President Díaz-Canel suggests dialogue with US may be possible

Photo by Jose Fontano

11th April 2022

President Díaz-Canel has suggested that Cuba should not be afraid of entering into a dialogue with the US, citing comments made in 2009 by the country’s former President, Fidel Castro.

In a Tweet with no clear context or explanation other than the coincidence of a date thirteen years ago when Fidel Castro wrote a reflection accepting the validity of dialogue with the United States, President Díaz-Canel wrote: “Fidel: It is not necessary to emphasise what Cuba has always said: we are not afraid of dialoguing with the United States. We do not need confrontation to exist either, as some fools think; we exist… because we believe in our ideas, and we have never been afraid of dialoguing with the adversary. 5/4/2009″.

The 5 April Tweet was accompanied by a picture of Cuba’s former President dressed informally.

There has been no further comment from Cuba’s President or from the US Administration. Although the message and its historic context were noted in Cuba’s state media, it was largely ignored beyond the island. 

The reference to the late President’s reflection was to a published column in which Fidel Castro used the identical words, before praising the then US Senator, Richard Lugar, for calling for a new US policy of engagement. In his 2009 column, Castro noted that Lugar has “his feet on the ground” and does not fear that he will be called “soft or pro-socialist” in making the argument that “the measures of the United States against Cuba, throughout almost half a century, constitute a total failure.” The commentary, made after Cuba’s former President had retired after a period of illness, was influential within the Cuban Communist Party and seen as endorsing change.

Castro, then eighty-nine years old, wrote that dialogue was the only way of procuring friendship and peace between peoples.

At the time, Lugar, a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged President Barack Obama to “recast a policy that has not only failed to promote human rights and democracy, but also undermines our broader security and political interests”. In doing so he called for the creation of a special envoy to begin direct talks with Cuba on issues of mutual concern.

That month, Obama signed into law a congressional spending bill which eased some economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba. The decision was widely interpreted as a first step towards the gradual normalisation of relations. 

Later that month on 17 April at the Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad, President Obama said: “The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I repeat today that I’m prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues, from drugs, migration, and economic issues to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform.”  

Although a commentary on the official online Cuban platform Cubadebate suggested that Díaz-Canel’s intention to be open to dialogue was “more like crying out in the desert”, the sudden and so far unexplained reference by Cuba’s head of state may suggest that a dialogue is under active consideration. If this is so, it may be intended to indicate within a Cuban collegiate political context that there is an historic precedent for engagement, endorsed by Cuba’s former leader whose thinking remains influential within the Cuban Communist Party and State.

President Díaz-Canel’s comments came in a week when a high-level US delegation of agriculturalists visited Cuba (see report below). 

Describing its members as bipartisan and made up of the most prestigious institutions in the US agricultural sector, he told the group that US agriculture had always been “at the forefront of understanding promoting and fostering relations”, noting the work US agriculture undertook in 2000 to promote a debate on Cuba in the US. 

The issue of the US embargo on Cuba is expected to be raised by some nations at this year’s Summit of the Americas to be held in June in Los Angeles.

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