Saturday, August 31, 2013

VOXXI: The Snowden affair: Can the U.S. influence Cuban foreign policy?

The Snowden Affair: Can the U.S. influence Cuban foreign policy?
W. Alejandro Sanchez
August 31, 2013
Originally published:

It appears that the Latin American chapter of the Edward Snowden saga will not end anytime soon. New claims have surfaced about Snowden’s attempts to flee to Latin America in order to avoid extradition to the U.S.
According to a recent article by the Russian daily Kommersant, the U.S. may have been surprisingly successful in pressuring Cuba to deny entry to the NSA whistleblower. If this turns out to be true, it begs the question over whether, in 2013, the U.S. can exercise influence over Cuban foreign policy.

A brief summary of the Snowden saga

As Snowden hopped around the globe evading U.S. authorities, there was rampant speculation regarding which country would ultimately grant him asylum.
The international affair began when he fled from Hong Kong to Russia in late June. From there, it was expected that he would board an Aeroflot flight that would take him from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport to Havana, Cuba, where he could not be detained by U.S. government officials.
But Snowden did not leave the airport, and Aeroflot flight SU150 departed Moscow with seat 17A, his scheduled seat on the aircraft, empty.
What followed was a game of guesswork regarding where Snowden would flee, as Latin American countries began offering themselves as safe destinations.
For some time, it was believed that he would travel to Ecuador. In addition, the governments of countries including Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela declared that they would accept Snowden, although, ultimately, he did not travel to any Latin American nation.
Ultimately, Snowden remained in a Moscow airport terminal from late June until August 1, when the Russian government finally granted the U.S. citizen temporary asylum, allowing him to leave the Sheremetyevo airport and reside in Moscow.
Changes in Cuba – U.S. Relations
Cuba is currently going through a transitional period as Raul Castro has stated that he will retire from the presidency in 2018. Unless another Castro steps into power, this will effectively end the Castro dynasty that has been at the helm of the island since the country’s 1958 revolution.
Changing of the guard in Havana is occurring alongside other progressive initiatives, like the slow liberalization of the Cuban economy.
At the same time, it is worth noting that the Obama Administration has taken steps to ease some of the embargo’s restrictions. Certainly, Obama has not closed the detention center in Guantanamo Bay as promised, but other positive developments have occurred. For example, in 2011, Obama relaxed some travel restrictions regarding traveling to the Caribbean island.
In addition, there has been some diplomatic rapprochement between the two governments. Namely, Washington and Havana held immigration talks this past July. The meeting was the first since January 2011, aiming to “discuss implementing 1994 and 1995 agreements that regulate travel between the United States and Cuba, known as the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords.”
Can the U.S. Influence Cuba in 2013?
After these events, and in the context of evolving Washington-Havana relations, a Russian newspaper, Kommersant, recently published an article declaring that the U.S. had successfully pressured the Cuban government to deny Snowden’s entrance into the country.
The article is problematically filled with unnamed sources making verification of such an assertion next to impossible.
Verification aside, the Cuban government wasted little time in condemning the article. Specifically, longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro published a commentary in the Reflexiones webpage of on August 27.
In his article, Castro writes that he admires how valiant and just Snowden’s declarations were. He then wrote that the allegations by Kommersant are a lie and that the daily is a “mercenary” publication.
Given Washington’s desire to apprehend Snowden, it is logical to assume that it have warned nations not to give him asylum. For example, in mid-July, it was reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua and warned him not to accept Snowden.
But Cuba under the Castros has always had a certain “mystique” of not bowing to U.S. wishes and openly challenging its influence in the Western Hemisphere during the Cold War (and in the post-Cold War world). This is best evidenced by the incidents like the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Missile Crisis.
In the conclusion of his article, Castro declares, “It’s absolutely clear that the U.S. will always try to pressure Cuba […] but not for nothing we withstand 54 years defending – and whatever additional time is necessary – against the criminal economic blockade of the powerful empire.”
Following Cuba’s rich history of antagonism toward U.S. influence, the Castros would certainly be embarrassed to be caught agreeing to Washington’s whims.

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