to what extend did American foreign policy during the Clinton administration supported Cuba during the special period
TO WHAT EXTENT DID AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY DURING THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT CUBA DURING THE SPECIAL PERIOD?
To what extent did American foreign policy during the Clinton administration support Cuba during the special period?
The special period is generally regarded as the period in the Cuban history, beginning in 1989 to 2010. This period followed the breakdown of the Cuban economy that was otherwise strong prior to 1989. The breakdown of the Cuban economy and the economic crisis that characterizes the Special Period trace their roots to the Cuban revolution of the 1950s, when the Cuban government revolted against the US government and the authoritarian policies over other countries. Ramifications of the Cuban Revolution continue to affect the Cubans to this date. After the open revolt, the US resorted to changing its foreign policy towards Cuba and set up sanctions on its business with the Cuban government. The US stopped diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the country suffered for a little while. Thereafter, Cuba sought help from Eastern Europe. The USSR came to Cuba’s help, and Cuba was able to restructure its economy and stabilize it. Cuba realigned its system of governance, openly revolted against the US system of governance and opted for communism and socialism. The government planned and centrally governed the economy. The energy sector was fuelled by the USSR. In turn, Cuba provided military training grounds for the USSR close to the US. In the 1960s and 1970s, the military bases of the USSR in American soil were of utmost importance to the USSR, which at the time was a joint superpower to the United States of America. The disintegration of the USSR and the economic realignment of the Eastern European states in terms of global trading relations was the beginning of the fall of the Cuban economy that later deteriorated to disastrous levels. This research paper seeks to examine the extent to which foreign policy established during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s contributed positively toward the revival of the Cuban economy. Specific Acts such as the Helms-Burton Act and their impact on Cuba will be evaluated. However, specific emphasis will be placed on the positive effect of the United States’ foreign policy on the Cuban economy.
The fall of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union, formerly referred to as the USSR represented the main Cuban ally that orchestrated the country’s economic revival after Cuba had a fallout with the United States and subsequent sanctions imposed in the Country. After the Cuban Revolution, Cuba found an ally in the USSR. At the time, the USSR and the United States were fighting for military as well as economic superiority. The fallout with the United States and the open defiance to the United States defiance presented an opportunity to the USSR to create and have an ally on American soil. Cuba’s strategic positioning and close proximity to the United States was an opportunity any adversary to the United States would not ignore. The relationship between the two countries was beneficial as the USSR gained military bases on American soil while Cuba would benefit from imports such gasoline and other energy products. The USSR also presented Cuba with a European market to which it could export its products. This symbiotic relationship blossomed immediately after the Cuban revolution. Cuba did not benefit USSR in the economic sense as such and often received credits and writing off of its debts from the USSR.
The 1980s and the takeover of Gorbachev presented the relationship between the two countries with a strain that signaled the disintegration of the Cuban economy that overly relied on the stability of the USSR. Gorbachev introduced new-policy changes that would guide the Soviet’s new international trade relations. The USSR was increasingly losing out on the international arena to the United States. The United States’ influence on the international arena was significantly determining international trade and the economic policies. The USSR leadership slowly disavowed from the socialist and economic structures during this period. Cuba maintained its stance on communism and socialist structures and its defiance towards the American systems. The stance widened the relationship between the two countries as the Soviet Union sought to streamline its global business activities with the rest of the world. As changes progressively took center stage in the USSR so did resistance and problems between Russia and other member states within the USSR. The problems led to the breakdown of the USSR in 1991. The breakdown beckoned the disintegration of the Cuban State economy and the start of the special period.
The disintegration of the USSR meant that treaties with the USSR had to be rendered null and void. Military and financial commitments signed by the Soviet Union were no longer plausible and had to be stopped. After the breakdown of the USSR, Gorbachev ordered the withdrawal of over 3,000 troops that had been stationed in Cuba for training reasons. The act of withdrawing the troops did not have much substantial meaning, though it weakened the military power of the Cuban military. The Act was more symbolic, and it symbolized the breaking relationship between Cuba and the Eastern European countries. While the rest of the world was embracing internationalism and modern business relations that were acceptable to the United States, Cuba remained the last remaining true communist country. The United States had already put in pace trade embargoes after the Cuban revolution. Cuba still remained hostile to the American government and resisted its democratic system and quest to democratize other nations through its authoritarian way of dealing with other nations. The embargo meant that the Cuban nation could no longer import machinery nor did have enough gasoline to power the existing machines. The existing machines could no longer be maintained as the economy was thrown into disarray and repair finances were not a priority.
This 1996 Act is named after its original sponsors, Jesse Helms, and Dan Burton, Republican senators who first introduced the bill to the Congress. President Bill Clinton, then the president of the United States was responsible for enacting the Act into law. The Act sought to extend the powers of the initial embargo on Cuba and tighten the restrictions on the country. The Act was enacted in response to a violent action by the Cuban government in which they brought down two aircrafts In Libya that belonged to Cuban nationals living in the US. In the new extension, the embargo would be extended to cover foreign companies as well, including property in Cuba that belonged to Cuban citizens that had been granted asylum in the US and were now Citizens. The Act outlawed and restricted foreign companies from dealing in property in Cuba that belonged to Cuban citizens that had since become US citizens. The Act also restricted and outlawed foreign American company subsidiaries from trading with Cuba. Any company whose parent company was registered as an American company was restricted from trading with Cuba in any way.
The Act’s provisions were meant to help a peaceful transitioning of the Cuban economy from the socialist and communist ideals to embrace democracy. The Act also provided for the following; Legal action against US companies or their subsidiaries that attempted to conduct any form of business with Cuba. The legal action included barring from entry into the United States of the company’s corporate leadership. Other companies that were not American companies were also included in the Act and restricted from doing business dealings with the country. Essentially, the Act gave international companies two options; deal with the US or with Cuba. Considering that the US market was much larger and of potential benefit for any company, the choice was not really a choice but an outright restriction to make trading with Cuba an illegality. The Act also demanded for the protection of property, especially which once belonged to US citizens prior to the Cuban revolution. These citizens were given the right to sue in American courts. The Act also demanded the exclusion from the United States of corporate officials of companies that dealt with the Cuban property that once belonged to US nationals. The Act also declared its non-recognition of a Cuban transition government and Fidel Castro’s leadership. Raul, Fidel’s brother, was also included in the Act. The Act also prompted Cuba to extradite all persons sought by the US for crimes committed against the US. The Juragua Nuclear plant was also exclusively prohibited from completion by the Cuban government.
In Summary, the Act reiterated the United States’ initial embargo but widened its scope to include foreign companies that were American company subsidiaries. The Act also emphasized the United States support for a democratic Cuba. The Act, basically, tightened the initial embargo and sought to make it harder for Cuba to trade with other companies that may not have been of American origin. The Act resulted in an international outcry by companies and countries globally. International companies sued and reported the United States to the World Trade Organization. The Act was also seen by other countries as an intentional step by America to force its own actions on other countries against Cuba. Some countries and Companies that did not enjoy cordial relationships with the United States decided to defy the provisions of the Act and, instead, conduct directly with Cuba on their own terms. It has been argued that the Helms-Burton Act may not have had a bad impact on Cuba as the US ad intended. An international outcry brought the Cuban plight to the international Arena, and the US faced direct defiance from other countries that sought to create their own relations with Cuba. In fact, after the Act, Cuba has experienced an accelerated growth in its economy, albeit in small proportions. Improved international trade meant that Cuba would now access goods from other markets. The Act served to lighten the suffering of the Cuban people.
Operation Safe Haven and operation safe passage
These operations, conducted by the US government, took place in 1995. Destruction and a complete breakdown of the Cuban economy made life difficult for the Cuban people. Goods and services that they had gotten used to in the past were no longer accessible. Many people opted to escape the hard conditions in Cuba to neighboring countries, including the United States. The situation led to many people becoming refugees and requiring international aid. In fact, life as a refugee was easier compared to life in Cuba. The Guantanamo Bay housed the largest population of Cuban refugees. The United States conducted a joint task force operation that sought to depopulate the Guantanamo Bay and reduce the number of refugees that was growing beyond the possible capacity. A majority of the migrants in the Guantanamo Bay had attempted to cross into the United States in search of better living conditions. The United States had intercepted them and taken them back to Cuban land, Guantanamo Bay. Overcrowding in the Bay called for urgent action. The United States acted by conducting the two operations. The first operation, operation safe haven sought new camps for the migrants in order to depopulate the Guantanamo Bay camp. The US created other four camps in Cuba and neighboring Panama. After a while, when the conditions had improved, the migrants were taken back to Guantanamo Bay. The second operation was referred to as ‘safe passage.’ The second operation was necessitated by the expiry of the US-Panama treaty that had been created to accommodate the refugees in Panama.
Wet Feet and Dry-Feet Policy
Before 1990, many Cubans migrated into the United States. The Attorney general in the United States paroled the Cuban refugees who sought Asylum in the United States. Most of these migrants escaped the harsh economic conditions in Cuba in search for a better life in the United States. The Cubans migrants were able to access the United States through boats. After Fidel castor’s threats and riots in Havana that occurred in 1994, more people sought to escape Cuba for America. The rising number of migrants into the United States was a growing source of concern. According to international law, refugees escaping from inhabitable places were allowed were to be accommodated in the countries they were escaping to. However, in 1994, the Bill Clinton Administration altered their policy on refugees crossing from Cuba. The alteration was meant to reduce the number of migrants getting into America. In the policy, the United States would intercept the refugees in the sea and send them back to Cuba. The interceptions made it more difficult for Cubans to cross into the US. They opted for motorboats instead of their slow rafts to increase their chances of getting into the United States. In the new policy, migrants found at sea, referred to as ‘wet feet,’ were sent back to Cuba while the ones that had already reached American soil, ‘dry-feet’ would be accommodated. The ‘wet-feet’ and ‘dry-feet’ policy was, in essence, a violation of the international agreement on refugees and international refugee rights. The United States faced questions regarding the policy that contravened the Geneva Convention’s rights on international refugees. The United States justified its actions by claiming that the interceptions at sea and the sending back of the migrants was foe their safety as they were not safe at sea. In the new policy, the United States also agreed to take a maximum of 20,000 Cuban migrants annually.
During the Clinton administration, many agreements were reached on the refugees crossing into the US and those camping in Guantanamo Bay. In 1995, the Clinton Administration resolved to offer paroles to over 33,000 refugees that Cuba did not want back. It has been argued that the Clinton Administration and some of the policies they established actually helped Cubans during the special period. The agreements on refugees and offering asylum to refugees during the Clinton Administration served as a sign of improved conditions for the people who were lucky to get into the US. Even though some rights were contravened, more Cuban people gained legal access to the United States in the 1990s. These people included refugees that Cuba did not want to take back. However, the agreements and the implementation of the different policies have been sources of contention in the US. For instance, the US costal guard has been accused of excessive force in dealing with refugees arriving from Cuba. Other people who expressed no interest in returning to Cuba have also been forcefully returned to Cuba against their will. International refugee rights demand that refugees decide if they want to go back or not. Forcing refugees to go back to the places they were escaping from contravenes international law.
Gaining new allies
The flawed US foreign policy might be the sole reason for improved trading relationships Cuba has enjoyed in the recent past. The harsh foreign policy has been a source of concern as Cuba sought to have the US raise the sanctions it slapped on Cuba. Humanitarians have since blamed the United States for the poverty and harsh living conditions in Cuba. The American stance to tighten the embargo in the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, brought the country’s plight into the limelight. The United States’ adversaries and other companies that felt that the restrictions on Cuba were personal and that they violated the spirit of humanity sought to create personal relationships with Cuba.
Canada and China are among the main new allies that Cuba created during the special period. China, on its part played a significant role in the revival of Cuba’s economy while its influence in the international arena grew. China has been successfully devaluing its currency to achieve the international trading balance of payments that have favored its growth. China’s imports are cheap and readily available. Trade relations with China have been beneficial to Cuba on several grounds. For one, China has a no-interference policy which has enabled it to build relationships with several governments, including autocratic governments. China, on its part, is not a fully democratic country and heavily relies on socialist structures, similar to the principles that Fidel Castro always believed in. Cuba’s ailing economy needed an ally that would help without asking questions or without laying conditions. It found such an ally in China. China’s products were also ideal for the country because of the poverty and the inability to purchase high-value commodities. China’s goods helped the country to survive during the special period.
Canada and other European states also developed unilateral trade agreements with Cuba in the period after the fall of the Soviet Union. Canada, the European Union, and Mexico also questioned the legality of the Helms-Burton law as it clearly contravened international law. After facing open retaliation from its allies, the United States opted to suspend a few provisions in the law that it deemed most controversial. The law, however, remains on the books, even though the United States is not aggressively enforcing all its provisions. Cuba also continues to gain greater support from the international community in its case against the United States. The international support has also helped Cuba to develop new relationships with other countries. The new relations helped the country to claw out of the recession.
The socialist economic structures in the periods prior to 1990 were no longer plausible as the economy of Cuba disintegrated. The government had to change its policies because it could no longer support a centrally-planned economy due to lack of funds. The socialist market structures could not hold in the harsh economic times, the government responded by making essential market reforms that allowed several aspects of capitalism to take root. The market economy slowly transformed from a purely socialist structure to a mixed one where a free market existed. The Cuban people with natural entrepreneurial abilities found the new free market conditions ideal as they sought to survive in the harsh economic times. The Cuban revolution period had already cultivated the free market instincts through the success of the black market during the revolution that was not controlled by the government. Arguments have been raised that capitalism and a change to capitalism was responsible for the survival of the Cuban economy during the special period. Aggressive measures from the government and liberalization were the main reasons that the Cuban economy was able to survive during the special period. Even though Castro was a great believer of socialism and had achieved a great deal with his socialist ideals, he had to accept liberalization and some capitalism during the special period to boost the revival of the economy.
Researchers have argued that purely capitalist activities were responsible for the survival of the economy. In fact, a capitalist approach helped to revive the socialist economy. Castro’s socialist structures still remained throughout the special period as some sectors of the economy still retained government planning. These sectors included the education, health, as well as public transportation. Fidel Castro’s made an announcement to the people of Cuba that the economy would revert back to its full socialist nature once the recession was over. Fidel’s also opened Cuba up for entrance of foreign investment that he hoped would inject much needed foreign exchange to help with the stability and the subsequent growth of the economy. The entrance of private foreign investments was bound to liberalize the market and create major changes in the socialist structures that had existed after the Cuban revolution. The government had to loosen its group of some sectors in the economy as it allowed for foreign firms to freely invest in Cuba. The Cuban public, however, did not have much trouble acclimatizing to the new market structures as capitalist seeds had been sown during the Cuban revolution with the vibrant black market that was not centrally connected. The 1990s allowed them to apply their black market skills legally in the private business. Public sector workers that were laid off after the collapse of industries and corporations run by the government were allowed to embrace self-employment.
Shifting of global economic power
The United States has enjoyed global superiority both in the military sense, as well as in the economic sense. During the period prior to 1990, The United States enjoyed power over most countries, and all the nations tried to align their trade relations with the United States as the Dollar became the global trading currency. However, the 1990s and into the new millennium, global economic power has shifted to the Middle East, and Asian countries gaining more influence in the international market. The Chinese economy has since grown to become the second biggest economy in the world. The authoritarian attitude by the United States and the trade embargoes have contributed to the shifting of economic power as the dilution of the global influence held by the US. As the US laid and reiterated its trade embargoes during the Clinton administration, more international countries retaliated against such laws that contravened international law. The United States, in its quest to democratize nations and align countries to its policies and system of governance has continued to use such coercive methods to ‘persuade’ countries to choose democracy over other systems. The Cuba- US relation epitomizes the issue. This quest has continually alienated the US from other countries and created new adversaries that are now willing to create relations with countries that are considered not friendly by the US. The interference policy by the United States on local political systems have also contributed to the growth of adversaries that are willing to trade with countries that the US has sanctioned. The shift in economic power has helped Cuba in gaining new allies as the US continues to relax its embargoes in the country.
The Helms-Burton law established and enacted by the Clinton Administration to reiterate its trade embargoes on Cuba has served to help Cuba and not to destroy the country as the United States had initially intended. The law clearly contravened international law as the US sought to expand the embargo restrictions to include foreign companies that were subsidiaries of US-incorporated companies. With the law, the US citizens could sue foreign companies in American courts for dealing in properties in Cuba that initially belonged to them. The law caused an international outcry as countries denounced the law and questioned its legality. Even US allies openly questioned the legality of the law and took measures to retaliate against the US law which was seen as disrespectful to the international law. The US allies, in their defiance towards the US, opened unilateral talks with Cuba and created trade relations that served to help Cuba survive through the special period. Fidel Castro, on his part, was willing to forego his political ideologies to save his regime and his people from abject poverty. He openly invited foreign investors into the country to invest in the private sector. He also legalized self-employment to enable the private sector to drive the country through the recession period. However, throughout the special period, Cuba reiterated that the socialist structure was still in place. Certainly, the policies and laws that were passed during the Clinton Era to tighten the Cuban trade embargo turned out to be helpful after all.
Betancourt, Roger R. “SHOULD THE US LIFT THE CUBAN EMBARGO? YES; IT ALREADY HAS; AND IT DEPENDS!.” CUBA IN TRANSITION (2013): 175.
Cox, Ronald W., ed. Corporate power and globalization in US foreign policy. Vol. 15. Routledge, 2012.Etheredģe, Lloyd S. Can governments learn?: American foreign policy and Central American revolutions. Elsevier, 2013.Hook, Steven W., and John W. Spanier. American foreign policy since World War II. Washington, DC: Cq Press, 2004.
Mead, Walter Russell. Special providence: American foreign policy and how it changed the world. Routledge, 2013.Nye Jr, Joseph S., Gideon Rachman, Walter Russell Mead, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Peter D. Feaver, Christopher Gelpi et al. The domestic sources of American foreign policy: insights and evidence. Edited by James M. McCormick. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.