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      Normalization Yes! Blockade No!
      Why the Continuation of the U.S. Blockade on Cuba Prevents Normalization

      By Tamara Hansen

      Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

      Headlines from around the world over the last month have proclaimed, “Raúl Castro, Obama Meet to Further Cuban Normalization Process”, “Cuba, US launch normalization process”, “Pope Francis Praises Cuba-US Normalization of Relations”, “U.S. diplomat tells pilgrims they can help normalize relations with Cuba”, “Rubio, Christie take issue with Pope Francis’ push for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations”, “Prospects for the Cuban Internet After the Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations”, “Tennessee seen as key player in push to normalize relations with Cuba” and “US, Cuba to talk about normalizing airline service”.

      We can see directly from these September 2015 news headlines that ‘normalize’, ‘normalization’ and ‘normalizing’ are the buzz words being used to explain the process after the formal reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The key element being that this is a process and that while Cuba and the U.S. now have embassies in each other’s capitals, this is not a “done deal” and things are not “back to normal”.

      Normalize, normalization and normalizing... what does it all mean?

      In his book Modern Diplomacy author RP Barston lays out a ten point list of “Stages of normalization”. They are: 1. Re-establishment of contact using formal or informal channels. 2. Informal exchange. 3. Low-level signaling. 4. Partial resumption of trade and financial relations. 5. Initiation or resumption of preparatory negotiations. 6. Removal of trade restrictions. 7. Policy revision. 8. Normalization negotiation on core issues. 9. Conclusion of normalization agreement. 10. Normalization implementation.

      Normalization happens specifically after there has been a period of “abnormal” relations. Such is the case of Cuba and the United States. Over the past 56 years since the triumph of the Cuban revolution, and the past 54 years since the U.S. government officially broke diplomatic ties with Havana – things have been more hostile than simply “abnormal”. While author Barston noted that the stages of normalization did not have to happen in order – you can see that #6 is removal of trade restrictions – which is the main road block in the process towards real normalization between Cuba and the United States. The noun normalization literally means “the act or process of making normal”. So is that what is happening between the U.S. and Cuba?

      Are the U.S. and Cuba “normalizing” their relations?

      On September 29, 2015 the Wall Street Journal published an article titled, "Raúl Castro, Obama Meet to Further Cuban Normalization Process”. The article outlines some of the discussion that took place between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro during their 35 minute bilateral meeting at the United Nations summit. The article mentions several times that this discussion was all about how the U.S. and Cuba are embarking down this path towards "normalization". It explains, “several thorny issues stand in the way of full normalization, including the decades-old trade and travel embargo." We see here that the Wall Street Journal is making it clear that all parties understand that the U.S. government’s so-called “trade and travel embargo” (i.e. trade restrictions, i.e. the blockade) on Cuba is one of the big road blocks towards real normalization.

      The Wall Street Journal article continues, “Mr. Obama last December announced several steps to loosen travel and trade as part of the move to warm ties with Cuba, and then took additional actions in September, including allowing U.S. businesses to open storefronts and offices in Cuba and allowing some companies, including telecommunications firms, to form partnerships with Cuban state- owned businesses. Officials have said the administration hopes to do as much as it can before Mr. Obama leaves office to loosen the embargo. Only Congress can act to fully lift the trade and travel restrictions, but that is unlikely to happen in the Republican- controlled Congress before Mr. Obama leaves office in January 2017.” Here we see the Wall Street Journal explaining the movements of the Obama administration to try to convince Cuba that they are working towards eliminating this road block, however the Obama administration has not made all of their possible moves to undo the cruel U.S. blockade on Cuba and many people do not believe that his administration is really prioritizing the elimination of the blockade. At the same time, while I would argue the U.S. blockade on Cuba is the biggest road block on the path to normalization, it is not the only one.

      Relations that are more “abnormal” than “normal”?

      At the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2015, Cuban President Raúl Castro explained the issues that are preventing Cuba from having a normalized relationship with the United States. He explained, “After 56 years in which the Cuban people put up a heroic and selfless resistance, diplomatic relations have been re-established between Cuba and the United States of America. Now, a long and complex process begins toward the normalization that will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade; the return to our country of the territory illegally occupied by Guantanamo Naval Base; the cessation of radio and TV broadcasts, and of subversion and destabilization programs against the Island; and, when our people are compensated for the human and economic damages they still endure.” Here Cuban President Raúl Castro has done an excellent job of outlining many of the injustices Cuba continues to live through at the hands of the U.S. government. Here he makes it clear that this path towards normalization is going to be a bumpy road and Cuba is going to continue defending its principals and is in no way handing itself and its revolution over to the U.S. government.

      The formal reestablishment of US-Cuba relations, has been a historic victory for Cuba. After 56 years of the Unites States government trying to isolate Cuba and defeat its revolution, they have not been successful. In fact, the U.S. government has had to: release all 5 of the Cubans who were being held unjustly in U.S. prisons; take Cuba off their list of “state sponsors of terror” and finally the U.S. government has had to begin dismantling their cruel blockade against the people of Cuba. Meanwhile Cuba has stood firm in the principals it has been defending since the triumph of the Cuban socialist revolution in 1959 and continuation of Cuban socialist project.

      The Future of U.S.-Cuba relations

      For the past 23 years in a row the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) has internationally condemned the United States’ blockade on Cuba in a resolution put forward by Cuba. In fact in October 2014, for the 23rd time, the UNGA voted to condemn the US blockade on Cuba with 188 countries voting against the blockade and only two in favour (the US and Israel).

      On September 21, 2015 the Associated Press printed an unexpected headline, “US weighs abstention on Cuba embargo vote at UN”. The article explains, “As it does every year, the U.N. General Assembly will vote as early as next month to demand the embargo’s end. But this time, U.S. officials told the AP that the United States could abstain instead of voting against the resolution as it normally does. It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws. And by not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against the Republican-led House and Senate, which have refused to repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so. [...] No final decision on how to vote has yet been made, said four administration officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity. [...] The very idea of an abstention prompted immediate Republican criticism. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator from Florida, said that by abstaining, Obama would be “putting international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.””

      This idea is very controversial for the United States government and its ruling- class circles. That the U.S. could abstain in a vote that condemns its own policy towards Cuba? Wouldn’t it be a small sweet victory? Of course, the resolution at the UNGA is non-binding, as it has been for the past 23 years just condemning U.S. for its cruel and inhuman blockade of Cuba, and at the same time it would seem to be some form of poetic, ethical and moral justice, even though it is not the real and full justice that the Cuban people deserve.

      The path forward for the United States and Cuba is unclear at this time. It seems there is a goal, the “normalization implementation” stage. However, is the United States really interested to get there? Is there really a will to treat Cuba with the dignity it deserves and is required for normalization? Until we have the full dismantling of the U.S. blockade, the U.S. military out of Guantanamo and an end to the U.S. “regime change” programs in Cuba, it is unrealistic and naive to believe it.

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