Sarah Stephens: “I think the hardliners in the U.S. will have a fight on their hands if they try to drag U.S.-Cuba relations back into the era of the Cold War”.

Foto: Andrew Harnik

What is your analysis of the conditions in which the US government has taken these measures? Do you think these measures are appropriate?

I am concerned about the health of U.S. diplomats, the future of U.S.-Cuba relations, and the actions of U.S. hardliners to disrupt the normalization process before the evidence is in about what happened to our personnel stationed in Havana.

The safety of diplomats stationed on foreign soil is protected by international agreement and preserved by practices of host governments. The foreign policy interests of the United States and Cuba, each with extensive global relations, both benefit from this principle. Consequently, both governments must work together to determine the cause of the problem, honestly and openly, and then take steps to address it. That itself is an argument for more engagement, not less.

I completely disagree with the actions already being taken by the U.S. government to punish Cuba before we know who was harmed, how they were harmed, who harmed them, and why.

By suggesting it is unsafe to visit Cuba, before the evidence is in, creates a self-fulfilling prophesy that moves U.S. travelers to cancel plans to visit the island, to visit family, to vacation, and or conduct business. By adding the insinuation, they are vulnerable to attacks from a Cold War era adversary, the effects on U.S. travelers, the Cuban economy, and U.S.-Cuba relations will be devastating.

This kind of “sentence first-verdict afterward” approach reflects no concern for the health of U.S. diplomats but only the goal of foreign policy hardliners in the White House and Congress to undermine efforts to normalize relations and to return U.S. policy to its Cold War origins.

What could be the consequences of the current state of relations for different non-state actors in both countries?

For generations, the U.S. embargo made it incredibly difficult for U.S. and Cuban counterparts – universities, the scientific community, Cuban enterprises and U.S. corporations and private citizens – to exchange and cooperate. The decision by Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama to normalize relations enabled literally thousands of experts and idealists from both countries to work together, learn from each other, and raise their collaboration to a higher level. This, in turn, helped to demonstrate to a broader American audience that Cuba can be a friend, not an enemy, that Cuba was a source of ideas and progress and breakthroughs, and tore away some of the mystery that the hardliners sought to preserve to prevent the people of our two countries from coming together.

Engagement is in the interests of both countries, but the relationship is new and inherently fragile. Achieving full normalization will take efforts by both countries to move together in the right direction. Pushed to the extreme, this effort to rupture the normalization process will harm the interests of both countries, and be a setback for the principles, values, and ideals we share. Such a step, to paraphrase Talleyrand, will be worse than a crime, it will be a blunder.

Do you believe that the political will of both governments exists to overcome this obstacle, or is it the beginning of the deterioration (again) of the bilateral relationship?

I cannot, of course, speak for the Cuban government. In the U.S. we are dealing with the consequences of the last election that put the opponents of Obama administration’s engagement policy toward Cuba in positions of power in the White House and the leadership of both houses of Congress. This is happening in the U.S. in Cuba policy, health care, civil rights, social justice, and U.S. relations with the world. We’ve seen and are dealing with the results and will be for some time.

But times have changed, I think the hardliners in the U.S. will have a fight on their hands if they try to drag U.S.-Cuba relations back into the era of the Cold War. Engagement with Cuba is popular in the United States. Even after the 2016 election, more than seventy percent of the U.S. public approved of diplomatic relations with Cuba and ending the embargo against island. Strong majorities in the Cuban American community oppose the embargo, favor increased economic activity, and want unrestricted travel between our countries. Fifty-five members of the U.S. Senate publicly support ending the ban on travel to Cuba. The U.S. business community, those with investments in Cuba and those seeking to do business in Cuba, want the opening to remain in place.

In the short-term, the hardliners in the White House and the Congress are likely to get their way. In the long-term, the U.S. public wants engagement to continue and wants to realize the full benefits of normal relations, and they will prevail.

How would this conflict influence the new Cuban government to assume in 2018, and vice versa?

It is true that both nations, unfortunately, are chained to a history of animosity and old habits are hard to break; when the U.S. treats Cuba like an adversary, the Cuban government knows how to protect its interests and it acts accordingly. That is what sovereign powers do.

In the U.S., non-state actors must highlight the benefits of engagement and highlight the damage that a rupture in relations will do to the interests of the U.S. government and the American people.


La “guerra de los decibeles”: hablan los expertos

William M. LeoGrande: “La verdadera motivación de estas duras sanciones es la oposición del gobierno Trump a la política del presidente Barack Obama de normalizar las relaciones con Cuba”

William M. LeoGrande: “The real motivation for such harsh sanctions is the Trump administration’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba”

Domingo Amuchástegui: “Lo que buscan es el colapso económico, político y social en Cuba”

Carlos Alzugaray: “La Administración Trump estaba buscando la excusa para tomar medidas agresivas que redujeran a cero los intercambios diplomáticos”.

Richard Feinberg y Harold Trinkunas: “La hostilidad hacia Cuba perjudica a los intereses de Estados Unidos”

Michael J. Bustamante: “Me cuesta trabajo entender la expulsión de los diplomáticos cubanos”

Geoff Thale: “El tamaño del recorte del personal diplomático se parece mucho a una medida de castigo, no a una de seguridad”

Geoff Thale: “The size of the personnel cut looks a lot like a punitive measure, not a safety one”

Michael Camilleri: “Ha ocurrido un deterioro significativo en las relaciones bilaterales y parece probable que permanezca durante toda la Administración Trump”

Sarah Stephens: “Los de línea dura en Estados Unidos tendrán un problema entre manos si tratan de arrastrar las relaciones bilaterales hacia la Guerra Fría”.

Paul W. Hare: “Rusia, China, Irán y otros estarán consolidando sus relaciones con Cuba, mientras Estados Unidos vuelve a su papel de adversario”

Paul W. Hare: “Russia, China, Iran and others will be eagerly consolidating their relations as the US returns to its role of adversary”

Randy Pestana: “El presidente Trump sintió la necesidad de traer a los republicanos cubanos de “línea dura” a su lado”

Randy Pestana: “President Trump felt it necessary to bring in the hardline Cuba republicans to his side”

Arturo López-Levy: “Raúl Castro caminó “la milla extra” para no ser responsable por dinámicas de ruptura”

Emily Mendrala: “La forma en que se llevaron a cabo las expulsiones de los diplomáticos cubanos sugiere la presencia de influencia política por parte de los que se oponen a un mayor compromiso entre personas y empresas de Estados Unidos y Cuba”.

Emily Mendrala: “The manner in which the expulsions were carried out suggests political influence from those who oppose increased engagement between U.S. and Cuban people and businesses”.

Ted Henken: “Me parece muy precipitada y agresiva la medida de obligar a la Embajada de Cuba en Washington a reducir sustancialmente su presencia diplomática en Estados Unidos”.

Sobre los autores
Sarah Stephens 2 Artículos escritos
la Directora Ejecutiva y fundadora del “Centro para la Democracia en las Américas” y Directora de la “Plataforma Atlántica de Innovación y Narrativa”, un proyecto que creó junto a The Atlantic Philanthropies para enfocarse en Cuba. Desde ...
Luis Carlos Battista 36 Artículos escritos
La Habana (1988). Licenciado en Derecho por la Universidad de La Habana y en Relaciones Internacionales por Florida International University (FIU). Ha publicado sobre las relaciones exteriores de Cuba y Estados Unidos en espacios como OnCuba Magazine...

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