For years, I have used Fidel Castro in my lecture about how to prepare for a negotiation. (In fact, I think I might have even taken this example from Roger Fisher–completely possible, given the context.) In any case, as part of a discussion of the seven elements from Getting to Yes, I used Castro as my example of what happens when you don’t prepare on commitment. “What would happen,” I would harangue, “if Castro called Bush (then Clinton, and then Bush again) and said ‘I quit.’ Do we even know how we would respond?” If our sanction policy towards Cuba was designed to get the Cuban government to change, then what would happen when we won? And how would we know we have won?
So now we have won, right? Castro is retiring and we, the US, are still standing. Whoopee!! Or did Castro win? He is retiring (having lasted longer than Jesse Helms), likely to die peacefully in his sleep, and never had to give in to the US.
Regardless, can we actually start negotiating with Cuba over the end of sanctions now? It is still unclear what we actually want from this negotiation–and this leads to two problematic results. First, our stated goals remain unrealistic and arguably not even advantageous for us. We say we want free and fair elections. Really? That’s not working out so well for us in Pakistan or even Iraq–do we need that to be the goal? There have got to be more productive and smaller steps that Cuba could take along the way that would result in the lifting of sanctions. We have renewed relations with Vietnam and are even talking to North Korea. Cuba is worse?
Second, without clear goals, the goal line keeps moving. It was completely depressing to to hear various pundits and politicians now saying that change won’t occur until Castro is dead or Raul, his brother, steps down. When that happens, will we ourselves place another hurdle in the way? Instead of looking at this as a terrific opportunity to set the agenda, we remain stuck in a failed policy. It is unclear to me that sanctions have helped anyone in the US or in Cuba other than the select politicians in Cuba and in Florida who make this their platform. It has been repeatedly argued that if Florida didn’t have so many electoral votes, the sanctions would have been lifted long ago. In short, sanctions as a negotiation tool are a blunt instrument with years of unintended consequences.
In the meantime, who really won this particular negotiation started between Castro and the US a mere ten (10!) presidents ago? Not the people of Cuba–but not the people of the US either. Let’s hope that this lose-lose negotiation can end soon.