Carlos Alberto Montaner

The Doberman in Havana and the White House

President Obama wants to modify U.S. policy toward Cuba. It is not an important priority, so he won’t put too much effort into it, but he will try to do something if he doesn't find too much resistance on the way.

What does he propose to do? Maybe inaugurate a period of “benign neglect,” ignore what's happening in Cuba, even the plaints of the victims, and cancel any display of anti-Castro hostility. After all, Obama wasn't even born when this folly began.

Will Obama persist in his intent? He'll probably discover that it's not worth the trouble. The abuse occurs too close to the United States to look in another direction. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton tried to do so in the past but unsuccessfully. The dictatorship’s behavior always prevented it. Havana can't help it. It's like a Doberman; biting is in its nature.

Ongoing right now is a ferocious repressive wave that can be watched on YouTube thanks to cell phones and the denunciations of people like Yoani Sánchez. Goons savagely beat the opposition democrats who protest, be they men, women or children. The legendary Jorge Luis García (“Antúnez”) has received his umpteenth beating and has begun his umpteenth hunger strike. The musician Gorki, who is as brave as Pussy Riot without a Madonna to defend him, has again been jailed for singing irreverent songs.

What are the government measures that Obama wants to eliminate or modify?

For half a century, U.S. policy toward Cuba has had three pillars: anti-Castro propaganda, economic restrictions (the embargo) and diplomatic isolation. Beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson, the intention was no longer to kill the Doberman but to leash and muzzle it.

But the Soviet Union disappeared and communism became discredited as a form of government, even though Cuba, North Korea and other enclaves indifferent to reality clung stubbornly to error and power, thanks to the unlimited authority exercised by their chieftains.

In Cuba, the same faces remain, the same policemen, the same jail cells. Nevertheless, the “containment” of the island lost momentum little by little. From Washington's perspective, the regime in Havana was a hazy anachronism, an absurd relic of the Cold War that would crumble as time went on.

From the Cuban standpoint, the view was different. To Raúl, the relic was not his archaic regime but the U.S. policy that opposed him. The ones who needed to change were the Americans, not them. Except that, to modify Washington's behavior it was indispensable to pretend that the regime was transforming itself.

How did they do it? They staged an offensive in the academic and journalistic worlds. Using Mariela Castro (the dictator's cheery sexologist daughter) as a spearhead and launching a skillful campaign on behalf of the LGBT community (despite the long and cruel homophobic history of the Castros and their regime), they managed to forge an alliance between the economic interests of the right, the most radical sector of the Democratic Party, and some think tanks and university departments of Latin American studies with a similar tilt.

Everything was secretly orchestrated by the Cuban intelligence apparatus and its department of “active measures.” They are great and tireless political operators.

Simultaneously, and with great hoopla, Raúl Castro announced a series of reforms that gave the false sensation that the island was moving in the direction of freedom. Not true. Raúl doesn't want to change the basics. He only tries to modify the method of production to make it less irrational. His purpose is to maintain the same oppressive system. He's the same Doberman with a different collar.

Worse yet, while Raúl wears his most innocent expression as a reformist, without ceasing to pummel and imprison the opposition, he sells and exports his repressive model to countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and — to a lesser degree — Ecuador. Dictatorial tutorship to remain in power indefinitely is the only merchandise left in the empty shelves of Cuba's real socialism.

Will the Cuban dictatorship manage this time to disarm Washington without making concessions? I don't believe so.

The three Cuban-American senators — Democrat Bob Menéndez and Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — agree that the sanctions must be maintained so long as the dictatorship does not respect human rights. The four Cuban-American representatives — Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart, and the Democrats Joe García and Albio Sires — concur.

It is difficult to overcome a bipartisan caucus endowed with that specific weight. Obama will throw in the towel.

© Firmas Press