the US is as yet unclear, but they will certainly change, quickly and drastically. For 50 years, there has been no contact between the two countries, even covert communications. During the last 18 months, however, secret negotiations between the two countries have been ongoing, hosted by Canada. While Canadian officials didn’t participate in the meetings, providing a neutral setting for talks between the two countries was critical.
Essential assistance for this historic announcement came finally from the Vatican, which President Obama visited last March. With the Pope as a guiding hand, Cuban and American officials met at the Vatican in October, and the deal to defrost the frozen relations between the countries was announced on Wednesday, December 17, after a telephone call between President Obama and Raúl Castro.
While relations between the US and Brazil have been weak lately after reaching a low point when President Dilma Rousseff canceled a State visit to the US in 2013 over revelations of spying by the US in Brazil, it appears the US/Cuba deal has put the US back in good favor with Brazil.
“We never thought we would see this moment,” said Dilma. She called the tie with Cuba “a moment which marks a change in civilization.”
Even President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Cuba’s main financial patron, and no friend of the US said, “We have to recognize the gesture of President Barack Obama, a brave gesture and historically necessary, perhaps the most important step of his presidency,” Mr. Maduro said.
Immediately after the historic announcement, Cubans began lining up for tourist visas to visit their relatives in the US, most of them concentrated in the Miami and New York metropolitan areas. The US is expected to open an Embassy in Havana soon. It’s only recently, with the passing of the torch from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl, that Cubans have been allowed to leave Cuba.
US/Cuba relations, or the lack thereof, have been a problem for decades among Latin American nations. In the simplistic foreign policy doctrine of “a friend of my enemy is my enemy”, countries must exercise caution when establishing trade or diplomatic relations with Cuba for fear of angering the US. The continuing exclusion of Cuba from major regional summits at the request of the United States has been met with sustained opposition from across Latin America, and the US-Cuba relationship became a rallying point for opposition to US foreign policy.
Even strong US allies, such as Colombia and Chile, have criticized US efforts to block Cuba from diplomatic and trade negotiations. The April Summit of the Americas will represent the first Summit in which the United States and Cuba have normalized relations. Argentina and Brazil could use this as an opportunity to engage diplomatically with the United States, particularly in trade.
Dilma has been more reserved than Lula in her relations with Cuba, probably in an effort to create stronger ties with the US. However, Brazil also has significant investments in Cuba’s new port at Mariel, which opened in January 2014. Should the trade embargo between Cuba and the US be lifted, Mariel is ideally situated to handle US cargoes.
Venezuela, which supplies 100,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba, has faced a similar dilemma in its relationship to the US. Some analysts suggest that the delicate economic and political atmosphere currently in Venezuela was one of the reasons Cuba was eager to open a door to the US.
With the opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, Brazil no longer needs to worry about friction with the US because of its Mariel investment. This has to be a relief for Brazil’s foreign policy considerations, as the US is still Brazil’s second largest trading partner.
Foreign countries that invest in business in Cuba must sign an agreement that creates a joint venture with the Cuban government. Venezuela is the only country allowed to have 100 percent ownership of a business inside Cuba.
The opening of Cuba should provide a tremendous boost of new opportunities for the Cuba population – everything from cellphones and Internet access to increased income from tourism. Additionally, the US will benefit from the opening with Cuba, for example in the field of medicine, where Cuba is known to excel in vaccine development.
There may also arise opportunities for professional athletes in Cuba to play in the US, which would benefit both countries. Professional sports do not exist in Cuba. About 1,500 Cuban coaches are working in more than 70 countries, in effect rented out by the government, but not to the US. “Not only sports, but almost everything in life is going to be better,” said Julio César la Cruz, 25, a two-time world light-heavyweight boxing champion, whose sentiment is being repeated often in Cuba among boxers and officials.
It will be interesting to observe how the image of Cuba will be altered following this historic breakthrough. Cuba will no longer be seen as a forbidden island without US favor. For example, until now, there have been no direct flights from the US to Cuba, and there is very little media coverage of Cuba available to Americans.
With the opening of Cuba, the largest and most populated island of the Caribbean region (pop: 11 million), there will be an opportunity to study the lessons of the Cuban revolution. One lesson: Cubans are known for their racial tolerance.
Like Cuba, Brazil has a more racially open society than the US. The mixing of races in Brazil – black, white, native – has created a conglomerate of cultures. Having spent hundreds of years under the control of the Portuguese monarchy, Brazilians are more acutely aware of the oppression of inequality. After slavery was abolished in Brazil, it was not unusual for whites to marry blacks. In the US, it wasn’t until the 1960s that whites and blacks were permitted to marry.
Cuba is also known for its equality in the workforce between men and women. In Brazil, sexual equality is still to be realized; however, the situation has been improving significantly in recent decades. Today, 57 percent of university students in Brazil are female.
Enormous social changes, like those that occurred in Cuba’s revolution, take a long time to reach fruition, and women in Brazil still suffer from income disparity with men. Despite having a female president, there is a shortage of women in politics.
The Cuban revolution has not only affected the culture of Cuba, but had an influence on the political thinking of the rest of Latin American as well. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s revolution influenced the politics of Lula and Dilma. In the more conservative reports from the US, Dilma is referred to as a “former Marxist guerilla.” (Guerrilla is the slang term for revolutionaries who oppose capitalism.)
As in Cuba, the role of women in Brazil is changing as they become more educated. With education comes independence, and today we see Brazil’s first generation with a majority of women working outside the home. In only one generation, the entire country has altered the role/function/position of half its population – women.
Some Americans and Cubans said there would never be diplomatic relations, as the two countries have such different economic views: capitalism versus communism. However, this situation is about to change. The hero of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, were he still alive, would certainly be surprised to see friendly relations between Cuba and the US. However, Che’s brother, Martin Guevara, is still alive and living in Buenos Aires. When asked for his reaction to the news, Guevara said he thought Cuba would embrace capitalism and that tourism will be a major area for investment, although he expects the changes to come slowly.
Many in Cuba are celebrating this unexpected and abrupt change. In a country struggling with poverty and a lack of contact with the world outside Cuba, change is welcome. Only time will tell if capitalism and consumerism bring Cubans a better life. While scientists assure us the sun will never rise in the west, there’s a new dawn awaiting the Cuban people.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.