New York – The certification by the Electoral College of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election is the final nail in the coffin of President Donald Trump and his supporters’ attempt to reverse the results of the vote. It is now time to move on and take necessary foreign policy steps to improve relations with the rest of the world.
For the last two centuries, relations in the Americas have been clouded by suspicion and resentment toward the U.S. by Latin American and Caribbean countries. It hasn’t helped that U.S. governments have, intermittently, undermined democratic governments and promoted what can be euphemistically called “regime change” in countries south of its border.
Nowhere has U.S. intervention been as relentless and damaging as it has with Cuba, where American antagonism toward the Castro brothers and their successor has benefited no one while causing the Cuban people tremendous suffering.
Henry Kissinger was certainly not thinking about Cuba when he said, “It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.” This could well be applied to the supposed threat that Cuba poses to U.S. democracy. For almost 60 years the U.S. has imposed an embargo on Cuba. Yet, rather than achieving its goal of bringing about the downfall of the Castro brothers’ regime, the embargo only made life miserable for most Cubans, limiting their access not only to common goods but also to some vital medicines.
During several U.N. health-related missions to Cuba, I was able to see how eager the Cubans were for a normalization of relations with the U.S. They understand the difference between the hardships caused to them by U.S. governments and the American people, whom they feel are also interested in improving interactions with the Cubans.
In 1985, I attended a meeting in New York between Argentinian Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. I was a translator for Mr. Perez Esquivel. One objective of the meeting was to discuss the situation in Central America, a region ravaged by civil wars. I was impressed when President Carter, with complete modesty, asked Perez Esquivel, “And what do you think, Adolfo, that we should be doing in Central America?”
Perez Esquivel told President Carter that Central Americans resented U.S. intervention in their internal affairs, and that they had understandable grievances against the oligarchies that governed their countries. Such grievances were the root cause of the wars in that region. Carter’s approach would have been unthinkable during the Trump administration.
The Obama administration made determined efforts to improve relations with Cuba. Barack Obama correctly believed that isolating Cuba had failed to advance U.S. interests and that the time to reestablish diplomatic relations with Havana was long overdue. In 2014, Obama and Raul Castro announced that their governments would restore full diplomatic ties. This was followed by a series of bilateral agreements that saw such measures as the loosening of restrictions on remittances and travel, as well as the removing of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Instead of continuing down the same path of making amends, the Trump administration, ignoring the achievements of the Obama administration, reversed course on relations with Cuba. The U.S. government under Trump placed severe restrictions on trade and commerce with the island, including the curtailing of U.S. tourism. In 2019, the U.S. president banned group educational exchanges, curbed family remittances and tightened economic sanctions further.
The Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration has arrived at just the right time to correct the situation and prevent too much damage from being done. Some limited measures could be immediately implemented to improve the situation, such as the facilitating of artistic, educational and medical exchanges. These could be followed up by the full normalization of relations. Collaboration on a promising lung cancer treatment currently taking place between Cuban and American doctors could be significantly expanded and help save lives.
Normal relations would benefit the Cuban people on the one hand and U.S. businesses on the other, including the tourism industry. It would also improve the image of America in Latin America, long tarnished by the U.S.’ legacy of failed interventions.
Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a writer on human rights and medical issues. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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