Elevate Difference

The Cuban Revolution (1959-2009): Relations with Spain, the European Union, and the United States

Joaquín Roy’s study is, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive attempt to define Cuba’s relationship to the Western World (Europe and the U.S.) in the past fifty years. There is no question of its timely publication—to coincide with the fifty year anniversary of the Cuban Revolution (1959-2009). Indeed, this is a moment when the world is questioning the ability of this small island nation to remain independent and politically isolated while in permanent conflict with the most powerful nation in the world and only 90 miles from its coast. How on earth did Castro’s Cuba survive? Why hasn’t it, like many other Latin American nations fallen prey to either an insidious or explicit United-States sponsored decline? In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas certainly did (1990), and in Chile, Salvador Allende did, almost twenty years before (1973). What specifically makes Cuba exceptional?

Roy is very well placed to deal with these questions since he is the author of more than thirty books on the European Union (EU), Cuba, and the U.S.’ diplomatic relations and policies. His study Cuba, the United States, and the Helms-Burton Doctrine: International Reactions previously explored some of the larger points that he develops in this more recent tome.

At a time when left-leaning governments are being elected in many Latin American countries and seemingly coming together, Roy’s analysis is precious. It details the ebb and flow of an ever-shifting diplomacy in great detail, ranging from the specifics of economic aid from individual countries or from the EU, to the intricate rapport between high level officials, the “butterfly-effects” of diplomacy—if ever there was one in the political sphere.

Roy’s study reviews the notorious aspects of the Cuban diplomacy, such as the Helms-Burton Law (Cuban embargo, or “blockade” [bloqueo] as the Cubans call it), and adds detail to this bigger picture. Because Cuba’s independence is such a novelty (it was the last Latin American colony to achieve sovereignty in 1898 after more than four centuries of colonial rule), the analysis goes back to the beginning of the island, providing much detail on the rocky foundations of the autonomous country, a period which lasted about 50 years before the Revolution. Roy also delves into more complex aspects of Cuba’s relations with Spain after the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the “end” of the Spanish Empire, navigating the contrasts and parallels between the Franco and post-Franco relations.

Of course, Roy’s attempt to separate the analyses of each country in individual chapters is futile since the aforementioned “butterfly effect” makes all diplomacy unavoidably intertwined. Many decisions are entangled and, especially in recent years, reactions to any statement are instantaneous. The rotating presidency of the EU is one of the most convoluted examples of this; each country has its diplomacy, and the EU has its own relations, but since the presidency is revolving, this provokes knotting and redundancies. Yet, while reading Roy’s text, one is never lost in his analysis and this despite the detail it contains. Because it synthesizes many different points of view, this work is essential to anyone endeavoring to understand just why the Cuban Revolution is still alive. Of course, Roy doesn’t provide us with the answer to that question, but then again, neither does (or can?) anyone else.

Written by: Sophie M. Lavoie, February 2nd 2010