Why Cuba Is Back at the Center of Mexican Politics

By Luis Rubio

This analysis first appeared in America Economia

Security became central in the Mexican government's logic toward Cuba the day Fidel Castro set out from the Veracruz coast, to forge a revolution in Cuba.

In the early years of the new Cuban regime, such security concerns translated mostly into mutual, diplomatic and political support in return for exempting Mexican territory of any Cuban guerrilla activity. Thus it was security in the form of domestic peace, in spite of the Cuban revolution's impact on domestic politics, which ultimately prompted a rapprochement between the governing powers and the political Left in Mexico.

In the 1960s and beyond, Cuba's fate was largely tied to the Soviet Union, then to its collapse and the inevitable aging of its own leadership. As the revolutionary spirit transformed into a logic of survival, the Cuban government began an economic opening that, without much involving the population, attracted foreign tourism and investment in the oil and mining sectors. The inevitable effect on Mexico was to mitigate its perception of Cuba as a security risk.

Whatever happens in Cuban politics in the coming decades will have an enormous impact on Mexico. No other country provokes such passions inside Mexico. Discussions around President Enrique Peña Nieto's recent visit to Cuba speak for themselves: on whether or not he was legitimizing a dictatorship, if he should meet with dissidents or understood that we were no longer a part of Latin America? We have nothing similar in our relations with the United States.

While I respect the critics, I believe they are missing the point.

In the context of political or international relations theory, we may term the interactions of recent Mexican governments with Cuba as "idealist," as they sought to influence its fate, or qualified its government in moral terms or contacted dissidents, and so on. The Peña government however has returned to the realpolitik often associated with Bismarck or Henry Kissinger and indeed Peña Nieto's own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This is not to do with parties, but with political outlook.

Biology and chaos

For the preceding three governments of Mexico, which sought more or less emphatically to abandon the security logic, the important point was to make a proud display of Mexico's own democratic transition. Nothing wrong with that of course, had it been with Nigeria. But the situation is very different with Cuba, our close neighbor, for which reason I applaud the President's decision to follow the "Cuban protocol" - Machiavellian though it may be.

Cuba may now again be the most important country for Mexico, which means dealing with whoever is there. That is what Mexico does with China and Guatemala, and there is no reason why it shouldn't with Cuba as well.

It is singularly important for two reasons. First, because its security apparatus has an enormous presence on our territory, creating a "situation" to consider in its own right. And secondly, because the island may soon live a biological, rather than a political transition - that is, certain individuals will die. If existing plans made for this eventuality do not survive the island's governing duo, Mexico could become an immediate victim, which again makes the security logic imperative.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, its former security apparatus took on a life of its own. Part of it became what has become known as the Russian mafia, and other segments busied themselves with internal affairs and eventually, with recovering power. Should the centralized control that characterizes the island collapse, something very similar may happen. Transition can be gradual, negotiated or at least administered, but can also become chaotic. Mexico would be on the "front line" if the latter were to occur.

In this logic, any effort the Mexican government makes to help ensure Cuba's future transition is successful is merely to exercise one of its elemental duties: to assure the security of its own citizens. Our institutional weaknesses are so obvious (as critical crime levels indicate), that the last thing Mexico needs is a "transforming" factor of potentially greater gravity, which Cuba can become.

Thus anything that must be negotiated with the Cuban government must be considered a question of national security for Mexico.

Reprinted with permission from Worldcrunch.

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