Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Cuba Feels the Bite and Bites Back

(File Picture: Cuba's First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel (C) leaves the National Assembly after the inauguration ceremony of Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno (not pictured) in Quito, Ecuador May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
The bite of the American actions taken in the wake (or under cover) of the Sonic Weapons Attack Affair are beginning to be felt within higher levels of the political elite in Cuba. And there are signs that senior government officials are starting to worry. The signs are the usual ones that would be expected within the dystopia that describes the landscape of U.S. Cuban relations: the Cubans have signaled that they will bite back.

The Cubans have good cause to worry. The American actions are targeted to maximize effect--the focus is on the tourist sector which is the crown jewel in Cuba's economic plan to expand the private sector, bring in much needed hard currency, and shift income from salary only to a salary plus tip driven economy. Collateral personal pain is produced by increasing the transaction costs of travel to and from Cuba--especially for Cubans. This later tactic produces a dilemma for Cuba: reciprocating only further drives up revenue streams from U.S. tourists who are already being warned away from Cuba by the U.S. State Department. At the same time the U.S. has been pinching at the weak underbelly of Cuban foreign policy--seeing to undermine and replace the current regime in Venezuela (as the U.S: has been trying to do since ta least the turn of this century, so far unsuccessfully). The new version of the Embargo rules have yet to be unveiled. They will likely institutionalize the pain (for Cuba and U.S. business interests interested in doing deals there).

To bite back, the Cubans pull the few levers they can. The most potentially potent level is the refusal to serve as a conduit for change (a role they played well in settling the Colombian civil war recently before U.S.-Cuban relations soured). Beyond that, there is increasingly little the Cuban state can do to counter the American actions, other than to find or produce a plausible culprit that satisfies the Americans. And at this point even that may be a tall order, because it seems the Americans, in traditional style, are intent on overplaying their hand. Instead, and for the moment, the Cubans are going on a "denial" campaign that plays well to their fans (and is a necessary element in the internal factional politics at a time of slow transition) but may be altogether ineffective in advancing its foreign objectives--to bring back U.S. (tourist) money and monied interests and to keep the U.S. state apparatus off its back.  That may be too tall an order for the moment. . Recent reporting from Cuba provides a window on these actions and their motivations. Portions of Marc Frank, "Likely successor to Cuba's Castro rejects U.S. demands for change," (Reuters, 8 Oct. 2017), follows.

October 8, 2017 

HAVANA (Reuters) - The man forecast to replace Cuban President Raul Castro early next year rejected U.S. demands that the Communist-run country change its political and economic system.

In a Sunday speech blasting U.S. pressure on the Venezuelan government and what he termed an effort to discredit the Cuban tourism industry, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said these and other recent events in the region proved “imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never.”

Diaz-Canel was quoting Ernesto Che Guevara at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of the revolutionary who had helped lead a Bolivian uprising modeled after Cuba’s.

“Cuba will not make concessions to its sovereignty and independence, nor negotiate its principles or accept the imposition of conditions,” Diaz-Canel said, apparently responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent statement at the United Nations that sanctions would not be lifted until the Caribbean island restores democracy and capitalism.

“The changes needed in Cuba will solely be carried out by the Cuban people,” Diaz-Canel said.

Castro, 86, has announced he will step down as president in February. Experts expect Diaz-Canel, 57, to become the first head of state since the early 1960s without Castro as a last name.

There are no direct elections in Cuba for national office.

Trump said in June that he would once more tighten sanctions on Cuba and seek a better deal from the country than the gradual detente achieved by predecessor Barack Obama.

The Trump administration has drastically reduced staffing at its embassy in Cuba and ordered a reciprocal reduction of Cuban diplomats in Washington due to a series of alleged “health attacks” on U.S. personnel in Havana.

The United States has not blamed Cuba for the still unsolved incidents but holds it responsible for not protecting its personnel. The administration has also issued a travel warning stating U.S. citizens might be targeted.

“Some unnamed officials are propagating unusual nonsense without any evidence, with the perverse aim of discrediting the impeccable reputation of our country as a safe destination for foreign visitors, including from the United States,” Diaz-Canel said.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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