Cuban Revolution was a source of inspiration for many across the Latin America and around the globe. The anti-imperialist words and actions of Fidel Castro electrified the world. However, the recent attempts for normalizations of the U.S.-Cuba relations have allowed many critics around the globe to bring forward two crucial questions. Why did the Cuban regime decide to normalize the relations? Has the Raul Castro regime traded the spirit of the Cuban revolution with the development of capitalism inside Cuba?
The relationship between Cuba and the U.S. was strained when the U.S.’s Dwight David Eisenhower administration placed an arms embargo on Cuba in 1960 in reaction to the successful armed revolution led by Fidel Castro deposing the pro-U.S. Batista regime in 1959. The arms embargo was followed by full-blown economic sanctions a year later. These sanctions only got worsened in 1962 when Cuba allowed Soviet missiles to be based on its shores.
Sensing an economic disaster resulting from the sanctions, Cuba quickly sought assistance from the Soviet Union. Soviet Union, in response, guaranteed Cuba a reliable market for sugar and provided Cuba with credits and oil, part of which it re-sold on the world market for food. Cuban economy survived for quite a long on massive subsidies from Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s under the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Fidel Castro saw as one of the reasons of the collapse and never accepted him. There was massive fall in the subsidies because of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In such a hopeless scenario for the Cubans, Venezuela emerged as the new sponsor for Cuba, helping Cuba to pick up the pace of its economy again. Venezuela has been, for quite a long, aiding Cuba with almost two-thirds (100,000 barrels per day) of Cuba’s daily oil consumption. Venezuela has been providing Cuba with annual aid thought to be worth billions of dollars. In the meantime, relations between Cuba and Russia have again increased after Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. Russia has been Cuba’s leading creditor and the two countries maintain close economic ties with each other. Russia declared to forgive Cuba’s $35 billion debt, largely from Soviet era. In July 2009, Russia began oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico after signing a deal with Cuba and in 2014 announced deals to invest in Cuba’s offshore oil industry.
While the sanctions on Cuba were imposed with the intension of making Cuba kneel infront of the mighty U.S., the impact of the sanctions went otherwise. The sanctions failed to achieve the goal it was intended for, and the sanctions in reality pushed Cuba to forge alliances with the countries that has been hostile to the U.S. interest, and hence the closer ties with Soviet Union (previously), Russia and Venezuela. More than fifty years of unilateral sanctions and political hostility had only served to strengthen Cuba’s own relations with most countries around the world and to gain international recognition for Cuba’s humanitarian assistance and solidarity with Latin and socialist states.
Sensing the failure of sanctions policy against Cuba, the U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration decided to bring an end to such policy with regard to Cuba. Obama, on 17th December, 2014, announced a historical new policy toward Cuba, in a move to normalize relations and end sanctions. Already several steps has been taken by both sides towards normalization of relations, including prisoner swaps, opening of embassies on each other’s territories, relaxation on few sanctions by the U.S. and the U.S.’s attempt towards removing Cuba from the list of “state sponsor of terrorism.”
However, why would a regime like that of Cuba, which has sacrificed a lot for the socialist revolution and has been an example of anti-imperialist struggle, has moved away by a long distance from its revolutionary spirit? Cuba has been going ahead for the normalization of relationship with the U.S. in an incredibly faster pace. It seems Cuban Raul Castro regime is up for an all-out tie with the U.S. A number of reasons behind Castro regime’s decision to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relations are discussed hereafter.
Firstly, the price of oil in global market has fallen substantially and such fall is thought to be maliciously engineered by the U.S. and allies. Venezuela’s economy, which depends on oil for 96% of its foreign revenue, has been suffering for a while because of the fall in oil price. Moreover, the fall in oil price is also making weak the Russian economy, which already has been increasingly facing sanctions from the U.S. and its western allies. Weakening economic conditions of Russia and Venezuela mean a lack of these sponsors’ guaranteed economic support to Cuba — a calculation that have probably forced Cuba to re-establish its diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Secondly, Cuba supported the Sandinista-led revolution that toppled the US-backed dictatorship in Nicaragua and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which carried out an armed revolt against the US-backed juntas that ruled El Salvador. Cuba has also been supporting the FARC rebels of Colombia. Cuba, in 1982, was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S.’s Department of State because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America and Africa. Because of its inclusion in the list of state sponsor of terrorism, many foreign nationals and businesses had been discouraged to trade, invest and travel in Cuba. Banks had been reluctant to establish ties to Cuba partly because of its terror listing.
Therefore, one of the intentions of Cuban regime to normalize the relations is to get Cuba out of the terror listing. Indeed, the recent U.S.’s decision to remove Cuba from state terror list may ease trade, investment and travel. Moreover, banks will now become interested to serve trade, investment and travel customers for doing business in Cuba.
Third, the U.S. has been maintaining all-out sanctions on Cuba since 1960s. The sanctions have directly cost Cuba the opportunities to earn billions of dollars through exporting and investing in the U.S. market. The lifting of sanctions would enable Cuba to export Cuban goods in the U.S. and Cuban businesses would be able to invest in the U.S. market. Thereby, Cuba would be able to earn billions of dollars from the U.S. — an opportunity that Cuba has been losing because of the sanctions.
Fourth, the sanctions have been indirectly and partially affecting Cuba’s trade with the third countries, causing much damage to Cuban economy. The difficulties faced in trading with third countries caused by these sanctions would be eased once the sanctions imposed by the U.S. are lifted.
Fifth, in an era, where geopolitical realities may make places like Venezuela and the Middle East less reliable sources of oil for the U.S.’s need of energy consumption, an energy supplier right next door to the U.S. would be just the ideal destination for meeting such needs of the U.S. The Cuban regime knows this very well and wants to capitalize on this reality. Cuba has already begun exploratory drilling in search of oil in its territorial waters, with some reports estimating the island could become a major producer and refiner of oil over the next 10 years.
Sixth, in order to become a member of the World Bank, a country must first join the IMF. The votes in IMF would be very crucial for Cuba’s membership in IMF because of the voting structure of the IMF. At the same time, the Helms Burton law of the U.S. requires the U.S. to vote against Cuban membership in IMF and World Bank. Therefore, resolving this issue in favour of Cuba will require amending or repealing Helms-Burton by the U.S. The normalization of the relations would just do what the Cuba is looking for in this regard.
Lastly, it is important to understand what good is there for the Castro regime itself in the normalization of relations. Communist Party of China (CPC) has been in power for quite a long and oversaw the transition of China from an era of total communism to an era of total capitalism. The CPC consolidated its power through ensuring, to a large extent, the economic well being of the people of China. The CPC has done this successfully through turning the Mao’s communist China into a capitalist one without the need of the CPC being removed from the power. The people’s economic well being through capitalism only helped a communist labelled regime in China to remain in power. The Raul Castro’s socialist regime hopes to cash in from the reintegration of Cuba into the global market in a fashion similar to the Chinese communist labelled regime. The Castro regime sees the restoration of diplomatic relations and expansion of capitalist market conditions as a means of securing its rule. That is, the Raul Castro regime is seeking to preserve the privileges of ruling the country single-handedly through the development of capitalism and at the expense of the core spirit of the Cuban revolution.
There are few questions that arose out of the above discussion. Have the revolution brought by the Cuban revolutionists under the leadership of “young” Fidel Castro is hijacked by his younger brother Raul Castro and the “old” Fidel Castro himself? Is holding onto power (by the Castros) is more” just and fair” than the well-being of the Cuban revolutionary society? Would anti-imperial philosophy now remain only in history of Cuba and not in daily life? Surely Cuban current leadership today has no answer for these concerns.
Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst, and writes on Middle Eastern, greater Asia-Pacific & European geopolitics. Also a campaigner for environmental and social awareness, Bahauddin Foizee occasionally writes on environment and refugee issues.