Raul Castro’s remarks that he is ready to sit down with the United States to “mend fences” and “discuss anything” are getting a lot of attention from the mainstream media in the U.S. Sadly this only shows how clueless the MSM is about Cuban diplomacy and its goals.
Here’s the deal. The last thing the Castro brothers want is a complete end to the U.S. travel restrictions and the lifting of the trade and investment embargo. Why? If U.S. money and visitors poured into the island, the regime would be swamped.
Cubans living in Miami and elsewhere in the U.S. represent about ten percent of the population of the island (about 11.2 million, according to Cuba’s 2010 census), and these Cubans have a lot more money than anybody in Cuba itself, except, perhaps, for a few leading regime figures who have moved money abroad. With no trade or investment barriers, the Miami Cubans could simply buy the island back—and that is something neither the Castros nor the people around them can tolerate.
Right now, the government can control almost everyone in Cuba by pulling a few strings: where you live, what work you can do, how much money you have — all this is pretty much at the discretion of the state. Bring in foreign employers and investors and the kind of free wheeling second-home and tourism industry that unrestricted trade with the US would allow, and it would all be gone with the wind. The Communist Party of Cuba would have to move over and make room for other power centers.
To block this, the Castro brothers and the government would have to block U.S. and Cuban-American investment. No, they would tell the people of Cuba, we can’t allow the Cuban Americans to build a fish processing plant in your town and pay you much higher wages than you now get, because that would be bad for your socialist character formation! No, you can’t sell your house to this exile family who lived in it 60 years ago, even though they are offering you enough money to live well for the rest of your life and send your kids to college overseas, because, well, we don’t want these people with their money diluting the moral purity of our socialist commonwealth. Surely you can understand?
If the U.S. dropped the embargo, a policy step I have long advocated for exactly this reason, the Castro brothers would have to build it again on their side of the straits. In my view it’s best if it’s obvious to everyone who holds the keys to the prison cell in which Cuba lives — but Cuba’s government works very hard to make Uncle Sam look like the jailer.
The Castro brothers have another goal besides keeping Cuban Americans at arms’ length: they want to look like they are fighting the embargo passionately with every fiber of their Cuban souls. The evil yanquis are keeping you poor, the imperialists are blockading us, the world must condemn this terrible blockade, etc. etc.
If you keep in mind these two goals—keeping the embargo up and making it look like it is America’s fault—Cuban diplomacy becomes much easier to understand.
Take the news, earlier this week, that the most famous dissident in Cuba was killed in a car crash. His family says the car was forced off the road and claims the government had a hand in his murder. At the funeral, police arrested fellow dissidents who came to pay their respects.
Now, Raul speaks of his willingness to open negotiations with the U.S.
It looks a lot like the Cuban authorities deliberately created an atmosphere in which negotiations are totally impossible and then made a high profile offer to negotiate when they knew it was safe. The Obama administration (like the administrations of Clinton, GHW Bush, Carter and Nixon) would very much like to work something out on Cuba and get rid of the embargo. But there is no way that can happen: a) in an election year in which Florida is a key swing state; and b) because the shocking and callous treatment of dissidents is an open provocation that no U.S. administration could ignore.
President Castro has chosen a time—a time when a situation his government created makes real negotiations impossible—to make a grand, theatrical demonstration of his deep, profound desire to negotiate.
And, cluelessly, the media here and around the world have fallen for it again.
President Castro’s plan is a simple one, but it works, and it works largely because the press is not always composed of the sharpest knives in the drawer. There are some good individual exceptions to the rule, but overall U.S. press coverage of international affairs is rather dull. Vague liberal biases reign supreme, less because there is a conscious effort to make propaganda than because many journalists haven’t developed their analytical skills. There is also a sense that the skepticism which any decent journalist would bring to domestic politics is somehow out of place when it comes to covering the international scene.
For this reason, foreign politicians often get more credulous and less questioning coverage in the US press than American officials and, especially, presidential candidates. For this, people like the Castro brothers are profoundly grateful and they are so confident that it works that they have made the cluelessness of the American press a fundamental element of their national strategy.