The good news: The discomfort over the embargo of Cuba has led to a good bargaining position in talks with the US. The bad news: Raul Castro’s the one that thinks so. Far from being grateful for the diplomatic overture from Barack Obama, Castro wants the US to pay reparations for the economic damage that Castro says the embargo caused, plus the immediate return of control over Guantanamo Bay, as the opening ante for normalizing relations:
Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations.
Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic relations but “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense.”
So much for the yearning of the Cuban people for normalcy, eh? As far as Obama’s suggestion that engagement will bring about reform in Cuba, Castro has another demand:
Without establishing specific conditions, Castro’s government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for Cuban dissidents and Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear highly unlikely in the near future.
Only if one believes that these conditions will discourage Obama. He’s desperate for a foreign-policy achievement that will allow him to claim a legacy, and Castro knows it. (So does Iran.) Castro isn’t anywhere near as desperate for normalized relations with the US; he gets plenty of hard currency from the rest of the world, and exchanges it with the near-worthless Cuban peso with which he pays Cubans. Castro wants to strengthen his regime, and humiliating Obama will raise his prestige immeasurably at home.
The problem for Obama is that he largely can’t deliver on these demands without Congressional approval. He can cut off the dissidents, as that’s an executive branch decision, although Congress may have some options to work around it. He could arguably order the US Navy out of Guantanamo Bay, but Congress has more leverage to stop such an operation. That could result in a constitutional crisis that Obama won’t like, as the American public will not consider a military retreat in the face of Cuban demands a particularly laudable move. It would also utterly poison the Democratic Party for 2016, even if Hillary Clinton roars with outrage over the idea. Reparations would absolutely require Congressional appropriation, and needless to say, even Obama knows better than to ask for it.
As this opening bid shows, Castro’s main aim in these talks is clearly to humiliate Obama. After making this pronouncement, Castro will demand at least one of those conditions as non-negotiable, but they’re all non-starters for the US. The easiest for Obama to provide — cutting off pro-democracy dissidents — would expose Obama’s overture to the Castro regime as the craven bid for short-term glory that it is. This is otherwise a waste of time and diplomatic effort, and will be until both Castros are long gone from the scene.
Raul’s brother Fidel gave the talks his blessing, ending the 378th round of rumors that Fidel had shuffled off this mortal coil. Under these circumstances, why wouldn’t Fidel be cheering? He’s probably laughing all the way to the bank: