The Elusive Cuban "Revolution"
When the Obama administration announced the normalization of ties with Cuba, its aim, according to the press release, was to “engage and empower the Cuban people” with the “objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.” Certainly, the increase in tourism and trade with the United States will bring with it stimulation of the economy of the small island nation, but it will not necessarily lead to any dramatic change in political makeup in the near future. Interaction with westerners, US international clout, and economic pressure are simply not sufficient enough to lead to any major political or humanitarian change.
Cuba is notorious for terrible human rights abuses. “Beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment” – this is the fate of dissenters who criticize the authoritarian Cuban regime. As the Human Rights Report of 2014 goes on to say, “Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and [the Cuban authorities] routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely,” preventing any significant agitation by controlling the dissemination of free media. Simultaneously however, the regime keeps its citizens relatively happy with an advanced socialized healthcare and education system. The Cuban authorities then justify any brutal methods used by suggesting that they are simply protecting this system.
As a method to elicit political transformation, the Obama administration intends to “provide alternative sources of information” directly to the Cuban people by allowing American tourists to visit the island. These tourists will theoretically interact with the Cuban people and tell of the wonders of the western world, freedom, and democracy – encouraging dissent and political change from within.
However, the history of the island’s détente with the rest of the world has shown that Cuba is notably resistant to outside influences. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has been open to outside visitors. Currently, Canada brings approximately 900,000 yearly visitors to the country, while the nations of Western Europe bring around 600,000 yearly visitors. Even with this massive influx of tourists, there has been no significant political or social change within the Cuban government. There is somewhat of an element of ethnocentrism in the assumption that the end of the US’s embargo with Cuba will lead to dramatic political change when other western, liberal democracies have failed so incontestably.
Another possible path to change in Cuba is through direct political pressure. However, around the world, the US has yet to be successful in unilaterally eliciting political or social change through political rhetoric and discussion alone. For example, President Obama’s “sustained dialogue with the Saudis” has led to no real improvement in human rights within the country. Similarly, the opening of political dialogues with Cuba should not be expected to succeed in convincing the Cuban administration to liberalize.
The Obama administration’s other hope for Cuban reform hinges on economics. The theory is that a wealthier Cuban populace will demand more social freedoms. With wealth comes increased education, possible access to the Internet, and time to expect and participate in more political freedoms. Again, current examples show the fallibility of this argument. Over the past few decades, China has been benefiting from massive increases in wealth. However, the communist government is still able to brutally stamp out basically any dissent against the ruling party. An improved economic situation did not remedy China’s human rights record or change its political system. Likewise, there is no reason to expect a drastic transformation in Cuba.
Similar to US relations with Saudi Arabia and China, Cuba has the potential to become a close partner in both the business and tourism industries. However, socially and politically, the island nation will not likely align with US policy for some time to come.