Two-and-a-half cheers on Cuba

The US's report card on Latin America is blotted and stained, showing it must try harder to restore relations. (Joe Raedle/AFP)
The US's report card on Latin America is blotted and stained, showing it must try harder to restore relations. (Joe Raedle/AFP)

It was entirely proper that Barack Obama addressed public opinion in Latin America as a whole when he announced his administration’s decision to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years. As he made the case for ending America’s ceaseless efforts to squeeze Cuba economically, Mr Obama declared that the US intended to “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas”. The region’s history – and America’s role in it – can never be erased, he admitted, but urged: “Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonisation and communism.” If only it were as simple as that.

When the nations of the western hemisphere, including Cuba – for the first time since the Summit of the Americas began – meet in Panama in April, there’s not likely to be a lot of brotherly love towards the US. Instead, there will be the same old suspicions. A combination of factors is responsible, not least China’s rising profile in the region as it gains on the US as a trading partner and sends its navy’s hospital ship around the Caribbean. The rise of left-wing leaders is further eroding US influence. But much of the blame lies with the US itself, which has refused to abandon the largely ineffective war on drugs it began in the 1970s, even though this has claimed tens of thousands of lives and undermined governments.

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt decided to end America’s practice of gunboat diplomacy and dollar diplomacy (government euphemisms for military invasion and occupation and control of a foreign country’s central bank respectively). He announced his Good Neighbours policy as a way to spread peace throughout the world, starting with Latin America because “peace, like charity, begins at home ... It is our hope that knowledge of the practical application of the good neighbour policy in this hemisphere will be borne home to our neighbours across the seas.” It came to a crashing close with the onset of the Cold War but now is the time to revive it. The route of recovery for America’s standing in the region runs through Havana.

Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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