Once Again Cuba

Luis Rubio

Cuba is always a compelling theme in Mexican politics. The connection between the two nations dates back to the discovery of America, but it was the Cuban Revolution that changed the rationality of Mexican politics; it similarly opened up spaces of internal political interaction as well as uncorking fault lines among some sectors of society. Inevitable that each approach, or the opposite, and every presidential junket unleashes passions, often uncontrollable.

What’s relevant is that, beyond the rhetoric, the governmental logic since Fidel set sail upon the waters of the Veracruz coastline has been only one: security. In its early years, security was defined nearly exclusively as an exchange of politico-diplomatic buttressing for an exemption of Cuban guerilla activities in Mexican territory. From the Revolution a rapprochement also arose between the government and the Left that greatly broadened the margin of political maneuvering. But the logic continued to be the same: security, this time understood as internal political peace. The discourse of the “right Left” (atinada izquierda) coined by President López Mateos would have been inconceivable in the absence of the island´s revolutionary impetus.

Cuba’s transformation in the following decades had much to do with the Soviet Union and its eventual dismantling, as well as with the aging of its leadership. As the revolutionary spirit was replaced by a logic of survival, the Cuban government undertook strategies of economic opening that, while not involving the majority of its population, permitted them to attract tourists, investments in oil and mining. The inexorable effect on Mexico was that this diminished the perception of the risk to security.

Come what may in Cuban policy in the ensuing years, the impact on Mexico is going to be enormous. No other country triggers such great internal passions. The discussion with respect to the President Peña’s recent trip speaks for itself: whether it is legitimizing a dictatorship, whether it doesn’t understand that we are no longer part of Latin America, whether the dissidents should be addressed. Nothing like this happens in relation to the U.S. Although I respect the critics, I think that they are missing the point.

Among U.S. scholars of international relations there are two schools of thought: that of the “idealists” that, fueled by Woodrow Wilson a century ago, propose the construction of a desirable world (hence, a world safe for democracy and seeking to democratize the world); and the “realists” who accept the world as it is and who advocate dealing with whomever is in charge, regardless of ideology. Perhaps there is no clearer exponent of that aspect today than Kissinger. Applying that perspective to Mexican politics, recent governments have been “idealists”, that is, they’ve attempted to exert an influence on the transformation of the island, judging its government in moral terms, visiting with its dissidents, etc. President Peña’s government is returning to the “realist” logic that characterized his fellow party predecessors.

Behind the difference there is no especially party-oriented rationale, but rather a political conception of the world. For the three former governments that, with greater or lesser emphasis, attempted to slip away from the logic of security that preceded them, what was important was to profess and advertise the new Mexican democracy. Nothing wrong about that had it been about Nigeria. But, being about Cuba,   our close-by neighbor, the situation is very distinct and that’s why I applaud the president’s decision to accept and follow the ritual demanded by Cuban protocol. Machiavelli affirmed that the prince needs to get his hands dirty and that there should be no ethical considerations in that regard.

Cuba is perhaps the most important country for Mexico at the present time and that implies dealing with whomever there is to deal with. That is what Mexico does with China and Guatemala and there’s no reason to act distinctly in this case. Cuba is singularly important for two reasons: first because its security apparatus has an enormous presence in Mexican territory and that creates a situation in itself; and secondly because the island is undergoing a transition that is conceivably more biological than political: if it turns out that the plans that might exist for a transition do not survive the duo at the helm, Mexico could be the immediate victim. It is in this sense that the logic of security is once again an imperative for Mexico.

When the USSR collapsed, its old security structure took on a life of its own. Part became what ended up being called the “Russian Mafia” in Europe and other latitudes, part devoted itself to internal businesses and eventually, recouped the power. If the central control that characterizes the island collapses, it is entirely possible that something similar could take place in Mexico, far more vulnerable than Western Europe. The transition can end up being gradual, negotiated or, at least, managed, but it can also end up being chaotic. If the latter occurs, Mexico would be the first “line of defense”.

In this logic, every effort engineered by the Mexican government to contribute to achieving a good outcome in the upcoming transition constitutes the exercise of the most elemental responsibility of the government in its own territory: the security of its citizens. Our institutional weaknesses are so obvious (as illustrated by the security crises typifying us), that the last thing that Mexico needs is to add to the mix a “transformer” factor, potentially more perilous, such as the Cuban one. Everything that should be and must be negotiated with the Cuban government upgrades the security of Mexico.



a quick-translation of this article can be found at www.cidac.org