The reality of reconciliation
The restoration of full relations between the United States and Cuba on Dec. 17 was an important historic change that concluded 2014. Cuba is only about 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, from Florida, but the two countries maintained a hostile relationship for more than half a century. Now, the two countries have agreed to put the past behind them and become normal neighbors again.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica welcomed the end of the Cold War-style relationship, comparing it to the fall of the Berlin Wall. With North Korea in mind, Seoul paid attention to the policy change in Washington, highlighting the fact that President Barack Obama acknowledged the failure of the decades-long blockade. However, that only scratches the surface.
The purpose of President Obama’s lengthy address was to convince the domestic public. The Republican Party argues that restoring relations with Cuba will extend the life of the crumbling Castro regime. The immigrant group that left Cuba’s dictatorial rule is also sensitive to the policy change. That’s why Obama called the blockade policy a complete failure and stressed the need for changes. It is a mistake to interpret it as Washington’s confession of its foreign policy faults.
Obama’s speech was also diplomatic rhetoric to help Cuba save face. As the comparison to the fall of the Berlin Wall suggests, it is Cuba, not the United States, which came on bended knee. The days are long gone when Cuba sent troops to Africa with the revolutionary flag flying high. It no longer rejects the Yankee capital and promotes nationalist pride. Cuba’s change reflects the reality that the economy comes before revolution and nationalism. Obama’s speech was the generosity of the winner helping the enemy general keep his pride.
Historically, the United States has never turned down an enemy state that pursues reform. China fought against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War, but U.S.-China relations were restored in 1979, the year that China reformed and opened up. Vietnam hurt America’s pride in a prolonged war, but relations were restored in 1995, a decade after Doi Moi reform started. Similarly, Libya and Myanmar were long hostile states. The United States normalized relations with Libya in 2006 and Myanmar in 2012. Since the 19th century, the United States has traditionally been interested in expanding trade through opening the market.
The variable in normalization politics is Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 was critical to Cuba. As the Soviet assistance - which supported the Cuban economy - ended, the socialist experiment in Latin America was faced with a crisis. Then came Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Upon being elected president in 1998, Chavez made “revolutionary brothers” of Venezuela and Cuba, and Venezuela’s oil aided the Cuban economy. Every year, Venezuela provided about $4 billion to $5 billion in assistance.
However, the Venezuelan economy has been in crisis lately. Cuba has the most elite intelligence service in Latin America. Many Cuban sources are in Venezuela’s state organizations, with several thousand agents working in government agencies, state-run corporations, the military and the police. They know very well the seriousness of the economic slump, corruption, inflation and the debt crisis in the country.
When Venezuela was severely hit by a recent drop in oil prices, Cuba seemed to be seeking a way out, abandoning a past friend. Venezuela’s crisis brought down the Cold War-era barrier in the Americas. The fight between David and Goliath ended in an uninteresting reconciliation. Goliath can thrive without David. But now that Goliath is not a villain, David’s reason for existence is ambiguous. So Cuba’s Castro regime is left with an existential question.
Some theorize that restored relations will only make real progress in official bilateral relations. In fact, Cuba and the United States already have considerable trade volumes.
Moreover, money transfer from Cubans in the United States makes up an important part of the Cuban economy. Additionally, Cuban-Americans are more interested in investing in Cuba rather than toppling the Castro regime. As reality and interests between the two countries rapidly change, the perfect opportunity came to conclude this Cold War fiction. Hopefully, more of these reconciliations will be made around the world in 2015. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 4, Page 31
*The author is a professor at Soongsil University and the director of the Institute of Social Science.
by Cho Hong-sik