Cuba and the United States: The Challenges of Starting Anew

The step made by presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro could open a new era in the relations between both nations. The news translated into an intense happiness in large sections of the Cuban population. Minutes after finishing both discourses-the Cuban population could hear President Obama live on the multinational chain Telesur --in Santiago de Cuba, the famous Conga de los Hoyos(a celebratory, traditionally Afro-Cuban procession) streamed into the streets of the symbolic, eastern city. The Santiago conga's chorus loudly proclaimed: "It's about time! It's about time! It's about time!". The working class sectors happily celebrated the great event.

The announcement made is not a magical event that will solve, de facto, all of our problems in the same way that the structure of messianic-mythological thought seems to do to build hope: the patient waiting for the arrival of a cosmic event that revolutionizes the secular order, in the style of "the return of Quetzalcoatl" or the "coming of the Messiah" in the Jewish context. We face a high-level political event where, on one hand, important power sectors in the United States have publicly recognized the failure of their policy toward Cuba, and on the other, the supreme Cuban administration seems convinced that it would be essential to transform the model of "resistant socialism" that we have lived until now.

The decision made will bring much polarization to the Cuban government's ranks, to those of the Cuban emigration in the United States, to our civil society, and in North American power structures. There are sectors, on both shores, that define the present and the future based on the defeat of the Cuban government, the settling of accounts, the imposition of sanctions, the historical flogging lived in this half-century, and a national implosion. Both executives have opened a window of gradualness, moderation, and consensus between diverse positions, where dialogue "on equal footing" seems to prevail.

Both governments should re-examine their respective agendas and try to shift the greater quantity of areas of conflict to areas of collaboration, without ceasing to work on those more difficult topics or give up their principles at the same time. They could advance with certain swiftness in those areas where both governments worked for more than a decade: national security, fighting against drug trafficking, combating disease, training against oil spills, natural disasters, emigration, etc. It is legitimate that the United States wants to defend her interests and values in Cuba, but it should avoid committing the same errors of the past. Countries like Canada - with multimillionaire investments on the island and with a very wide-ranging network of collaboration with the pubic sector and civil society -- would be a good example of how one could be in Cuba and work actively in society without that being a problem for anyone. Canada, with its right-wing government, should represent for the United States a feasible and constructive model of Cuban relations.

This opens a range of interesting possibilities for Cuba. Dialogue at the highest level creates conditions to continue disarming the blockade policy's framework in the first place. In addition, easing of tensions with the United States creates stability to handle the urgent economic, political, and social transformations that the island needs in the 21st century, above all related to the disassembly of the institutionalism derived from the Soviet model adopted in 1976 and partially reformed in 1992.

Cuba needs to readjust its socio-political institutionalism. It should not do it because anyone demands it: a strategic imperative results, well, no one will be able to govern Cuba in the 21st century, nor safeguard its independence with institutions that are incapable of being in tune with the monumental transformation that has taken place in Cuban society, including the same transformation's strong process of trans nationalization. That is to say, two parallel political processes of a distinct nature should occur, but interconnected by circumstances of historical belligerence: on one hand, the dialog with the United States about national sovereignty, human rights, democracy and foreign policy in the context of the reconstruction of bilateral relations; and on the other hand the sovereign imperative of the Cuban people to provide themselves with renovated institutions to lead the country into the 21st century.

Raúl Castro should try to articulate both processes, always trying to see that national independence and the ability to redistribute wealth to the national majorities are affected as little as possible. He would have to sit at the negotiating table with the main hegemonic power of the globe to discuss these sensitive topics, on the assumption that the United States would try to defend, at all costs, a genuinely liberal notion of political and economic order. On the other hand, Cuba needs to rethink the topic of human rights, and the political participation in lieu of the détente with the United States. To do this it needs to trigger a national, sovereign process: to realize a political model that re-articulates the national consensus and, in that way, impedes the meddling of foreign powers in our internal affairs. There is no other more efficient way than this one to achieve it.

In this moment of negotiation with the United States political creativity is being imposed by the Cuban side. To that end prudence and moderation are needed, but at the same time firmness and clarity for the objectives at hand. One thing that should remain clear is that Cuba is not only its government, but also its society. That is why Cuban civil society, and the moderate Cuban-American actors of South Florida exile that have participated in the anti-embargo fight, should keep contributing at this moment. The Cuban government should rethink its manner of doing politics. It imposes movement from a model that sought hegemony in a context of resistance and confrontation with the United States to a model that privileges political diversity in the context of negotiation and construction of alliances or national treaties. Diversity committed to historic goals of sovereignty, social justice, and political democratization.

Translation: D. Matthew Bozone

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.

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