Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

CCSI Affiliate and former Greenleaf Professor at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies Comments on Recent Cuban Policy Changes

December 22nd, 2014

By Carmelo Mesa-Lago

The beginning of normalization of relations between the USA and Cuba is a positive step. President Obama gave two reasons for the change in policy that I agree with: 1) the embargo has been in force for 53 years and has not changed anything in Cuba, actually the objective was to overthrow the Cuban regime and it is still there, so let’s try something different hoping that it will have better results for the Cuban people, improve their lives and is a better policy for the USA; 2) with the embargo off, the Cuban leaders can’t continue to argue that their economics problems are caused by the US embargo hence they will have to face their own errors (this argument I gave in a public television program back in 1968)

I will add other reasons: The USA won’t have to face annually the vote in the United Nations where all members go against the embargo with the only opposite votes of the USA and Israel; Latin American countries that criticize the USA in regional meetings for the embargo, such as Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be deprived of that argument; actually some of them have already congratulated Obama for his action. This means that President Obama will be joining Presidents in the region with a better political climate and be able to concentrate on the crucial issues that are faced by Latin America. In addition, Cuba has been claiming that the control and repressive measures imposed on the people are forced by the US threat so it will have to change either that argument or be obvious that such oppressive behavior is needed to keep power.

The examples of China and Vietnam with whom the USA have diplomatic and economics relations (also mentioned by Obama)  tell us that they have had economic success with their substantial reforms that have also improved the welfare of their populations, but have kept the Communist Party in power. I don’t have illusions therefore that necessarily the rapprochement with Cuba will lead to more political freedoms and respect for human rights in the Island. But the embargo did not accomplished that either. We have to keep supporting those forces in Cuba that struggle for democracy.

I am aware that the US move is happening at a time when Cuba is at high risk of losing the huge economic aid from Venezuela (tantamount to 21% of Cuba’s GDP) because of the severe crisis in Venezuela caused by Maduro’s awful economic policies. And yet, for me, a Cuban by birth and heart, I don’t want my compatriots suffering from another crisis that might replicate that of the 1990s after the collapse of the socialist camp.

In summary, let’s try another approach to Cuba without forgetting that a potential economic improvement for the people should ideally be accompanied by more democracy and freedoms.

Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, a visiting professor, researcher and lecturer in 40 countries, and the author of 92 books and 300 articles published in 7 languages in 34 countries. Past President of the Latin American Studies Association, member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and of editorial boards of six academic journals. International Labor Organization Prize on Decent Work shared with Nelson Mandela.