Negotiating with Machiavelli

When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro divulged to the world their shared intention to reestablish diplomatic relations.

Cuban negotiators will sit at the table with their European counterparts in the first week of March with an unexpected advantage: one provided by the December 17 announcement and one that will allow them to boast of no longer depending on the cooperation the Eurozone can offer. Like good cheaters at poker, they will brag about the Ace of hearts they hide up their sleeves, a dollarized manna from the North, so as to make believe that they no longer play under pressure.

Like he who offers two buyers the same merchandise to see who pays more, they will take with them some list of prisoners they could free, they will announce their next economic apertures, and they will make whatever promise they would be willing to eventually break.

The negotiating technique of the Cuban government rests upon the ambiguity with which it outlines the doctrine of not yielding a single millimeter of its principles. Its pragmatic interlocutors, removed from ideological catechism, are incapable of discerning the extent reached by the cynicism of a functionary who gets flustered upon sensing that an innocent suggestion could “put the sovereignty of the homeland in danger,” and yet, without the batting of an eyelid, seek foreign investment in petroleum extraction projects or the 90-year usufruct-style lease of future golf courses.

It does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, yet it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies

It’s astonishing, the plasticity of an intransigence that does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, that upholds the morality of arbitrary detentions, of physically attacking dissidents, and of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of civil society while it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies, and also accepts the exploitation of one man at the hands of another in Cuba, this as long as the exploiter is foreign and the exploited is Cuban.

Cuban negotiators expect to convince their counterparts that the country deserves credibility and respect because it grows and advances on a solid foundation, but that it needs to be aided as though it were a nation in a state of catastrophe. In certain subjects they act as if they had absolute power. They do not feel limited by the existence of a labor union that may prevent them from striking deals that will lower wages or by an eco-friendly group of parliamentarians that will seek to limit mining in protected areas. Much less by the fact that an irritating part of the Republic’s Constitution may not fit well in what is being negotiated.

Oh! But don’t touch that point of Human Rights. It is then that they raise their chins, frown their brows, and clench their fists… or maybe not. Maybe they’ll conjure a knowing smile and make some indication insinuating that it is important to have trust, they might even raise their index finger, to subtly inform that the impediments, external to their own wishes, come from “up above.” Then, slowly, as if they were bouncing an invisible ball with their palms a few centimeters from the table’s surface, they’ll signal the need for patience. They’ll close up their briefcases and they’ll get up satisfied, sure that they have once again achieved a magnificent purchase of time.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

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