Commentary: SOLAVAYA! The Challenges of U.S. and Cuba Relations

In Cuban Spanish jargon, there is a phrase they use to make bad things or happenings go away. For example, if in the middle of the night people listen to the song of the owl, considered an ominous bird by farmers, they would say without hesitation, “Solavaya!” Also, when passing a funeral, they would say “Solavaya” to chase away the death. I suspect that something bad stayed behind on Dec. 17, 2014, when President Obama said the U.S. foreign policy to Cuba had been “a failure.” I want to think that a new time has started for the relations between the two countries.

I recently attended a meeting in Cuba. I sat with Cubans and we shared our best wishes for the future. They also raised some real questions. The first one is: If there is an ending to our historic policies regarding Cuba, what is it that we would be starting? It is almost impossible to think that the United States would give up its policy concerning Cuba entirely. Cuba has always ranked high on the list of foreign policy concerns for the United States.

Another question raised was: Are we talking about a change of tactics, but same strategy as always? The truth is that Cuba resisted an aggressive U.S. policy for more than 40 years with no concessions. That was an extraordinary show of external strength. Nonetheless, it is said that the strength of any country to deal with international relations is measured by internal forces. The internal reality of Cuba is one where it has demonstrated its ability to sustain a survivalist economy, but it takes more than that to develop a country.

A third challenge arises from the geopolitical field of Latin America. The recent “Bolivarian conscience,” developed by Hugo Chavez and some other Latin American leaders, was demonstrated in their firm desire to include Cuba in any hemispheric summit. That, combined with U.N. votes against Cuban blockade, has pushed the United States to reevaluate its positions in the face of a more united continent.

There is still a fourth challenge: The majority of the people in the United States do not want to maintain the blockade. Churches have played a fundamental role on changing the way the American people see Cuba. Even unlikely supporters in U.S. politics are saying that the blockade has impacted the United States more than Cuba. Numbers talk –– estimates of the sanctions’ annual cost to the U.S. economy range from $1.2 to $3.6 billion, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.[1] 

The idea of lifting the blockade is complicated from a Cuban perspective, too. It can seem threatening, as the globalized, capitalist economy would rush into the island the way a “Bay of Pigs” group of invading soldiers couldn´t. What will it mean for the values and achievements of Cuban revolution?

This is an excellent moment for all peacemakers to say “Solavaya” to all bad influences from the past and to work on friendly and just relations with our brothers and sisters in Cuba. It is time that U.S. policymakers remember Jesus’ teachings to “love God with all your heart … and your neighbor as yourselves” (Mark 12:29-31).

[1] Hanson Daniel, Dayne Batten & Harrison Ealey. “It’s Time For The U.S. To End Its Senseless Embargo Of Cuba,” Forbes Magazine.

Angel L. Rivera-Agosto is Latin America and the Caribbean Area Executive.

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