As the revolutionary Fidel Castro, together with his brothers-in-arms from the Cuban mountains, ran the dictator Fulgencio Batista out of Cuba nearly 56 years ago, almost no one predicted how fundamentally the relationship of Cuba to the United States, and consequently world politics, would change.
Yesterday’s announcement by President Barack Obama altering his Cuba policy has the potential for change similar to the events of Jan. 1, 1959, the day Batista fled, and the Cuban revolution prevailed, at least as far as the relationship between these two states is concerned. The date of Dec. 17, 2014 will mark a turning point in history: the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba.
Obama’s realization was nothing new in Washington; the realization that after more than a half century of piteous imposition meant to topple the Castro regime, the American policy of embargo had failed. The reason these policies endured involves more than the influence of the anti-Castro lobby, it also involves the simple fact that Cuba has come to play a rather minor role in U.S. politics. Now, however, Obama has opened talks because he understands that a policy change will forever write him into the history books.
Imprisoned Spies Were Heroes in Cuba
The secret talks began shortly after his re-election, close to two years ago. The Cubans did not have to be asked twice to come to the negotiating table. They suffered under the embargo, which the United Nations General Assembly, with the exception of Israel and the island of Palau, called for almost unanimously every year since 1990.The Americans are happy to sweep this under the rug, just like the fact that the exchange of prisoners was of critical importance to this deal.
For the Cubans, the release of three of the five remaining spies in U.S. custody was a basic condition. Their detention was the last big obstacle to normal relations between both states because for Cuba, the three are much more than mere stool pigeons. They are native heroes. The struggle for their freedom was Fidel Castro’s last great battle. Their release was a great victory for him, and probably, his last. At the same time, it’s perhaps his greatest defeat.
Fidel Castro Was Outsmarted
One can understand the struggle of Castro and his elite soldiers only too well. During the mid-1990s, he had them infiltrate the militant anti-Castro scene in Florida. Back then, exiled Cubans tried, with U.S. government consent, to topple the Castros from Florida, violently if necessary. They cast leaflets from Cessnas during illegal flights across the island. Their violations of Cuban airspace were an incessant provocation. They also engineered sometimes deadly assassinations and in Havana, which involved the smuggling and paying of terrorists.
The counterattack, ordered personally by Fidel Castro, seems like something out of a cheap spy thriller. “Operation Spider” lasted years, but it was successful. Carried out by Castro’s top spies, it delivered the names of principals and financial backers, as well as the identities of those who had carried out the dirtiest work. In the absence of diplomatic relations, Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez traveled to Washington on behalf of the Castros, and in the end, the highest American intelligence officials were in Havana to take receipt of container loads of incriminating evidence against suspected terrorists.
Fidel Castro naively expected justice and the rule of law. He experienced the opposite. The old rascal was outsmarted. For this reason, his anger toward the U.S. in this case and the meaning it has for him and his country is understandable. From the beginning, the fight for the prisoners’ release was a very personal affair for Fidel Castro.
Unlawful Trials of Agents
Instead of pursuing the terrorists holding U.S. passports, never mind prosecuting them, Cuba’s neighbor punished the Cuban agents, who admittedly saw themselves as simple defenders of peace and freedom in their country. The trials against them, Western legal experts agree, did not meet constitutional norms. The same goes for their sentences, some of which were for life, as well for their conditions of imprisonment, which occasionally included long periods of isolation. Many of those convicted went for years without contact from their families.
The legal struggle of the Cubans for their people remained moribund as long as the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria dominated America’s politics and Cuba played a minor role. It was only after the arrest of the U.S. information technology specialist Alan Gross, who apparently sought to equip Cuban dissidents with wiretap devices and other espionage gear, that the Cubans secured a bargaining chip. For a long time, it was worthless.
Obama Recognizes Historic Chance
The American president would not prostrate himself for the freedom of a single alleged agent posing as an aid worker. That’s why he has not bowed to the Cubans before now. Agreement based on an exchange of spies? Never in a million years. The hapless and ever weaker Obama does this only because he recognizes a historic opportunity to immortalize himself in U.S. history, despite all-time low approval ratings. One need not give him credit for noble motives and common sense. The moment is ideal for Obama to act. The influence of the anti-Castro lobby in Washington wanes. Many exiled Cubans themselves now support reconciliation, as do the majority of all Americans at any rate.
Anti-Cuba propaganda alone no longer wins elections in Florida. At the same time, economic pressure is growing from those inside the U.S. who want to do business with Cuba. Obama has perceived a unique opportunity. He does not have much time left. There is talk already of lifting the embargo. The resumption of diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of enmity is now ready to happen. Even a visit to Havana by Barack Obama during his presidency has become very likely.
Hasta Luego, Tropical Socialism!
One can already imagine the official reception at the airport in Havana. Obama’s speech writers have long since fine-tuned his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech: “We are all Americans.” Obama, the radiant victor in the end. With considerable certainty, Fidel Castro will once again be fit and ready for a handshake with his colleague from the capitalist north. That will earn Obama points in Latin America.
Fidel Castro will also feel like a victor; the victor in his last great battle. Despite everything, this victory will also mean the greatest defeat for him. Cuba’s accession to U.S. capitalism will now proceed turbocharged. Hasta luego, tropical socialism. Welcome, America.