Comparative Foreign Policies toward Cuba: Plus Ca Change

By McKenna, Peter | International Journal, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Comparative Foreign Policies toward Cuba: Plus Ca Change


McKenna, Peter, International Journal


Peter McKenna is assistant professor in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown and the co-author of Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy.

A GOOD DEAL HAS CHANGED IN THE WORLD since the horrific terror attacks of 11 September. Indeed, the Taliban have been vanquished in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein's brutal regime in Iraq has been toppled, and a fledgling "road map" to peace in the Middle East has been championed by the Bush White House.

But even with this sea of change internationally, precious little has been altered with respect to Cuba's place in the western hemisphere. If anything, the post-9/11 milieu has spawned a hardening of views towards Fidel Castro's Cuba--in part because of Havana's crackdown on prominent dissidents in early April 2003.(1) Others have suggested that Castro's move to imprison and silence his critics was, in part, a function of intensified US pressures internally, especially in light of the role of James Cason, the head of the US Interest Section in Havana, and concerns abut the Bush administration's external doctrine of pre-emptive military action and "regime change."(2)

Accordingly, debate over the prickly question of Cuba is sure to produce a plurality of viewpoints, emotions and disagreements. The policy positions of the US, Mexico, the EU and Canada--all key foreign powers from Cuba's perspective--reflect that plurality of viewpoints. And yet when one compares their policy perspectives towards Cuba, one discovers more similarities than differences between them.

Granted, the United States is the oddity amongst the group--and rightly so given its geographical proximity, historical linkages and ideologically laced policy. But even though some rather obvious differences do exist, it is the similarities within the group that are most striking. Indeed, all four share the same core policy objectives vis-a-vis Cuba, and each has remained remarkably consistent in trying to secure them since the early 1960s--while clearly parting company over the precise means for achieving those goals.

The objectives of this paper are threefold. First, to outline the policy approaches of the four governments since the early 1990s, emphasizing recent changes or developments. Secondly, to will discuss the various similarities and differences in policy approaches. And finally, to proffer some observations on what the future policy directions of the various governments are likely to be, and whether they can derive some policy lessons or political learning from each other.

POLICY APPROACHES TOWARD CUBA: THE US VERSION

Given the long-standing role and dominance of the United States in the Americas, and its storied history with Cuba, it makes sense to begin here. Since the early months of Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959, the United States has viewed Cuba in a noticeably negative light, hermetically sealed within a seemingly frozen Cold War dynamic. Cuba was initially regarded by Washington as a serious security threat and a possible Soviet beach-head in the Americas, an unrepentant exporter of revolutionary upheaval, and an unacceptable regional "model," and thus the confrontational tone of the relationship was cast in stone very early. Neither side was prepared--for a host of international, domestic and individual reasons--to bend or to compromise to the other's overtures and pressures. Thus, for over forty years the US-Cuba relationship has remained frozen in time--poisoned by mutual distrust and visceral animus.

Successive US administrations--all professing to one day set foot in a free and democratic Cuba--have maintained a consistent approach toward Havana: a policy based largely on confrontation and isolation. At one time or another, each administration has sought to facilitate the removal of Fidel Castro and to bring an abrupt halt to the Cuban revolution, to institute liberal democratic and market reforms on the island, and to establish a US-friendly government in Cuba. …

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