Fifty years of sanctions, imposed unilaterally by the U.S., on Republic of Cuba had only strengthened Cuba’s relations with most countries around the world and to gain international recognition for Cuba’s humanitarian assistance and solidarity with other Latin and socialist states. Cuba’s strong relations with China, Russia and Venezuela are direct results of the U.S.’s decades’ long sanctions. Other countries, including the European Union (EU) member states, are currently openly trading with Cuba, and in the mean time, the U.S. stands by idly. Despite the sanctions, the literacy rate in Cuba is almost 100%. Cuba today has the highest doctor-to-patient ratio of one doctor to 137 patients. Every part of the country is accessed by doctors. Cuba also has the lowest child mortality rate.
Sensing the failure of sanction policy against Cuba, the U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration decided to bring an end to such policy with regard to Cuba. Obama said in an address at the White House that his administration would end an outdated approach that for decades had failed to advance the U.S.’s interests, and would begin to normalize relations between two neighbours. Obama’s counterpart Cuban President Raul Castro has also been moving towards normalization of relations. 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.”
The U.S. has a lot to gain from the normalization than the standoff situation. The standoff and confrontational environment between Cuba and the U.S. has only helped the adversaries of the U.S. — Brazil, China, Russia and Venezuela. The distance between these two neighbours has paved the way for the then Soviet Union and now Russia to establish a moderate grip on Cuba. Russian ships are frequent visitors to Cuban ports. Russia has already begun oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico after signing a deal with Cuba, and already announced deals to invest in Cuba’s offshore oil industry. Venezuela’s anti-U.S. sentiment is very well known, and distance between Cuba and the U.S. has only brought Cuban and Venezuelan regimes closer. While the U.S. maintained the distance, Venezuela and China became the largest trading partners of Cuba. China has been increasingly active in Latin America, including in Cuba, funding development and expanding trade agreements. Brazil, with an anti-U.S. sentimental regime, has been among the countries most involved in Cuba, with a giant Brazilian construction corporation handling the expansion of the port and free trade zone at Mariel. The normalization of the U.S.-Cuba relations would bring Cuba into the U.S. sphere of influence undermining the influence that the adversaries of the U.S. enjoy in the country.
The normalization of relations would help improve Cuba some of the standards that are required for the membership in International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). If Cuba’s economy is mixed with the current global economic order through its membership in IMF, WB and the likes, Cuba would submerge under the total U.S.’s economic domination. This is because, through IMF, WB and the likes, the U.S. has been dominating the global economic system since the end of Second World War, and this dominance remained unchallenged since the end of cold war.
There was a time before the 1959 Cuban revolution when the U.S. controlled most of Cuban utilities, mines, oil refineries, cattle ranches and the sugar industry. Also, the U.S.’s gambling syndicates, real estate operators and hotel owners invested heavily in Cuba. After the Cuban revolution, the U.S.’s sanction policy had created a huge distance between these two neighbours, and the U.S. businesses have been losing the opportunities of earning billions of dollars that the U.S. businesses used to earn in Cuba through above mentioned Cuban industries.
Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a high-level delegation to Cuba to discuss the pace of privatization and future opportunities for the U.S. firms after the sanctions on Cuba are lifted. Among the visitors was Alfonso Fanjul of the Fanjul Corporation sugar empire, which was involved in sugar business in Cuba before the Cuban Revolution and is interested in reclaiming its once-dominant position in the Cuban sugar industry.
The normalization of relations between the two neighbours would, therefore, make Cuba to become a lucrative business destination for the U.S. businesses which may exploit the business opportunities that the U.S. citizens used to do before the revolution. Moreover, the normalization of relations would bring about the profit seeking opportunities for the U.S. businesses in those new industries which emerged because of the evolution of global reality, such as broadband Internet markets in Cuba. Through normalization of relations, the U.S. would be able to enter not only the Cuban markets, but also the broader Latin markets, and compete to gain its share in those markets against its adversaries, especially against its global rival China.
Cuba has a well-trained and well-educated workforce. To add to the charm, this workforce has a relatively cheaper labour to offer. There is every possibility that the increasing Cuba-U.S. relations would benefit the U.S. corporations that may well avail the well-trained and educated yet relatively low-paid workers of Cuba. The U.S. corporations are drooling at the hope of reaping super-profits off of low-wage Cuban labour.
Another benefit that comes with the closer ties with Cuba is the possibility of availing a new energy supply destination. Cuba has 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. In an era where geopolitical realities may make places like Venezuela and the Middle East less reliable sources of oil for the U.S., Cuba would be an excellent choice for an alternative source of oil, particularly when Cuba is located right next-door to the U.S.
The U.S. has the possibility of earning a share of profit from Cuban natural resource industry in distant future. Although the U.S. oil and gas operators may not be allowed to enter on or offshore Cuba anytime soon, the U.S. oil-extracting-giant-corporations may well have a future in the Cuban oil fields. For decades, the oil-extracting-giant-corporations of the U.S. have been earning billions in Middle Eastern ‘Arab’ region. Now, the U.S. wants to spread the grip of its oil-extracting-giant-corporations across the Middle Eastern ‘Persian’ region (including Iran), Latin America (including Cuba) and Africa (including Sudan) in order to maintain its global economic dominance. That is why the Obama administration went ahead with policy of the normalization of the relations with both Iran and Cuba.
The sanction policy of the U.S., over the years, has not proven effective in changing things inside Cuba. The U.S.’s attempts to isolate Cuba, both commercially and diplomatically, has not worked at all. It has failed to remove the Castro brothers, and even worse, has strengthened anti-U.S. sentiments in Cuba. The normalization of relations would only bring benefits for the U.S. and would turn the anti-U.S. sentiments of the Cubans into a positive one.
The anti-U.S. sentiments have also been hyped in the rest of Latin America for different reasons; one of these reasons being the giant U.S.’s attitude towards a weak and small neighbour like Cuba. Most of the Latin regimes always feared that friendship with the U.S. may bring imperialism at their doors, and they, therefore, never went ahead for friendship with the U.S. Their mistrust was validated by the U.S.’s attitude with Cuba. Moreover, over the years, the people to people connections within Latin America has made people of other Latin countries to become more and more sympathetic towards Cuba and to grow feelings of hatred towards the U.S. Now, only if the mighty U.S.’s decision ‘to end sanctions on Cuba’ could bolster U.S.’s image and resurrect its influence in the region!
Many Latin analysts believe that the normalization is the beginning of a process for opening the way to the return of Cuba to its previous pre-revolution status as the U.S.’s semi-colony. They even go as far as the regime change issue. For them, normalization of relations means regime change in Cuba and soon Cuba may become another of U.S.’s vassal states. Such predictions, whether rational or not, so far have not caused any agitation among the general Cubans.
Finally, for the global powers, it should be well understood by now that no power can possibly coerce a regime into submission unless the regime willingly does so. Moreover, it should also be well understood that the lifting of sanctions on Cuba is not a concession, but it is merely abiding by the international norms that the U.S. itself had contributed in designing. Restoration of relations, ending sanctions and withdrawal from the Guantanamo, where the U.S. maintains a naval base, would help the U.S. to restore its image not only in the region, but also in the globe against the anti-U.S. sentimental people who uses these issues to depict the hypocrisy of a superpower that punishes a small country while cozying with dictators elsewhere.
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.