The US has finally admitted defeat in its policies of trying to isolate and overthrow the government of Cuba says, Reese Erlich a freelance journalist and author
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The relations between the United States and Cuba is set to change course. Let’s have a look at what President Obama said in a press conference today.
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades. This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States. This man is now safely on our shores.
PERIES: The restoration of diplomatic relations and the prisoner exchange became necessary for the U.S.’s diplomatic relations with Latin America and the world over. The United States has come under a great deal of scrutiny in international forums, including the Summit of the Americas and the United Nations, for continuing the embargo against Cuba.
This year at the UN General Assembly, 188 of the 193 countries present voted overwhelmingly, calling on the United States to end its blockade against Cuba.
Now we discover that Pope Francis from Argentina has stepped in and there has been secret negotiations between Cuba and the U.S., facilitated by the Vatican.
Now joining us from Oakland, California, to discuss all of this is Reese Erlich. Reese is a freelance journalist and author.
Thank you for so much for joining us, Reese.
REESE ERLICH, FREELANCE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It’s my pleasure.
PERIES: So it’s an important historic announcement, Reese. What is your take on the significance of the announcement?
ERLICH: Well, it is of world historic importance. Basically, the United States has admitted defeat in its policies of trying to isolate and overthrow the government in Cuba, has failed, and now it’s going to try another tack. And I remember that the Clinton administration, there had been rumors that they would do something like this, but Bill Clinton never had the gumption to actually implement it, and I take my hat off to Obama that this is a very positive step forward.
PERIES: And not without criticism from the Republican Party.
ERLICH: What a surprise.
PERIES: Can you tell us what some of that has been like in terms of the–.
ERLICH: Well, sure. You know, there’s the usual cries that you’re selling out to Castro, that this is helping the Castro regime, that it will enslave the Cuban people further. There is a small but very vocal Cuban lobby based in Miami and parts of New Jersey that will issue and have issued their predictable statements. But they’re really left behind by history. This is a very significant event. And even if a Republican were to get elected in two years, it would be difficult to reverse the kinds of things that are set in motion today.
PERIES: Right. Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba is just a beginning. Now Raúl Castro has already indicated this is not a end to the embargo that they have been suffering in a announcement that he broadcast simultaneously to Obama’s announcement. What did you think of that position?
ERLICH: Yeah. This is–it’s a positive first step, but the U.S. embargo–you know, you can get U.S. goods in Cuba. I’ve been there 15 times. But the problem is there are certain key goods, such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, that are still impossible or very, very difficult to get. It [incompr.] it sets up and boosts the prices of goods that would normally be available. And, of course, it prohibits Cuba from selling items to the United States, which is key for any economy. If you’re going to import a lot of stuff, you need to export it as well. And the U.S. needs rapidly to lift the embargo and have normal trade relations with Cuba.
PERIES: What are the kinds of things that the Cubans actually suffered from in terms of this embargo? Because you cannot have a conversation with Cuba without this issue of the embargo, as well as the Cuban Five, the prisoners, being raised. And it’s been somewhat of a sticking point. The U.S.-Cuban relations has not been able to go beyond that. What are the real economic embargo impacts in Cuba?
ERLICH: Well, it does. It tends to drive up the prices and make it much were difficult for Cuba to have a decent balance of trade. Cuba has–is, of course, famous for cigars and rum, but it also is the largest producer of organic food in the world. It produces nickel. It has offshore oil exploration. If the embargo were lifted, there would be–much easier for the oil exploration to take place in an environmentally safe way, the nickel could be sold, the other products could be sold, and that would–and, of course, tourism would open up, which is–everybody else in the world can go and visit the beaches of Cuba, but not–at least, Americans can’t do it legally, although 100,000 plus a year would make it down there anyway. So all of those factors are prohibited under the embargo. If it was lifted, it would certainly be a shot in the arm to the Cuban economy and would help ordinary Cubans.
PERIES: Right. And yet we know plenty of Americans who have gone to Cuba. As you said earlier in the interview, you’ve been there many, many, many times. And we know that cultural exchanges, academic exchanges, you know, American students have gone to Cuba to explore and study various things in Cuba. So how much of this was really more sort of media about the blockade? And how much was real in terms of the economic impact it had on both countries?
ERLICH: Well, it certainly had an economic impact. You can’t deny that. Of course, the government in power in Havana tended to blame all Cuba’s problems on the embargo. A good example: the internet connections are very slow in Cuba. The basic reason was because the U.S. phone companies refused to build fiber-optic cables, or were not allowed to, and that made them rely on satellite technology. Recently the Venezuelan government laid a cable to Cuba from Venezuela. But for sure part of the problems with the internet stem from the embargo.
Other problems came from big bureaucratic stumbling blocks inside Cuba. So you can’t blame all the problems in Cuba on the embargo.
PERIES: And how much of it do you think is international pressure? You know, the Summit of the Americas passed a resolution saying they want to invite Raúl Castro for the next summit, and the OAS has also taken a position on wanting to have Cuba at the table. And so, more and more, the United States was getting isolated on their policy towards Cuba. How much do you think that played into the decision today?
ERLICH: It was a big role, it was a big factor, because the U.S. is quite isolated in Latin America, not only the issues you mentioned, but there is cooperation, economic cooperation group headed by Venezuela that includes Cuba and other countries of Latin America. There is regional bank, much like the IMF, if you will, but for progressive countries of South America.
PERIES: Called UNASUR.
ERLICH: So the U.S. was actually finding itself isolated politically and economically to some degree in Latin America. And that pressure was building for some time. And Obama finally acknowledged it in today’s press conference.
PERIES: So if it was some economic constraints that this announcement would also announce, the Republicans should actually back off from this decision, don’t you think?
ERLICH: Oh, yeah. The Republicans–I mean, of course, the problem is is that this is a presidential order, and so conceivably a Republican president in two years could reverse them.
But I think there’s a momentum that will gather over the two years. I think more and more Americans will visit Cuba popular opinion already is in favor of establishing normal diplomatic relations. I think it’ll be hard to reverse once it’s been implemented for several years. I mean, after all, we have relations, normal diplomatic and economic relations with China, with Vietnam. People can travel to North Korea, assuming you can get a visa to get in. But you can’t travel as a tourist to Cuba.
PERIES: Right. So, Reese, thank you so much for joining us on this historic day.
ERLICH: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.