Rudnick | The Cuban Question

| December 23, 2014

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Nick Rudnick, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor:

The Complex, Complicated Calculus of Easing Relations with Communist Cuba

Cuba can rightly be seen as a “land that time forgot.” The filthy streets of Havana are lined with decrepit, almost miserable buildings—not maintained since the reign of Batista, over a half-century ago. Horse drawn wagons are still the prevailing mode of transportation in the countryside. In the cities, such as the capital of Havana, classic American cars are a sight to see.

Not out of choice, but out of necessity. The trove of classic American cars: Studebakers, Fords, Chevys, and perhaps even a seldom Cadillac—often haphazardly strewn together with a range of retrofitted original, Soviet, Venezuelan, or Cuban parts—are all symbols of the demoralizing effects of the longstanding American trade embargo. Since the Kennedy administration, it has been U.S. policy to maintain a strict ban against trade with Cuba; a communist state since the rise of Fidel Castro in 1959.

On Wednesday, December 17, President Obama announced plans to thaw the half-century, Cold War era standoff between Washington and Havana. The president’s announcement was met with fierce opposition among many congressional leaders on Capitol Hill from both parties. Among the staunchest critics of the president, Florida Republican Senator (and Cuban-American) Marco Rubio said, speaking specifically to the president’s plan that “these changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly continuously abuses human rights but it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused.”

Admittedly, the U.S.-Cuban relationship is complex with many moving parts. I recently submitted a paper for consideration to be published in a journal; the manuscript centers on what I contend is an emerging doctrine of neo-bipolarism between the West and many of the traditional, unstable states of the Middle East.

Among the notable solutions for growing cooperation between the West and the Middle East I posit is found in increased trade and commerce. Similarly, this dynamic I believe would also mollify more radical elements of the Cuban body politic. The literature in American political science well-articulates that globalized commerce has the constituent benefits of increased communication between peoples, the importation of western goods, and thus by extension, western values (i.e., western democracy).

The conceit of Middle Eastern politics is a society grounded in a notion of mechanical solidarity (i.e., religiously-motivated traditionalism). Contrasted with the West, a civilization firmly rooted in an organic worldview; marked with secular-modernism—and above all, a notion of machine-like rationalism and progress. Similarly, an argument can be made that Cuban society is grounded in a communist political culture, a worldview perhaps just as averse to secular-modern democracy as, say, the religious radicalism inherent to some corners of the Muslim world.

Globalization has a democratizing effect. And by thawing relations with Cuba, commerce can in a word, “enlighten” Cuban society, en masse. But, there’s a problem with this mindset—which has, largely, been coopted by the Obama administration. For globalization to be successful, there must be a receptive audience. America’s military adventure for the last decade in the Middle East has taught us that democracy is not lasting, devoid a robust, participatory civic culture—a type of political culture that is inherent to the countries of the Global North.

Without a stable, educated body politic that is receptive to the democratizing effects of globalization: we will not truly see change in either the Middle East or Cuba, for that matter. What’s more likely is that we’ll find a nation-state more akin to the BRICS model of development (BRICS is an acronym for the type of government found in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The BRICS countries are inherently statist. They take advantage of the global free market to better central, state-owned firms, rather than private businesses found in truly free market systems. BRICS countries employ state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds (or, SWFs) to make the elites of their nations very wealthy, but the masses functionally impoverished and, in many ways, oppressed.

In short, I like the president’s plan, but I fear that it lacks the teeth to truly transform the belabored Cuban economy into a fledgling symbol of western, free market democracy. What would have had a more appreciable impact on Cuban society would be the president easing relations with our close Caribbean neighbor under the condition that human and social rights gradually improve. However, this did not happen.

My prediction for Cuban society is not optimistic. For our government’s plan toward easing relations was, in a word, shortsighted. Yes, increased trade has a democratizing effect. But, if the domestic status quo doesn’t waiver, we will not see any change that will better the lives of ordinary Cubans. Thus, functionally, Cubans are not likely to be truly better off a decade from now than they were a decade ago, or a decade before that. Truly, I hope for the sake of the Cuban people I’m wrong.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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  1. Papi says:

    The only ones that will benefit from any change between the USA and Cuba is the Odumbo regime and the Castro regime. I can say that with full assertiveness because I’m Cuban!!!