Cuban leaders' portraits

(Image: Flickr / Rene Bastiaanssen)

The announcement that the United States and Cuba would reopen their embassies in each other’s countries came just as the United States was preparing to celebrate its independence. But despite the welcome news, Washington has yet to properly recognize Cuba’s own right to sovereignty and independence.

One need only listen closely to the announcement made by U.S. President Barack Obama — which was couched in language about “promoting change” on the island — to realize that while the strategy of undermining Cuba’s sovereign right to national self-determination has changed, the goal remains the same: regime change.

According to both Cuban and U.S. authorities, having full diplomatic missions in Havana and Washington is only one step in the much longer and more complex process of normalizing diplomatic relations. But can such normalization take place while U.S. pronouncements condescendingly focus on “helping the Cuban people,” with nothing about how the rapprochement might assist in transforming the United States?

Like any country, Cuba has its problems. But the United States suffers from extreme social and political ills that are alien to revolutionary Cuba, including an epidemic of police brutality and racist extrajudicial killings; exorbitant incarceration and capital punishment rates, especially for people of color; a lack of universal healthcare and pre-K-to-university education, which is completely unwarranted given the country’s wealth; an insensitivity to urban displacement and unemployment rates; militarily aggressive foreign policies; and hyper-deference to the interest of corporations — as seen now in the fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The United States could learn a lot from Cuba when it comes to disaster relief, education, and healthcare. More pointedly, Cuba projects a foreign policy of international solidarity around the world. As the U.S. supplies troops seen as military occupiers, Cuba sends — often to the same places the U.S militarizes — doctors and teachers who provide crucial assistance, free of charge, to the countries they’re in service of. Cuba does this with no strings attached, unlike the aid packages provided by U.S.-led international institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and even the United Nations.

Historian Aviva Chomsky, author of A History of the Cuban Revolution, was spot on when she said, “The news that Cuba and the United States will move forward on opening embassies in each other’s countries is certainly a welcome, though not unexpected, step in the gradual restoration of relations. Unfortunately, President Obama continues to couch every announcement in terms of the longstanding U.S. policy of unwarranted intervention in Cuba’s internal affairs.” Chomsky specifically cited subversive USAID projects “ranging from creating the ZunZuneo social media platform to sponsoring a covertly anti-government AIDS conference. If the United States really wanted to allow the right of the Cuban people to choose their own future,” she concluded, “it would renounce its so-called ‘democracy promotion’ projects.”

Many of the moves the Obama administration has made in terms of its Cuba policy are in lockstep with Bill Clinton’s, as expressed in the recommendations of a 1999 task force report from the Council on Foreign Relations. The report asserted that “no change in policy should have the primary effect of consolidating, or appearing to legitimize, the political status quo on the island.” While the Obama administration insists that it’s just changing a U.S. policy that was “not working,” it remains an essentially disrespectful position against Cuba.

Better relations between Washington and Havana are a good thing, but they have to come from a place of respect. Both the Cuban and the American people have to see past the hypocritical rhetoric of the U.S. government to realistically determine their best interests in this new and unprecedented rapprochement.

Netfa Freeman is Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies and organizer in Campaign for a Just Policy Towards Cuba. He can be reached at

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