U.S. public diplomacy with Cuba — or the United States engaging with Cuban public opinion — is an intriguing subject. The principal reason for this is because it has never been tried. There was no attempt before the 1959 Revolution because the United States had no need to convince the Cuban government and people of why the United States mattered to them. In almost every aspect of life it was impossible to conceive of Cuba without the United States. Fidel Castro’s Revolution changed that. And since the Revolution, the Castro regime has carefully molded the United States as the arch enemy of the Cuban people. Successive U.S. administrations have made little effort to banish that impression while U.S. public diplomacy has been largely aimed at the Cuban-American exile community.
The public diplomacy challenge for the United States with Cuba is exciting but also formidable. The Cuban Government has had many years experience of controlling access to information and shackling freedom of expression. The public diplomacy messages that the United States will send will be distorted and blocked. Nevertheless there are growing signs that Cubans on the island are accessing new technologies so information does get through, particularly to residents of the major cities. Expansion of people-to-people exchanges and a lifting of the travel ban on ordinary Americans would greatly assist any public diplomacy campaign. But public diplomacy can start without this and the Cuban government’s capacity to block messages is no argument for not transmitting them.