Sunday, March 02, 2008

On Seeking Closer Relations With Brazil--Must Cuba Choose Between China and Brazil?

One of my students at Tulane, Jacob Welch, had some insightful comments about my suggestion that Cuba was seeking to establish stronger relationships with Brazil. He was unconvinced that there was much benefit to Cuba cozying up to Brazil, especially if that occurred to the detriment of Cuba’s relationship with China.

He suggested that of the reasons offered for building a stronger set of relationships between Brazil and Cuba, most actually suggested stronger reasons for favoring China, especially if one of the objects was for Cuba to protect itself against precipitous regime change moves from the United States.

This is what he had to say on the reasons I suggested as a basis for Cuba's strong cultivation of Brazil:

(1)* it can serve as a bridge to the US*: as can China, and probably more expediently. a) China is a much larger and more important trading partner for the US. b) China offers the experience and guidance for Cuba to grow from an exiled, strictly Communist country to authoritarian but with enough capitalism to improve the country and open trade abroad **

*(2) it lessons a complete dependence on another superpower (China), the Cubans have learned from their USSR experience:* I'll concede this is a good point. But USSR was a fairly self-contained power barely able to keep themselves up, much less prop up another nation. China wouldn't so much be propping up Cuba as helping them grow internationally, if played right. And this is how they would open up more resources than through Brazil.

*(3) it provides ready access to huge resources that can help Cuba against future pressure (in terms of food and markets)*: This makes the most sense to me. And in a way, maybe it is in their best interest to create a strong tie to growing Latin nations while still having access to China.

*(4) Brazil has a President who grew up in a leftist tradition that might be counted on to defend the country against US pressure:* good for Cuba, but bad for Brazil, no? If they joined with China, then China will be perceived as pulling Cuba to the right, and they both win. If they join with Brazil, then Brazil is perceived as being pulled to the left by Cuba, and Brazil starts losing favor and Cuba is seen as a threat to further the leftist movement in South America, which isn't desired by any God loving red-blooded American.
I would suggest that these are all good points. They each reinforce Raul Castro’s initial impulse to secure strong ties with China, and to strengthen those ties in the face of growing United States impatience to find some region of the world in which they can claim some sort of clear “victory.”

Still, cultivating strong ties with China need not be the end of the story, nor foreclose closer relations with hemispheric powers. Cuba has been obsessed with the dangers of single power dependence since before independence in 1898 (first Spain as a controlling colonial power, then the United States as an "abusive" and controlling friend, then the USSR in an ironically similar position). These political relationships mirrored the exploitation of Cuba for the purposes of these patrons resulting in single crop economies controlled by or entered into solely for the benefit of the powerful friend. It is this type of parallel dependence that Cuba has sought to avoid since the 1990s gave them a rare opportunity to exist "friendless" in the classic sense. Raul Castro and the FAR understand better than Fidel Castro (and have the luxury) of avoiding that dependence if they can. And Brazil presents a wonderful opportunity because it is at the point where it really wants to spread its wings and become a regional power. It doers not have the negatives of a place like Venezuela, and might be more reliable than Argentina. I think Fidel Castro has a “good eye” for friends in this case—if the Brazilians are willing.

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