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Will Raul Castro offer concessions to the U.S?

 

Jaime Suchlicki, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies

    

The visit to Cuba of former President Jimmy Carter may yield little results. There seems to be an eagerness among U.S. policy makers to begin a process of normalization of relations with Cuba, especially since Gen. Raul Castro took over from his ill brother. The belief persists that economic considerations could influence Raul Castroís policy decisions and that Cubaís difficult economic situation will force Cubaís leader to move toward a market economy and closer ties to the U.S.

 

We seem to cling to an outdated economic determinism in trying to understand events in other societies and the motivations of their leaders. Despite economic difficulties, Raul Castro does not seem ready to provide meaningful and irreversible concessions for a U.S.-Cuba normalization. He may release and exile some political prisoners. He may offer more consumer goods and food to tranquilize the Cuban population, but not major structural reforms that would open the Cuban economy. The recent firing of 500,000 state workers was motivated by a liquidity crisis, not by a desire to move Cuba to a market economy. In Cuba, political considerations dictate economic decisions.

 

Raulís legitimacy is based on his closeness to Fidel Castroís policies of economic centralization, control and opposition to the U.S. Raul cannot now reject Fidelís legacy and move closer to the U.S. A move in this direction would be fraught with dangers. It would create uncertainty among the elites that govern Cuba and increase instability as some advocate rapid change while others cling to more orthodox policies. The Cuban population also could see this as an opportunity for mobilization demanding faster reforms.

 

Raul is also unwilling to renounce the support and close collaboration of countries like Venezuela, China, Iran and Russia in exchange for an uncertain relationship with the U.S. At a time when the U.S. is bombing Libya and seeking regime change in the Middle East, Raulís policies are more likely to remain closer to regimes that are not particularly friendly to the U.S. and that demand little from Cuba in return for generous aid. Russia and China have recently provided more than a billion dollars in credits to Cuba and Venezuelaís aid to the island since Chavez took over will surpass the $10 billion mark in 2011.

 

Raul is no Deng Xiaoping and no friend of the U.S. He has been the longest (48 years) serving Minister of Defense. He presided over the worst periods of political repression and economic centralization in Cuba and is responsible for numerous executions after he and his brother assumed power. While in Mexico and the Sierra Maestra before reaching power, Raul also executed several "enemies."

 

Raul has been a loyal follower and cheerleader of Fidelís anti-American policies and military interventions in Africa and elsewhere. In 1962 Raul and Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev conspired to surreptitiously introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba. Raul supervised the Americas Department in Cuba approving support for terrorist, guerrilla and revolutionary groups throughout Latin America. In 1996 he personally ordered the shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue unarmed civilian planes in international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident in Florida. An admirer of the Soviet Armed Forces, Raul displays pictures of Russian military leaders in his Havana office and recently signed a Russian aid pact to upgrade Cubaís military.

 

Raulís politically motivated speeches in the past, in which he expressed his willingness to negotiate with the U.S., are preceded by attacks on U.S. foreign policy and followed by the now standard qualifiers that Cuba is sovereign and that its revolution wonít change. For the past four decades Fidel Castro had been making similar statements. Raulís statements are aimed at foreign audiences, the Europeans and particularly at the U.S. Congress. He expects unilateral U.S. concessions on the embargo and the travel ban. In a rare public statement six years ago, Raul warned that the U.S. should negotiate its differences with Cuba while Fidel was alive since ďthe U.S. would find it more difficult to negotiate with him.Ē

 

For the past five decades, the avenues for negotiation and engagement between the U.S. and Cuba have never been closed. The U.S. signed with Cuba anti-hijacking agreements and migration accords. Yet, negotiations alone are not sufficient. There has to be a willingness on the part of the Cuban leadership to offer real concessions - in the area of human rights and political and economic openings - for the U.S. to change its policies. No country gives away major policies without a substantial quid pro quo from the other side. Only when Raul is willing to deal, not only to the U.S., but more importantly to the Cuban people, then and only then we should sit down and play.