Can the US-Cuba Honeymoon Last?

By LaFranchi, Howard | The Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2015 | Go to article overview

Can the US-Cuba Honeymoon Last?


LaFranchi, Howard, The Christian Science Monitor


Relations between the United States and Venezuela are not at a high point. Shrill cries of Yankee imperialism and secret meddling are emanating from Caracas. Accusations of human rights abuses and attacks on democratic freedoms ring out from Washington. The US has slapped sanctions on some Venezuelan officials. Both countries are reducing embassy staffs as a part of the diplomatic duel.

By contrast, relations between the US and Cuba appear to be improving at such a pace that President Obama says the two longtime adversaries could announce an accord to open embassies in each other's capitals by next month.

But is the tension with Venezuela a harbinger of what is to come with Cuba? The two countries, after all, have much in common, from shared leftist political ideologies to fraught histories with the US. Can the US and Cuba actually carve a new future out of their new attempts to normalize relations, or are they likely to go down the same spiraling path the US and Venezuela seem to be on?

Cuba's response to the ongoing US-Venezuela row begins to offer clues. True, Fidel Castro - rarely heard from since he turned the reins of power over to brother Raul Castro in 2008 - emerged to blast the "brutal" US measures and to praise Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's stand against the imperial power as "brilliant and brave."

But to Latin America expert Michael Shifter, Cuba's response to US sanctions actually seemed "restrained" and was issued "with very little enthusiasm." It was, he and others say, a hint of how the US- Cuba relationship might develop. Yes, there will be rhetorical attacks when it suits Cuba's domestic political purposes. The Castros will not want to throw the door open to change too quickly, and anti-imperialist rhetoric has been is one of their most important tools in their efforts to maintain control.

But with Venezuela's economic free-fall, the regional landscape is changing for Cuba, in many ways forcing the Cuban government to accept the necessity of opening to the US. The result could be occasional thunderous denunciations of American imperialism undergirded by cautious but pragmatic economic reform at home and dialogue with the US.

"I'm not sure there was ever a very great likelihood that things were suddenly going to be smooth with Cuba, because at the end of the day there are still profound differences between" Cuba and the US, says Mr. Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington and an adjunct professor of Latin American studies at Georgetown University.

"But at the same time, the Cubans are acutely aware that Venezuela is in an unrelenting crisis and not going to get better any time soon," he says. "So while it's no surprise that Cuba would continue to come down on the side of its regional friends, what it's not going to do is risk the promise of the opening with the US over the Venezuela question. …

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