Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Cuba doesn’t really want better relations with U.S.

If Cuba and the United States were a couple in marriage counseling, the therapist might have by now reached the conclusion that this union is beyond repair.

It’s nearly impossible to negotiate co-existence — be it marriage or diplomatic relations — when one of the parties simply doesn’t want to be in the relationship.

Nearly four months after President Barack Obama extended an olive branch to Cuban leader Raúl Castro, it’s becoming clear to some of us that the Cuban government doesn’t want substantial relations with the United States. Nor does the dictatorship want hordes of American tourists and business people running around its fiefdom as if Cuba were a free nation.

If the Cubans were willing, after three rounds of talks sufficient progress would have been made to at least begin to see movement toward opening embassies in both countries. But instead there’s recycled diplomatic speak about wishes and obstacles, and how difficult it is to repair a relationship that has been broken for so long. What isn’t said is that negotiations haven’t brought the two countries any closer.

“This is not a sprint but a marathon,” a U.S.-Cuba watcher warned me after Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would seek rapprochement with Cuba after five decades of isolation.

This is true. No one was expecting overnight success.

But round after round, there’s evidence of growing support and enthusiasm in favor of engagement from practically every U.S. sector — and more and more reluctance on the part of the Cuban government to negotiate anything of substance.

The Obama administration has indulged the Cuban diplomats in desired topics of conversation, including Cuba’s laughable chastising of the U.S. government over the recent spate of shootings of black unarmed men by white cops. The Cuban government knows well that injustices in this country are brought forth into the public light, if not by the government itself, by the free media. And they know every citizen’s right to protest against the government is protected by law.

Cubans have none of those rights.

But during the last round of meetings on human rights issues in Washington this week, the Cubans were given ample space in which to make their case against the United States — and their American diplomatic counterparts listened patiently. (In my book, that makes them candidates for sainthood.)

“Professional” was the way the State Department described the meeting. No specific agreements were reached, but there was “broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue.”

Translation: Nothing concrete was accomplished.

Meanwhile on social media, not a day goes by that someone isn’t posting photos of a trip to Cuba.

And in the latest strange twist for a country without widespread Internet access, there was outsized excitement over the announcement by San Francisco-based Airbnb that it’s adding private homes in Cuba to its worldwide listings. They must not have gotten the memo that the Cuban government only wants American tourists arriving in tour groups pre-approved by them and whose agenda they control right down to where they’ll have dinner.

What a fascinating dance to watch — like a therapist trying to unravel the fate of a bizarre little marriage.

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