Last December, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the opening of negotiations between the United States and Cuba. This is an enormous step in the reestablishment of relations between both nations since the missile crisis in the 1960’s.
Cuba has endured a long-standing economic embargo by the US, which many argue has damaged Cuba’s prospects tremendously. Even though most countries in the world are able to engage in trading arrangements with Cuba, many have been reluctant. Many argue that this is due to the American influence on the global market.
The announcement by Obama highlighted the connections between the US and Cuba and the importance of Cuban exiles in American society. Obama asserted that “we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.” What those interests are and who will benefit the most is debatable.
Obama also expressed that in the future the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and that high-ranking officials will visit Cuba. His main concerns were based around issues of human rights violations in Cuba. He remarked the necessity for openness and democracy on the island, and that negotiations will take a step towards that achieving those ideals.
Maura Fernandez Salas, a Trent University student from Cuba, argued that the new relations between Cuba and the United States will not bring many new changes and that if any changes were to happen, it will be a long time before we see any practical ramifications of those new polices.
“I went to Cuba a month after the announcement and the reactions of the locals I talked to were mixed. Some people were optimistic and thought that things would change in a matter of months; others were more cynical and definitely thought that the Cuban government had no intention of making any changes and improvements to the country,” she added.
Her concern, as with many other Cubans, is that the new opening of relations will ultimately favor Americans and their capitalistic driven society. She expressed that, in the long run, “Cuba would become a country economically controlled by the United States and regress to its pre-revolutionary era where the government was completely corrupt and the United States exploited our resources for their benefit.”
It is clear that the main preoccupations are based on the fear of absolute economic domination over Cuban resources. The governments have the chance of laying out rules for the relationship between the nations and it does not necessarily have to be a complete economic opening to US goods and services.
It could also mean that having a good relationship with the US would open other overseas markets for Cuba, as it would be possible that the US would no longer discourage global trade with Cuba anymore.
In terms of benefits, those who see the opening of relations beneficial for Cuba do so in terms of increased trade and possible technological imports. However, much is ignored about what Cuba can teach the US.
Besides outstanding health and education indicators, Cuba has something that the US desperately needs: a different way of looking at the world. One of the best examples to illustrate this is the urban agriculture project in La Havana.
Throughout La Havana, small plots of land are being used as agricultural hubs, which serve to feed the city’s population. There are also roof gardens supporting not only crops but also small livestock such as rabbits. Some estimate that there are 35,000 hectares of land being used for urban agriculture in La Havana. The system is affordable, accessible, and sustainable.
The US, and the world in general, could use some of this knowledge to re-think how cities relate to food. This could also create a sense of connection between production and consumers in cities.
In other words, following La Havana’s example could not only serve as a model to feed cities, but also as a way of fighting the fetishization of social relationships. It will help in reestablishing the connection between production and consumption by reducing the gap and the mysteriousness revolving our connection to the land, while also creating a sense of community.
The opening of negotiations between La Havana and Washington will be positive insofar as American economic interests do not shape and determine them.