This week I would like to reflect back on my semester long blogging experience and why I feel it has been valuable. I started the semester with plans to travel to Cuba for the summer. I knew very little about present or past U.S. – Cuban relations and my cultural understanding of Cuba was minimal at best. This blogging assignment really gave me the opportunity to achieve a fairly holistic understanding. Although to become an expert on a topic as complex as U.S. – Cuban relations would take far longer than a Semester, I feel I certainly have a better framework knowledge to think about recent and upcoming current events between our nations.
I really found blogging to be a valuable way to learn about an issue because although the weekly posts were short, and usually focused around a particular issue or theme, when you put it all together you realize that you actually have a pretty broad knowledge. Looking into specific issues developed this broad knowledge. While reading about something I wanted to blog about I’d often end up somewhat sidetracked needing to learn about a different issue to fully understand the one I was writing about.
Overall I was really struck by how interconnected issues become. When you pull on one thread it leads into many other interrelated issues. I think blogging has kept me broadly informed and more practiced at looking at news outlets daily as well as increased my issue specific understanding.
Over the past several weeks I have made a lot of conjecture as to whether U.S. Cuban relations will normalize and if so what the effects will be, but now we can actually see that the wheels are in motion. A few weeks ago president Obama announced to Congress in a message form the White House that he has decided to officially remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. An article in the Washington Post which can be found here says that Congress has 45 days to consider Cuba’s removal from the list before it takes effect however the White House thinks it unlikely Congress will move against Obama’s announcement. Although we knew an announcement like this was likely since the December announcement to move towards normalized relations, it is very cool to be witness to actual change being made. It is important to note that this does not mean complete normalization of relations. The same article mentioned above says that congressional removal of sanctions against Havana, could take years, this is an important first step though!
In his addresses to the Summit of the Americas in Panama President Obama highlighted that Cuba’s official removal form the list will mean more Americans traveling to Cuba, more cultural exchanges, more commerce, more potential investment, and more opportunity for the Cuban people. A short clip of this address can be found here. Although we have a long road ahead I am excited about this tangible evidence of change. I will be spending this summer in Cuba under an educational general license and I am very excited to gain some first hand insight into what these changes will mean to Cuba. I think, looking back, the changes that are transpiring right now will mark an important moment in history.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, it may be too soon to hope for any radical change in Cuba’s totalitarian government. Recent speculation, which can be found here, claim that Raul’s new appointments may have been more symbolic than anything else. Cuba’s younger population and African population, both vocally express their dissatisfaction with Cuban leadership. I may be reaching but it seems a bit too coincidental that who should Raul appoint to the role of V.P. Miguel Diaz- Cannel, a much younger man, and who should be appointed to the president of the national assembly Esteban Lazo, one of Cuba’s only governing figures of African decent. Both men appear to be extremely loyal to the communist party so maybe the speculation that these new appointments may be more symbolic then signs of true progression is too cynical, but I think it might be naïve to ignore the coincidence all together.
Another article, which can be viewed here, points out that it has been the pattern of the Castro dictatorship to promote a successor only make him coincidentally disappear when he gains too much popularity. We have seen this exact pattern appear with men like Carlos Aldana, Felipe Perez Roque, Carlos Lage and Roberto Robaina. Although, the Castro’s are stuck with the inevitable fact that they will not be able to stay in power forever, it may be too soon to assume that an appointment like Miguel Diaz- Cannel carries any legitimacy.
The article mentioned above points out that the Castro’s may be using recent appointments as placeholders to buy them time to try and keep power within the family by grooming one of Fidel’s or Raul’s many children to take over. Which one, and what this will mean for Cuba’s future is, again, all speculation. I think the best we can do right now is to watch carefully as the situation unfolds. Will Miguel-Diaz Cannel successfully take over for Raul when he retires putting an end to the Castro dictatorship and bringing moderation to Cuba or will a new Castro family member assume power and continue the legacy?
This week I’d like to take some time to step back and look at some of the broader themes my blogging has addressed. Although the direct subject of my posts has ranged from establishing why our current Cuba policy isn’t working, to speculating as to who will become Cuba’s new political leader, I think my central question has stayed largely the same. What is the United State’s motivation for changing our policy towards Cuba right now?
That said, I do believe that the nature of my posts has changed within the past five weeks. I have moved from making broad statements like;
“For decades the US has done just that. If we wish to defend democracy and human rights in Cuba then we need a new approach. Whether we like it or not, our world is becoming increasingly interdependent. Simply put, its time to move on, its time for a change!”
to examining individual motivations in more detail such as this one;
“If we really do wish to impact the future of Cuba then it makes perfect sense that the best way to do this is through an open and honest exchange of ideas. By allowing travel to and from Cuba we greatly facilitate this idea exchange.”
Over the last few weeks I believe that the nature of my posts has become more tightly focused on individual aspects of a larger argument. I think that this change in approach can be largely attributed to my increased knowledge of the subject. I didn’t know very much about this topic going in, so at first a lot of my work had to focus on setting up background knowledge. Now that I feel more comfortable with the topic, I can see that the nature of my posts are changing and becoming more focused.
In rereading my posts I was surprised by how many more questions I have for myself than answers. It seems the more I pull on this issue the more questions appear. I probably should have anticipated this going into such a multifaceted topic, but it still managed to surprise me. In my re-reading I realized just how much I feel I have just begun to scratch the surface of this increasingly large line of inquiry.
In the next several weeks I’d like to return my focus towards how U.S. involvement will influence Cuba’s political system as it moves toward a landmark generational shift. In fact, I believe that this is the type of question I would like to try to answer in my final research paper. Although my blog explores the broader topic of charting a course toward normalized relations with Cuba I would like to focus my upcoming research paper even further to consider the question of what the end of the Castro era will mean for Cuba’s political system and how increased U.S. involvement in Cuba will work to shape this systematic change. Although I believe I will need to tighten my focus even more, I feel like I confidently know the direction I will move forward with.
Now that Raul Castro has officially announced that he will be stepping down from the presidency in 2018 the burning question has become, who will succeed him and what kinds of changes will this new successor make? Around the same time that Raul announced his resignation, he also appointed 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel to the position of vice president making him the default successor. This is an important change because; although it does not automatically signify a major political change, it certainly marks the beginning of a much-anticipated transfer of power to a new generation. All eyes are now on Mr. Diaz-Canel, who has been thrust into what the New York Times describes as the “most scrutinized leadership role” in Cuba since the Castro’s take over in 1959. Mr. Diaz-Canel and his political agenda are largely shrouded in mystery. The new rising political prodigy has been publicly praised by President Raul several times for his “hard work, and ideological firmness.” This said, I don’t think we can expect any wild political changes should Diaz-Canel maintain his number two position and successfully take over for Raul in 2018. I think that Mr. Diaz Canel represents a continuation of Raul’s gradual attempt to shift Cuba to a more sustainable political system. Reforms such as the introduction of private farming and small business as well as Cubans now legally being able to sell houses and cars and travel abroad with an approved visa show that small reforms are already beginning to change the face of the Cuban political System. Whether these reforms are the result of Diaz-Canel’s increasing influence or whether he truly is the lap dog of the Castro’s as many fear, only time will tell. Will these types of gradual reforms work? Will Diaz-Canel usher Cuba into a “hybrid socialism-communism with a state controlled capitalistic economy?” or will Cuba’s political system fall into turmoil once again? At this point it looks as if the best we can do is speculate, but all eyes from around the world will be paying very close attention to the actions of Mr. Diaz-Canel as he takes on a role of increasing political power.
When examining the discourse surrounding why Cuba and the U.S. are beginning to change their policy towards each other it is easy to see things from only the U.S. point of view. Doing so is, however, only examining one side of the discussion. I would like to use this post to look at some of the reasons that Cuba wants to normalize its relations with the U.S.
As I have mentioned several times before, time is a major influential factor in this discussion. New photos of Fidel Castro, which can be viewed here, show that the father of the Cuban Communist party is showing his age. Although the official standpoint is that Fidel has remained in good health and of solid mental capacity there is increasing speculation that the revolutionary figure is not of sound mind.
Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother who officially took over in 2008 announced in 2013 upon his successful re-election that he would be stepping down in 2018 at the end of his 5 year term. Raul is currently 83 years old. When this transition occurs it will be the first time since 1959 that a Castro will not have governed Cuba. This means that the Cuban Communist party, traditionally lead by now aging revolutionaries will be in need of “systematic rejuvenation” if it hopes to retain its power.
According to Julia Sweig, director of Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations say, in an article that can be read here, that Cuba needs to more drastically improve its economic condition for a new leader to retain the communist party’s power. The changes that have been made internally have only led to a 1.4% GDP growth, which is far from enough to satisfy the Cuban people. With Venezuelan economic support quickly waning, a topic that merits it’s own separate discussion, Cuba needs to look elsewhere for economic support. In order for the current system of government to still work after the Castro family is no longer in power an economically healthy and more open Cuba must prevail. A major step in this transition is to normalize relations with the U.S.