A Necessary and Useful Change

People queue for visas at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. After the surprise announcement
People queue for visas at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. After the surprise announcement of the restoration of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S., many Cubans expressed hope that it will mean greater access to jobs and the comforts taken for granted elsewhere, and lift their struggling economy. The sign on the post reads in Spanish "definite Exit." (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

The change in U.S. policy concerning Cuba was necessary and useful, although it did not happen with all the guarantees that many of us wanted. Obama's cabinet did not act lightly, but made a thorough analysis and came to the same conclusions that many of the actors of civil society in Cuba, and the people in general, have been raising.

The policy of sanctions and isolation became the key currency of the political discourse of the Cuban government. With that currency, the government bought the support of the world, and especially of a Latin America hurt by wrong approaches of the old U.S. policy, as Obama himself has acknowledged.

The United States helped Cuba turn into a "universal icon of struggle and resistance in favor of the interests of the South." Cuban intelligence took this position masterfully, in order to focus its foreign policy on an international emporium of propaganda whose effectiveness is worthy of study by experts in the field.

Havana managed to bring the debates in all international forums to its own approach of innocent victim of the hegemonic interests of the neighboring superpower. "The small island that achieves outstanding indicators of health and education and flies the flag of solidarity as a principle" captured the hearts of millions of young, and not so young, people across the planet.

The Cuban Executive has never been forced to talk about what was actually happening in the country on issues of rights, participation and democracy. The argument of the blockade has also represented the backbone of the internal propaganda. A population without political or civic culture deprived from access to free information for three generations and plunged into a deep economic and values crisis is the perfect environment for manipulation.

Some propose the argument that this change will result in a flow of resources to the Cuban government. I think that those resources always came in dissimilar ways, just as the nearly 3 billion annual remittances did. If these resources would have had been transformed into investment and businesses resources, they would have brought a different result.

However, other emerging powers, with very different values, are always willing to supply the means and resources that the Cuban government needs in order to control and repress, because Cuba is an indispensable agent for the expansion of these economies and their geopolitical interests in the area.

Isolation is the most comfortable position for a totalitarian regime. Or is there someone that believes that North Korea is about to achieve freedom? Freedom is not the result of a decision made by a government, of a negotiation, or of the signing of a treaty or law. Freedom is a mental condition, a state of mind, a life expectation, a natural conviction, a principle and an everyday practice. Without an internal transformation of the thinking, formation and culture of Cubans, it will never be possible to exercise real freedom.

With a dependent population, that survives thanks to what it receives from the regime or what it steals from work, a sense of independence and individual power, which are basic premises of every liberating action, will never grow and develop. Therefore it is vital to support entrepreneurship, creativity and self-management; the exchange between producers, professionals, teachers, artists, housewives, students, and so on.

A small population cannot openly interact with a different world without suffering changes. That is absurd. I share the idea of a new approach that focuses on the people and not on their rulers, who are definitively not going to change now that they are in their nineties and covered with money.

The role to be played by civil-society activists and the political opposition in this new scenario will depend largely on their ability to adapt to a new context and evolve, by looking for new ways of self-management and by basing the survival or success of their projects in terms of the support achieved by citizens, within or outside Cuba.

A more open political game can largely benefit civil society, if it does not waste time crying over what is already a reality and rather decide to "turn on their batteries" to take benefit from the possible advantages that can arise from these new winds of change.

Today, we have a clearer path to focus on the issues that we want to promote and develop. The U.S. policy never favored the civil society or the opposition. The Government will get away with it if it locates the forces of civil society as obstacles for progress and welfare, by taking advantage of the limited notion that the majority of Cubans have about these two goals. That is a luxury we cannot afford.

This post has been done in collaboration with14ymedio.com, an independent digital news outlet in Cuba.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

If you'd like to contribute your own blog on this topic, send a 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com (subject line: "90 Miles").