In 2009, in a “Reflection of Comrade Fidel”, the then Cuban leader warned the United Estates not to pursue a “carrot and stick” approach in its foreign policy towards Cuba.
Similarly, in a 2009 report “Cuba: A New Policy of Critical and Constructive Engagement,” the Brookings Institution echoed Castro’s words: “…we should avoid the mistake of adopting a carrot and stick policy.” The Brookings report recommended a number of unilateral U.S. initiatives adamantly insisting that the U.S. should seek nothing in return. It stated, “None of the initiatives, however, should be publicly or privately tied to specific Cuban actions. As the Cuban government is on record as rejecting any type of carrot and stick tactic, it would be counterproductive to do so”.
This is an extraordinary Chamberlainian statement that begs the question, why is the pursuit of a quid pro quo an illicit tool of political give and take? Why is the mutual search for compromise between two disputing parties an illegitimate and irresponsible quest as claimed by Fidel Castro, the Brookings Institution, and others?
Effective diplomacy, or for that matter negotiations in all spheres of life, require the parties to be willing to make concessions. No diplomatic effort aimed at seeking concessions from an opponent can succeed if one of the parties elects to give up all its bargaining chips before the negotiations begin. This was the case with President Obama’s Cuba policy.
Unilateral and unconditional abandonment of ones bargaining position is not a logical basis for constructive engagement. Why is insisting on legitimate concessions a moral or practical failure? The concessions the U.S. seeks from Cuba are not onerous. They are of the highest moral value such as the release of Cuba’s political prisoners and respect for human rights.
The Brookings report seems to justify its recommended approach with a comprehensive mea culpa that blames U.S. foreign policy for all the ills of Cuba’s polity. In its opening paragraph the report states, “…it would be wrong to attribute lack of economic and political freedom on the island solely or mainly to U. S. actions.”
This sentence suggests that Cuba’s repressive regime and its disastrous economic policies are only marginally responsible for the dismal state of Cuba’s society. At a minimum the sentence assigns a disproportionate responsibility for Cuba’s lack of economic and political freedom to U.S. policy.
What exactly is it about any U.S.-Cuba policy that keeps the Cuban government from allowing economic and political freedoms in Cuba? Allowing economic and political freedoms is entirely within the domain of Cuba’s government. It is not, in any way, impeded by U.S. policy. Cuba’s abysmal sociopolitical and economic conditions are the direct result of the failed policies of the Cuban government, and not of the so called failed policies of the U.S. government.
The centerpiece of U.S.-Cuba policy should be the decorous, honorable effort- ineffectual as it may be perceived- to enhance the civil liberties and political rights of Cubans. Granted, we may not be able to effectively influence that process, but that does not mean we should unilaterally abandon positions designed to induce democratic behavior.
Diplomatic engagement with an adversary rarely, if ever, succeeds by merely appealing to the adversary’s higher principles. It is an implausible strategy with totalitarian leaders in Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, where the vigorous interaction of values and diplomacy are necessary.
By definition, diplomacy and diplomatic engagement are about negotiations to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge. Giving away all U.S. bargaining positions in return for nothing is not a mutually acceptable solution.
In negotiations, when an unconditional concession is given, the other party pockets it and moves on to its next demand. That is precisely what the Castro government has done with the U.S. giveaways.
In the real world, if one arrives at the negotiating table empty handed, one is sure to leave empty handed.
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We welcome your feedback. Abrazos, Lily & José (click on the name to email Lily or Jose)
This article was originally published in English in the Miami Herald and in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald.
José Azel, Ph.D.
José Azel left Cuba in 1961 as a 13 year-old political exile in what has been dubbed Operation Pedro Pan - the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
He is currently dedicated to the in-depth analyses of Cuba's economic, social and political state, with a keen interest in post-Castro-Cuba strategies as a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami and has published extensively on Cuba related topics.
In 2012 and 2015, Dr. Azel testified in the U.S. Congress on U.S.-Cuba Policy, and U.S. National Security. He is a frequent speaker and commentator on these and related topics on local, national and international media. He holds undergraduate and masters degrees in business administration and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami.
José along with his wife Lily are avid skiers and adventure travelers. In recent years they have climbed Grand Teton in Wyoming, trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Machu Pichu in Peru. They have also hiked in Tibet and in the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp.
They cycled St. James Way (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela) and cycled alongside the Danube from Germany to Hungary. They have scuba dived in the Bay Islands off the Honduran coast.
Their adventurers are normally dedicated to raise funds for causes that are dear to them.
In Reflections on Freedom, José Azel brings together a collection of his columns published in prestigious newspapers. Each article reveals his heartfelt and personal awareness of the importance of freedom in our lives. They are his reflections after nearly sixty years of living and learning as a Cuban outside Cuba. In what has become his stylistic trademark, Professor Azel brilliantly introduces complex topics in brief journalistic articles. Buy Now
En Reflexiones sobre la libertad José Azel reúne una colección de sus columnas publicadas en prestigiosos periódicos. Cada artículo revela su percepción sincera y personal de la importancia de la libertad en nuestras vidas. Son sus reflexiones después de casi sesenta años viviendo y aprendiendo como cubano fuera de Cuba. En lo que ha resultado ser característica distintiva de sus artículos, el Profesor Azel introduce con brillantez complejos temas en breves artículos de carácter periodístico. Compre Aqui
Mañana in Cuba is a comprehensive analysis of contemporary Cuba with an incisive perspective of the Cuban frame of mind and its relevancy for Cuba's future. Buy now
Pedazos y Vacíos is a collection of poems written in by Dr. Azel in his youth. Poems are in Spanish. Buy now
José Azel, Ph.D.
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