The Biden administration has finally fulfilled a campaign promise to remove sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in 2019 that restricted visas, travel and shipping. It is a decision that restores United States policy established in a diplomatic project launched by Barack Obama between 2013 and 2016.
It is worth remembering that Donald Trump, Cuban American politicians and sectors within the Republican Party as well Cuba’s Communist Party in its seventh Congress of April 2016 ridiculed the project. The most stagnant element in Cuba and its extremist allies in Latin America and the Caribbean — above all, Bolivarian countries — rejected Obama’s normalization plan. In Cuba, it was called an “attack” and officially defined as a way of subverting the socialist system, which is more sophisticated than the traditionally confrontational approach by Washington.
It is essential to remember this now, because there will be an initially adverse reaction by Trump supporters to lifting sanctions. But, the “anti-Obamaism” of the official Cuban communities will soon show up again and sound an alarm about the polite strategy that they feel seeks the same thing as their opponents: to overthrow the regime.
That is, of course, an exaggeration, but it reflects well the anti-democratic core of the Cuban system. As you can see in the island’s recently approved penal code, the “subversion” or “overthrow” of the system is a goal that Cuban law attributes to exercising one’s freedoms of association and expression in a way that directly questions the institutional and legal order of the island; i.e., exercising one’s right to question but not necessarily threatening to use violence or act illegally.
America’s return to diplomacy with Cuba, which one can hardly understand without the growing Latin American and Caribbean agreement to include the island in regional forums, is not based on ignorance about Cuba’s authoritarian structure. It is not seeking to hide repression and violation of human rights, as those who support Trump’s sanctions argue. It wasn’t the case with Obama and John Kerry, and it won’t be the case with Biden and Antony Blinken.
The Cuban government and its propagandists, on and off the island, know it and reiterate the old rhetoric against opening relations. The declaration from the Cuban Chancellor’s Office has downplayed the announcement. Once again, they will substitute the voices of those who don’t see another exit from this prolonged and exhausting confrontation. But very soon, as soon as the next Summit of the Americas, you will see, and not only from the United States government, that diplomatic normalization is not at odds with the defense of the democracy and respect for human rights.
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