BBC Interview with Professor Jaime Suchlicki on Cuba and U.S.-Cuban Relations
Interviewed by Tim Mansel.
Q. Will you be so kind to tell me who you are? What you do?
A. Jaime Suchlicki, Professor of History and Director of the
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
(Jaime Suchlicki is the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and
Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of
Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond, now in
its fifth edition.)
Q. Now, you gave evidence to a U.S. Senate Committee, in a nutshell
what did you say to them?
A. Basically my testimony was that American Foreign Policy should not
be given away to the Castro regime without the Castro regime providing first
some meaningful concessions. Sanctions are a tool to bring about change, and
if the regime of General Raul Castro is not willing to provide meaningful
concessions, like some other regimes in the world, that are not willing to
respond to either sanctions or concessions, then, we should wait for the
opportunity when there is a new regime in Cuba and then use the travel ban,
the embargo to accelerate the process of change and to bring about a
The policy of the United States in Latin America for the past 30 years,
since President Jimmy Carter, has been consistent in emphasizing democracy,
freedom and elections. We have not been consistent all over the world, but
at least in Latin America, we have been consistent, and to normalize
relations with the Castro regime without any change in Cuba, will send the
wrong signal, that we support a dictatorship, that we support a military
regime under General Raul Castro, and that we are unwilling to
bring Cuba into the family of democratic nations, like we have done in
Panama, Haiti, Grenada, and in other countries were we became involved.
Although I am not advocating intervention, I feel that there is a policy
that has been established now for the past 35-40 years vis-à-vis Latin
America and we should maintain that kind of policy.
Q. I think critics of the position you hold would say that, in fact
nothing has been achieved by refusing to talk to Cuba and perhaps the time
has come now with the change of regime in Cuba and an imminent change in The
White House, in the United States, the time is now right for some dialogue.
A. Let me emphasize that the United States Government has been
talking to the Cuban Government for the past 49 years, there is conversation
in Geneva, in Washington, in Havana at the U.S. Interests Section. We have
achieved agreements with Cuba in the area of hijacking airplanes, also on
immigration. The issue is not about talking or about conversations, the
issue is about the willingness of the regime in Cuba to provide concessions
dealing with moving Cuba to a democratic society, opening up Cuba to the
market. On those issues that are significant, the Cuban government has
refused, and it has refused in part, because the Cuban government is tied
primarily to Venezuela, Iran, China and other countries that dont have any
conditionalities in their relations with Cuba. They provide the Castro
regime aid and credits and the Castro regime doesnt have to do anything in
exchange. So, those are the kind of regimes that ideologically and
pragmatically the Castro brothers like to do business with. We have seen
on numerous occasions that the interest of Cuba is not in tying itself
to the United States or to the Western democracies. Cuba under the Castro
brothers is anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, anti-Western. Fidel Castro,
years before he came to power, as a student leader distributed anti-United
States propaganda in Colombia in 1948. In the mountains, when he was
fighting against the dictatorship of Batista in 1958, he wrote that his real
struggle, once he came to power, would be against the United States. Here is
a leader that is an enemy of the United States, that doesnt want relations
with the United States, that has done a lot of things to hurt the interests
of the United States, from introducing Soviet nuclear missiles in 1962, to
supporting Middle-Eastern terrorist groups, to supporting groups in Latin
America. It is not up to the United States now all of the sudden to
say, look we are going to lift sanctions in the hope that you are going to
be a good boy and you are going to be nice to us. The sanctions have to
be negotiated, and have to be negotiated when there is a regime in Havana
willing to provide real, meaningful concessions.
Q. Let me ask you this then, if your position is that it is desirable
that Cuba democratizes, and is desirable that the United States and Cuba
have normal relations, What is the status quo achieving? How is this going
to be achieved?
A. The status-quo is a statement against a dictatorial regime.
Historically we have provided concessions to some countries and achieved
little. England provided concessions to Hitler prior to World War II and
Hitler did whatever he wanted after those concessions. Concessions have to
come at the same time that there are concessions on the other side. If we
are going to lift the travel ban, we should request a quid pro quo, if we
are going to change the embargo, there should be a quid pro quo unless there
is that, then we wait. If we give away now the policy which is the
embargo, the travel ban, and so on to the Castro brothers, what do we have
to negotiate with in the future? When there is a regime that is willing to
change, we would have nothing to offer. I much prefer holding on to the
policy in the hope and expectation that down the road, there will be a
regime that is willing to provide meaningful concessions and at that point
we can provide help, aid, tourists, to help that regime.
Q. Are you concerned then that Barack Obama may win the Presidential
election in light of your views on Cuba?
A. On the one hand, Senator Obama has stated that he would be willing
to sit down with Raul. If and when he does, he will realize very quickly
that Cuba is willing to offer very limited concessions: it may want to
control out migration, it may want to control the flow of drugs from Cuba
into the United States, but beyond that, Cuba is not willing to provide any
Senator Obama will realize that this is a regime that is antagonistic to the
United States, it is not friendly to the United States and that there is no
sense in given away U.S. policy. Also in the policy establishment in
Washington there is consensus that there should be a quid proquo for United
States to change its policy. The United States, is now changing policy
towards North Korea, hopefully we are getting something in return. The
President of the United States talks about change for change, so if North
Korea is willing to change, we should be willing to change toward North
Korea. When Cuba is willing to change lets change, the United States should
change, but sending American tourists to Cuba, or lifting the embargo in the
hope that it is going to bring democracy, I think that is an illusion.
Q. Do you sense that with the imminence of a newcomer in the White
House, there is change in the air?
A. There is a willingness on the part of some members of Congress to
change policy. For whatever reason there are some Congresspeople that will
have a resolution ready for President Obama to lift the travel ban, to lift
the embargo. I dont know how Obama will react. Whether he will say, wait
let me negotiate or, lets do it unilaterally. Let me point out that over
the past 30 years Latin America, Europe, Canada, have been engaged with
Cuba. Millions of tourists from those countries have been to the island. Yet
Cuba is not more democratic, there is no change in Cuba; there is a
continuation of Fidel Castros regime. Despite trade with Western Europe,
despite tourism from Latin America, Canada, Cuba is not freer or more
prosperous. So neither tourism, nor investments have brought about
significant changes. Should we expect that American tourists have a magic
wand and they are going to arrive in Havana and say democracy, freedom
and all of a sudden things are going to change?
Well, that is not realistic and if we believe that, then we should send
American tourists to North Korea and to Iran and see if we can convert those
countries to democracy. I dont believe that trade, tourism, or investments
are going to bring about change in Cuba. First there has to be willingness
on the part of the Cuban government to change and second there has to be
pressure from below, strong enough to force the government to change. When
those two circumstances begin to happen then American policy should change.
Q. So in your view, in fact the move from Fidel to Raul has not
brought a change in Havana.
A. So far no, Raul has made minor adjustments to satisfy some of the
expectations of the Cubans. Cubans can now go into hotels, buy electronic
equipment, except short wave radios. The Cubans now can buy computers but
they cant have access to the Internet. There have been very limited
changes. What this change has brought about is probably more expectation for
change. What we are witnessing now is a slowdown of any change in part
because Raul is no Deng Xiaoping or a Gorbachev reformer, and he is afraid
of the popular expectations that are growing in the island. So he is
clamping down, he is beating up the dissidents, he is putting them in jail,
so he is back to the same policies that Fidel followed for the past 48