Campus & Community

Quick Questions: PhD candidate Arturo Lopez-Levy on Obama’s historic visit to Cuba

Arturo Lopez-Levy says there are tangible and intangible benefits for the United States from the change of policy toward Cuba.

Arturo Lopez-Levy says there are tangible and intangible benefits for the United States from the change of policy toward Cuba.

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a PhD candidate at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and a lecturer at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. A Cuban émigré who came to the United States in 2001, he has served as a consultant and analyst for organizations concerned about U.S. policies toward Cuba and Latin America. He also has written about Cuba for the Huffington Post, and he just returned to the U.S. from Cuba, where he provided commentary for CNN’s coverage of President Obama’s historic visit.

This email interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: On March 21, President Obama became the first president in 80 years to visit Cuba. Polls tell us that 72 percent of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, think re-establishing relations with Cuba is a good thing. How does this relationship help the U.S?

A: There are tangible and intangible benefits for the United States from the change of policy toward Cuba. Among the tangibles, it is important to highlight new opportunities for business and state-to-state cooperation in areas of common interest — such as cooperation against common threats of the old and new security agenda: terrorism, environmental disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, anti-narcotics interdiction, international crime, etc.

The intangibles are not less important. A policy of engagement addresses a “test case” of American leadership in the world and the hemisphere. American presidents and diplomats have been the laughingstock of the international community every time they defended an irrational policy that claims to defend human rights in Cuba by infringing upon the right to travel of Americans. All countries and major newspapers of the Americas have denounced the U.S. embargo as illegal, immoral and counterproductive. Every year the General Assembly of the United Nations condemns the embargo by overwhelming majorities, isolating not Cuba but the United States. Only Israel has voted with Washington, explaining that although it opposes all embargoes, it feels the obligation not to leave its main ally alone. How does American prestige look in these circumstances? Strategic rivals such as Russia and China take advantage of this American diplomatic fiasco for foreign policy and propaganda purposes. A leader without followers is not a leader at all.


Q: What impact will this new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba have in the region?

A: The whole international and hemispheric community has applauded President Obama’s action toward Cuba. There is not a single country that has expressed any objection whatsoever to the policy of engagement and rapprochement. Latin American and Canadian sympathy for Obama’s move helps the dialogue with the rest of the region, because it removes a major disagreement about an embargo that represents the worst of American imperial hubris in the region.


Q: What’s the downside to normalizing relations with Cuba?

A: There is no downside to normalizing relations with Cuba in foreign policy. The argument that ending the embargo would legitimize the Cuban government is a sophism to assist a fiasco of more than 50 years. The Cuban government has zones of legitimacy associated precisely with the strong value of nationalism and the effect of rallying the whole country around the flag in response to a policy perceived by most Cubans as a continuation of interference in Cuba’s internal affairs.

In domestic politics, Obama’s trip will provoke some retaliation and anger by defenders of the embargo, … but these effects are negligible, because the Cuban-American community’s attitude toward the embargo has changed dramatically in the last decade.

The majority of the American people recognize leadership in Obama’s action. By acting with the clarity and dignity of a democratic superpower, the White House is placing American national interests above the traumas of an aggravated community that is dying day by day. In any case, foreign policy is not therapy, no matter how [horrifying] those traumas might have been, [and] diplomacy is an essential tool for promoting American interests and values. Isolation and unilateralism should be the last choice — and 50 years of failure is enough [reason] to change a bad policy.

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