Cuban foreign policy is strategically flexible

Cuban diplomacy makes use of the same representational mechanisms of political propaganda today that the regime has used for more than 60 years. It still relies on the aesthetic imagery drawn from Cuban cinema and avant-garde graphics of the 1960s. That mode of representation still adds vitality to the symbolic attacks that were developed in the early 60s and 70s but continue to this day.

Cuba also devises very fine strategies of containment and distraction to win secure support and votes from other nations. In light of this, how might we explain the Cuban delegation’s recent abstention on the resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations to condemn the annexation of four Ukrainian regions by Russia? 

Cuban foreign policy is strategically flexible. Cuban diplomacy is elaborated in a covert manner, and thus lacks transparency. Since 1959 the doctrine of simulation as a combat weapon has prevailed.

This strategy is part of a grand mise en scène of social choreography known as the Cuban revolution. It is manifest as a symbolic universe of repeated phrases and nostalgic images deployed to persuade the world that Cuba is at the forefront of the trench of a total war against U.S. imperialism. At the same time, in the background the Cuban government makes agreements and maintains bilateral exchanges with what inside the island are the most nefarious figures of international politics. 

Inside Cuba, the State continue to circulate the image of a past that no longer exists, but which, in the symbolic universe of our militaristic national epic, continues to treat our reality as something outside real time, where and extraordinary present and future come together. 

It is in that timeless realm, 1962 or 1972, to cite two exemplary years for Cuban socialism, are viewed as the equivalent to a setback or victory in the international arena in the present. It is in this case that the vote on the resolution condemning the U.S. embargo continues to be one of these arguments directed both to the Cuban population of the island, and the international community that remains sympathetic to the Cuban government. 

The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Cuban foreign policy is of no consequence. For a foreign intelligence apparatus that relies on conspiracy theories for its legitimacy, the result inside the island will always be the same, a gain. But what is even more suggestive is that in the arena of international diplomacy it is usually the same, a gain.

When Cuban political propaganda introduced the symbolic representation of the Cuban revolution for “62 thousand millennia,” it did so on the basis of a logic of semiotization and semantization in reverse. A certain kind of nostalgia was projected into the future, but also towards the world outside the island. Cuban diplomacy abroad takes charge of this, and its effectiveness is based on this foundation. 

The management of political symbols that explain the success of Cuban diplomacy also benefits from the legacy of pre-revolutionary diplomacy. In 1948 Cuban representatives to the United Nations General Assembly already had an outstanding voice in key texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a bit of history that the current regime continues to exploit to its advantage.

The halo of Cuban diplomacy today is based on this quasi-perfect image within this cosmos of duplicities, falsifications and adulterations. That is to say, Cuban diplomacy is a practice of symbolic and social engineering, striving to manage the perceptions and representations on the internal dynamics of the island. This is combined with a shrewd voting strategy regarding multilateral policy in the United Nations. 

This is exactly where Cuban foreign policy hits the nail on the head, because in the end these are the rhetorical instruments necessary to survive within the diplomatic world that is gestated in Geneva or in New York. And Cuban foreign policy, with its outsized consular representations and embassies in almost every nation on the planet, knows how to make use of UN diplomacy like no other nation.

Cuban diplomacy is flexible: multilateral positions are adopted when feasible, bilateralism can serve as a shield when necessary. When it needs to adopt a hostile position, it presents unilateralism, international law and even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself as arguments in defense of its political regime, even though its internal practices consistently violate human, political, cultural and economic rights. 

This is public knowledge in high diplomatic circles, but their pragmatic relativism leads them to overlook or diminish the significance of the violations. Instead, the stereotypes of the sixties keep things going. It is here where the imaginary of the embargo, the imaginary of social justice and equality invisibilize the reports of crude repression, the police abuse and the more than a thousand political prisoners who to this date are still in prison.

It must be understood that many of the delegates and ambassadors and even the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights are aware of the extraordinary capacity of Cuban diplomacy to unite votes for a range of UN proposals. It does not matter that in Cuba there are hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, multilateralism is almost untouchable policy in these aspects. 

MINREX is aware of this and its will is focused on this effort. What we have to be aware of today is that the alliance between MININT-MINREX is absolute, that it is Communist Party policy that these ministries operate in unison, and more than ever today Cubans inside and outside Cuba live within this inextricable bond between internal and external policing and diplomacy.

Hamlet Lavastida, artist and former political prisoner.

En español:


La política exterior cubana es estratégicamente flexible

Hamlet Lavastida

La diplomacia cubana se elabora de forma encubierta, por lo que carece de transparencia. Desde 1959prevalece la doctrina de la simulación como arma de combate.

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