Cuba and the Whales

November 28, 2008

Soon will be 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban revolution, which is also the anniversary of the failure of the policy destined to defeat it. There is no doubt that someday Cuba will change, and maybe then, those who are still around, shall celebrate victory. But the unavoidable passage of time cannot be considered as the vindication of a static policy that was maintained for almost half a century.

The ethical considerations of this lack of action are frightening. For us, on this side of the strait, the wait although difficult, is bearable, since we live in freedom and abundance. For Cubans on the other side, one more year of wait is hard and for the hundreds unfairly imprisoned, the wait is unacceptable. We cannot ignore that part of this lack of action is partly our fault.

Changing is not easy and the older we are, the harder it becomes. For some, change is an inconvenience, and this applies here and there. Some naively attempt to control it. Others are afraid of it. There are many here who live for Cuba, and some who live of Cuba. There, as well as here, are many who hold on to this lack of action, because it is their only option to guarantee their survival. I used to be one of the hard-liners. During the visit of the Pope to Cuba I fought for the suspension of the cruise that the Archdioceses wanted to hire to take exiled church members to Cuba. We succeeded, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, that today I regret.

In the meantime years go by and we remain isolated from our people. I know that there are some “Illuminati” who strongly believe that they control the truth and that all of us who dare question their beliefs are considered heretic traitors. For me, no strategy is so clear and so certain. I agonize faced with the possibility of being wrong. But my experience as businessman directs me to find results, take risks and try new strategies.

Prominent world leaders who are and have been supporters of freedom in Cuba, such as Walesa, Havel, Aznar, Arias, Zedillo, Castañeda and Pope John Paul II, have agreed that isolation and the embargo against Cuba are counterproductive. Even countries that are stronger supporters of our cause vote year after year in the UN against the embargo. Is it possible that we are mistaken, or could it be that we are correct and the rest of the world is wrong?

This reminds me of a joke about a man that was constantly snapping his fingers, finally he is taken to see a therapist, who asks him why he did that. The man, very surprised, and maybe even upset about a question that he believed silly, answers: “To scare the whales away”. The therapist, smiling ironically asked again: ”Don’t you know that there are no whales here?” to which the man answers convinced and with certainty: “Thanks to me!”

The Cuban regime continues to function thanks to the policy of lack of action. We continue with the same strategy, we pounce our chests and another year goes by. Maybe this helps some people to feel better. There is no doubt that Fidel likes it. A few years ago I had dinner in Madrid with someone who had been sent to Cuba by President Felipe Gonzalez to develop a transition plan to be enabled after the fall of the Soviet Union. He told me that talking to a high Cuban official he asked him if he was aware that the planned reforms could cause the United States to lift the embargo, to which the Cuban official responded: “ If they do that I would be a disaster for us!”

For the Cuban regime the confrontation with the United States has been their main source of legitimacy, both internally and externally. It has made a hero out of Fidel Castro and he has been very shrewd by creating crisis when faced with US presidents who have sought a relaxation of relations with Cuba. Without the confrontation and the embargo, how the Cuban regime explains to its people the continuity of a system incapable of producing sufficient food? There is no doubt that Cuban leaders must be very nervous faced with the inability to foresee how President Obama will act and the inconsistency of a U.S. president who is black in light of the old political speeches of the exhausted Revolution.

Historic precedents against isolation are numerous. In a study of 28 transitions in communist countries there is not one case where isolations policies such as those against Cuba, were used, and not even one case worldwide (not even South Africa) where policies such as the policy towards Cuba have been successful in obtaining a democratic transition. Wouldn’t it make sense to try what produced results in 28 transitions, or is it better to continue to hold on to a policy that has failed to produce results anywhere else?

Isolation is the oxygen of totalitarian regimes. To offer them isolation is to help them to stay in power. In his book the “J Curve”, Ian Bremmer describes how isolation allows totalitarian systems to remain in power. It also demonstrates an inverse correlation between the stability and openness, and which policies of openness towards closed regimes cause instability and force them to change, such as the case of the Soviet Union. In Miami we worry more about the end of the change than about its beginning. We cannot manage the transition from Miami or from Washington. Transitions are micro-processes that start one person at the time, one family at the time. Each individual, inside or outside of Cuba must be an agent of change. For humans, small changes are more easily accepted than big changes. I believe that it would be appropriate to review what has been an inefficient foreign policy. It is time to open to Cuba and allow the winds of change to enter. Such opening will reduce the dependency on the government and will bring contacts, information, resources and hope, elements that individuals need to become the actors of their own future. Should we look for new strategies or should we continue to scare off the whales?

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11/28/08 Current Record