Cuba Owes Big Thanks To Chavez

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[Black Star News Editorial]

After the Soviet Union collapsed and became broke, before Russia emerged as a major player in the International oil and gas markets, Cuba was abandoned and broke.

Had it not been for Venezuelan largesse –to the tune of billions of dollars in subsidized gas and energy—Cuba’s economy would have collapsed and the United States may have been able to push a regime change. The U.S. would have claimed that the sanctions and embargo regime imposed 50 years now, had worked.

Enter Chavez with his massive multi-billion dollars assistance; the course of history was changed. The U.S. also will have a new approach with respect to Venezuela, which explains the enthusiastic handshake shared by Presidents Barack Obama and Chavez.

So, instead of waiting for the demise of the Cuban regime, something which will never happen, this week, President Obama officially announced a new engagement with Cuba. Similarly, while in the Dominican Republic en route to Trinidad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly stated that the 50 years sanctions and embargo regime had failed.

While the United States has not yet announced that it is willing to lift the embargo, the ball is now in the Castro brothers’ court. They should do the right thing.

President Obama did what was within his power as president, easing travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and money remittances; limits on travel and money transfers were lifted. Other major moves require Congressional approval.

Although Raul, long-term defense minister and younger brother is President, Fidel Castro’s stamp and his shadow are still all over Cuba. Yet, Raul has made some changes including replacing some long-term Fidel-ites from government.

Raul has also announced that Cuba was ready to discuss any and every issue; including human rights and freedom of expression provided they are done "as equals." Secretary Clinton has welcomed the statement and says the U.S. will soon respond.

Part of the repression that has been imposed in Cuba –detention of political prisoners and the shutting of opposition press and detention of journalists—is due to Cuba’s fears that these critics could get support from the United States for the violent overthrow of Cuba’s government.

With this new very public about-turn in policy, combined with the release this week of the George W. Bush torture memos, President Obama is sending a clear signal, not only to Cuba but to the rest of the world that the days of plotting assassination of leaders at odd with the United States, is over. Fidel Castro, having survived several past attempts, can relate to this and understand the importance of President Obama’s gesture.

It was no coincidence that the torture memos were released as President Obama was heading to the Summit of the Americas where he was expected to make the new Cuba policy announcement. This also follows the very early announcement by the president that he intends to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which many Americans sometimes forget is on Cuba. Also, until this month, the U.S. had for years refused to indict Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban exile suspected in the 1997 bombings on tourist sites in Havana.

With the removal of the threat of direct intervention by the United States for regime change in Cuba, there is a great window of opportunity to move forward. Cuba must seize it while President Obama is in office. Make the changes –as Malcolm X would have said "By Any Means Necessary"—that can make it easier for President Obama, a few months from now, to call for an end of the immoral embargo against Cuba.

The embargo should have ended long ago, considering that the United States has normalized relations with China and Vietnam, but matters were held hostage by the Miami Cubans, many of whom are still very bitter.

A new dawn is emerging in the hemisphere and it seems that the countries of South America have now embraced President Obama’s message of hope. Still, at the end of the day, without the much-maligned Chavez, the Cuban government may not have survived long enough to enjoy the potential thaw.

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