HAVANA, August 16 Despite the fact that Cuba and the United States have officially restored diplomatic relations, one Cuban academic believes that the wait for the US embargo to be lifted on the socialist country will be long.
Dr.Luis Rene Fernandez Tabio, Professor of Economics at Havana University’s Centre for United States and Hemispheric Studies and Research, remains pessimistic that the embargo will be lifted before the passage of the next five years.
The United States, which imposed the embargo on the north Caribbean island over 50 years ago after Fidel Castro-led revolutionary forces overthrew right wing dictator Fulgencio Batista as Prime Minister, reached out to Cuba last December through the efforts of President Barack Obama.
That resulted in a thaw in the usually frosty relationship which on Friday rose to warmer levels, what with the official opening of the United States Embassy in this picturesque city of two million inhabitants. The Cuban embassy was opened in the US political capital of Washington DC last month.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Democratic Presidential contender, and Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriquez led a flag raising ceremony near Havana’s shoreline Friday and later hosted over 300 media representatives at a news conference held at the posh Nacional Hotel in the capital.
Kerry told journalists that the occasion was “very special” for him, as it marked the first time in 70 years that a Secretary of State was visiting Cuba. That happened in 1945, the same year that Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and reggae legend Robert “Bob” Marley were born.
Both Kerry and Rodriquez insisted that although the journey had just begun, brighter days were ahead.
But Professor Fernandez Tabio does not predict that a light will emerge at the end of the tunnel anytime soon.
“When will the embargo, or blockade as we Cubans prefer to call it, go? asked Fernandez Tabio. “It will take time, a long time, and I don’t expect it before the next Presidential election in the United States next year.
“In fact, I don’t think we will see the embargo lifted before another five years. By that time, the two individuals who were at the forefront of the move to restore relations between countries – Barack Obama, and Raul Castro – will be out of office,” suggesting that the latter leader who took over officially from his brother, the legendary Fidel in 2008, will demit office as President of Cuba in 2018, based upon an earlier pronouncement by Fidel’s younger brother of serving only two terms as leader. He is now in his second term.
“I don’t think the ending of the blockade is around the corner, maybe 2019 or 2020. Considering all the options, 2020 would be a good guess,” he went on.
Although the Obama administration has hinted its support for the end to the embargo, approval for what Cubans have described as the most indigestible drug of the last half a century must come from the US Congress, which is dominated by the Republican Party, Obama’s direct foe.
Several Republicans have openly objected to the restoration of the diplomatic bond between both countries, and have disclosed that they would go against ending the embargo whenever it clears the many anticipated hurdles that would result in a vote.
“It’s a very complex situation and it all depends on the pressure to be generated by the US Congress,” Professor Fernandez Tabio said.
Responding to a question that the Cuban vote in the next Presidential election in the United States could determine the speed at which the embargo is lifted, Professor Fernandez Tabio ruled that out as an influential factor.
“The last Presidential election in the United States was not decided by the Cuban-American community. This is not a significant issue. You can win an election and the Cuban-American community will not play a role in terms of votes.
“Right now it would be risky to go against the decision taken by Obama. And let’s assume that (Republican Presidential hopeful Donald) Trump is elected. Do you think he will close the Cuban embassy in Havana? No! The embassy represents the interest of the American people so he would want that to be kept. But would he want the embargo to go?
Regarding the potential growth of the Cuban economy if there is to be investment by US companies in coming years, Professor Fernandez Tabio is cautioning against focusing on the Americans serving as a pillow for the Cuban people, as he believes that there could be negative consequences.
“Cuba is very like America already and Cuba is the nation closest to American standards. Cubans are proud to be Cubans … they don’t feel inferior to Americans. They like things like American food and music, but it is important that Cuba is not re-neo-colonised by America. We must learn so that we don’t repeat our same mistakes.
“If there is investment, you can expect the Cuba economy to boom, but I say we should accept foreign investments but not allow 90 per cent of all investments to come from the USA. Once the US controls 90 per cent of the economy, the rest is a piece of cake. Cuba needs to balance the economic, social and political situation with the rest of the world and not be dominated by the US. Cuba must have a clear mind. You don’t want to fall in the hands of the big power.
“There is a saying that Mexico is far from God and close to the US. We are very much in the same situation,” Professor Fernandez Tabio said.