Behind the Atlantic Council’s Cuba survey

By Jesús Arboleya • Published on February 19, 2014

HAVANA — A great stir was created in the United States — and also in Cuba — by the recent survey sponsored by the organization The Atlantic Council, which showed that most Americans support a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Behind the Atlantic Council’s Cuba surveyThat trend is even more emphatic in Florida, particularly among Cuban-Americans, who reportedly include the hard nucleus of the adversaries of the Cuban government.

The survey’s importance is that it confronts the myth of the purported popular support for the existing policy, rebutting the excuse that the Cuban problem has connotations in domestic public policy that the politicians are unable to ignore.

As such, the survey says nothing different from what other surveys of this type, made in the past few years, have said. It says that the opinion of certain groups in the population (even those in the majority) is not enough to determine the foreign policy of the United States, but that the consensus for its design and implementation is forged inside the centers of power in that country.

The impact of the Atlantic Council survey is caused by the fact that it was sponsored by one of the most representative organizations of the U.S. establishment and carried out by one of the most influential pollsters in the country. This prompts us to think about the true background this initiative might have, inasmuch as it reflects the thinking of these sectors about the need to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The Atlantic Council was founded in 1961 with the avowed purpose to stimulate dialogue and discussion about critical international issues, with a view to enriching the public debate and promoting a consensus for the appropriate responses of the administration, Congress, corporations and nonprofit institutions to leaders in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Its first president was none other than Christian Herter, former Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration. As we look at the board of directors throughout the Council’s history, we find other secretaries from various administrations, national security advisers, high-ranking generals, important diplomats and functionaries, as well as executives of the largest U.S. transnational corporations.

The Obama administration has benefited from many of these people, in particular Chuck Hagel, former president of the Atlantic Council, who was appointed Secretary of Defense, and Gen. James L. Jones, former NATO chief, who went from executive director of the Council to national security adviser. These are two of the most relevant instances.

Hagel was succeeded as president of the Council by Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. The current president of the Council is Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, who, despite having supported McCain in 2008 and having presented Sarah Palin to the Republican Convention, was appointed by Obama as ambassador to China in 2011, a post Huntsman relinquished to seek (unsuccessfully) the Republican nomination to the presidency in 2012.

If we review the programs of the Atlantic Council throughout its history, we see that its interests expanded according to the priorities of the United States at all times. It played an important role in the organization of NATO and the articulation of U.S. hegemony in the trans-Atlantic system. Later, it focused on the role of Japan in Southeast Asia and the Vietnam war.

After the Cold War, it added eastern Europe and China to its priorities. It watches the Middle East and has focused on Africa in recent years.

However, the Council has not paid much attention to Latin America. As recently as May 2013, it created the Adrianne Arsht Latin American Center with the objective, according to its sponsors, of studying the political, economic and social transformations in the region, with a view to offering “new ideas and innovative political recommendations” to the U.S. government regarding those problems. Its programs are concentrated on Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

In the case of Cuba, there’s a precedent of the publication of a compendium of laws and regulations regarding Cuba in 1994, precisely when demonstrations favorable to a change in policy toward the island were on the increase. The compendium was updated in 2005. It bears noting that among the Council’s “most popular topics” today are Egypt, Syria, Ukraine and Cuba.

As it studies U.S. public opinion, the Atlantic Council survey has a peculiarity that distinguishes it from its other projects: it does not attempt to “educate” policy makers in a specific problem but to influence their behavior regarding that problem.

This is confirmed by the fact that the survey has not been an isolated political act, yet it has been joined by the unexpected statements of the Cuban-born sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul, who said he would be willing to invest in Cuba if the right conditions merit it. In addition, a former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, said that improving U.S.-Cuba relations would be beneficial to his state, thus placing the Cuban problem at the center of the current electoral campaign, where he is trying to regain his post.

Besides, the Council’s interest perhaps has been stimulated by the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and Cuba to solve the problems that hinder their relations. The European Union has promoted these negotiations, compelled by the knowledge of what’s happening in the U.S. in connection with Cuba, of which the Atlantic Council’s survey could be a manifestation.

Add to this the problem the Cuban situation represents to the United States, with a view to the next Summit of the Americas in 2015, now that most Latin American countries have rejected the exclusion of Cuba from that gathering.

Although it is too soon to reach conclusions regarding the intentions and future of these actions, the objectives set by the Atlantic Council for Latin America coincide almost exactly with the statements made by President Obama about Cuba on Nov. 8, 2013, in Miami. His audience then included people who once promoted the most aggressive and intransigent policies against Cuba but now reveal themselves as “moderates” either by conviction (people change) or opportunism, because some people never change.

Any moderately informed observer can see that what’s happening implies qualitative changes in the debate over Cuba and that we’re in the presence of a concerted action by important groups of power that are interested in at least reevaluating policy toward Cuba and update it to the new circumstances.

This explains the reactions that events have created in the Cuban-American far right, and I think they’re right to worry. In the end, they are not the ones who determine Cuba policy and they’re being threatened with being pushed out of the boat.

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