It’s hard to know how Cubans could have had a better Christmas present. On second thoughts, it’s easy actually: the US could have declared an end to its small-minded, bullying economic blockade of Cuba which has been going on for well over fifty years. But it’ll come. President Obama has declared moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba, which he described as “out-dated”. Cuba’s President Raoul Castro welcomed the shift. Apparently the improved relations were helped a great deal by Pope Francis, and it’s expected that the US will open an embassy in Havana in the coming months.
But there’s one group that’s not joining in the outbreak of good cheer and hostility-ending. Anti-Castro Cubans, based in Miami, are livid about the eighteen months of negotiations between the two governments. Why? Because nobody told them. They had no say. And why would Obama make sure they were kept outside the loop? Because he figured that the Cuban exiles would do all they could to wreck the negotiations and maintain the status quo. “A slap in the face and a threat to national security” was just one of the yelps to be heard.
Sound familiar? It should, especially if you’re of a certain age. When Maggie Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 at Hillsborough, unionism went bananas. Every or nearly every town in the state had its own “Ballygobackwards Says No” banner. Paisley addressed a quarter million unionists at Belfast City Hall and promised that “Never, never, never, never” would there be south of Ireland interference in the running of the northern state. Unionists were furious at what had been agreed and were particularly enraged that it had been conducted without involving them. And why did Garret Fitzgerald and Co not involve them? Because they knew that agreement would never get off the ground if Paisley and Co got wind of it.
But he didn’t, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement helped pave a way for the Good Friday Agreement, and anyone who says that hasn’t left us better off must be very fond of conflict and bloodshed. Paisley learned that “Never!” could be softened to “Oh, OK”, power-sharing was agreed and new possibilities emerged. Whether or not the best use has been made of those possibilities – sin sceal eile. But while the dinosaurs here haven’t become extinct, their ranks have been thinned. So a message to the Cuban exiles lepping up and down and howling “Betrayal!” this morning. Get used to it, guys, and carve out the best deal you can for yourselves. While there’s still time.