Open the Door, Mr. President, to Latin America
President Lula of Brazil meets with President Obama. Official White House photo.
London's International Institute for the Study of Cuba recently carried this announcement on its web page:
HAVANA, Cuba, June 29: The Cuban Council of State passed on June 26th, 2009, a new Decree-Law number 268 entitled: "Reform of the Labor Regime" which was published by the daily Granma newspaper as an Official NoteÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. The law allows for workers to have more than one job and for students to work in part-time jobs. It also frees up enterprises in Havana to hire workers from other provinces directly instead of them having to be hired through the state employment agency.
Thus we see Raul Castro proceeding with his agenda to make small changes that will lead to greater decentralization, more empowerment of state/ministerial and provincial authorities, greater productivity and, finally, higher living standards for the Cuban people. All this while the U.S. makes joyful noises about a fresh policy, lifts some travel restrictions and remittance limits on Cuban-Americans, proffers telecommunications flexibility, and reopens immigration talks. But no real substantive changes in U.S. Cuba policy have been made. Even one of the most meaningful actions is being billed as serendipity, i.e., the shutting down of the idiotic billboard on the U.S. Interests Section building in Havana is touted as a result of a technical malfunctioning and not of a sound decision to shut down the stupid thing. How timid we soaring eagles are!
On the same International Institute webpage, there was this as well:
The Conservative Party leadership in the UK is calling on President Obama to lift the half-century old American blockade of Cuba, in an attempt to pressure the Communist regime to change its ways, according to a report published in the Times newspaper today. William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, became the first senior British politician to visit Cuba for many years this week, holding talks with the new foreign minister and other senior figures. He found that far from weakening the hardline Communist tendencies of the Cuban Government, the American blockade was continuing to reinforce them, and was being used as an excuse by ministers for the poor state of the economy and the locking up of dissidents. (my emphasis)
In short, one of our closest allies' conservative party believes that U.S. Cuba policy is counterproductive.
In October, the United Nations will hold what has become an annual ritual in USA-bashing, a vote in the General Assembly on the U.S. Cuba embargo. Once again, the worldÃ¢â‚¬â€minus Israel and some other one or two states that can't escape the compulsion of U.S. powerÃ¢â‚¬â€will line up and resoundingly condemn the U.S. policy. Last year's vote, for example, was 185 to 3. That was the 17th vote in 17 years, with an increasingly larger number of countries condemning the policyÃ¢â‚¬â€for example, the vote against included 179 countries in 2004; in 2005 there were 182; and in 2007 there were 184. Soon it will likely be unanimous. Even the Israelis are operating in Cuba now, so it is doubtful how much longer we have their vote.
What is driving this idiocy? Actually, several things.
Normally in the past, one would lead off with the Cuban-American lobby who, for over 45 years, have had an iron grip on U.S. Cuba policy, though several presidents have tried to break it. But that's no longer the case. President Obama is the first to win the White House without needing the Cuban-American vote. While Cuban-Americans of the hardcore variety are still a formidable force, they are no longer the central factor in U.S. Cuba policy.
What is then? First and foremostÃ¢â‚¬â€after all, the Dems won in 2008Ã¢â‚¬â€it's Democratic fear of being seen as weak on national security policy, coupled with Republican reluctance to act on a bipartisan basis. The Dems have shown some national security ankle on Iraq, on Iran, on Syria and are holding their breath on North KoreaÃ¢â‚¬â€so, the rumors go, why should they show any ankle on such an insignificant issue as Cuba policy? The Dems believe that Republicans, even those with better sense (see the next paragraph), would pounce on them if they did. In short, Republican leaders would accuse the Dems immediately of being soft on national security instead of joining them in changing a bankrupt Cuba policy. Moreover, the Dems would be accused of reversing themselves on one of their perceived pet priorities, human rights.
Second, it is Republican angstÃ¢â‚¬â€and outright trepidationÃ¢â‚¬â€about being out of step with their "instincts" about their party and their colleagues (we won't call it lack of courageÃ¢â‚¬â€yet.) Otherwise, why are people such as Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and a few other Republicans who have sound views on foreign policy, reluctant to speak out forcefully about the utter inanity of U.S. Cuba policy? They will pronounce upon it in private but not in public. If there are other reasons, I would love to hear them. And let's reiterate: we can't cite national security; Cuba poses no threat whatsoever to the United States. Nor can we cite human rights because we deal with China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, et al, every dayÃ¢â‚¬â€and, besides, groups such as Human Rights Watch have said that engagement with Cuba would be more successful with regard to human rights than the current isolation policy.
Lastly, there's the very realÃ¢â‚¬â€and understandableÃ¢â‚¬â€reason that since Cuba is so low on the priority list, why waste the political capital, energy, or time? Let's forget for a moment that a country 90 miles off the coast of Florida, thoroughly divorced from contact with the U.S., is a ripe plum to be picked (lest we forget the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962). Let's forget that we need to reverse the Myers Lansky/Fulgencio Batista legacy we left in Cuba, our un-American detritus, if you will, which still fouls our relations with the region. Let's forget these and concentrate on today's and tomorrow's Latin America alone. It's for certain that others are.
Take China, for example, and this recent article on the Council for Hemispheric Affairs' website:
On November 5, 2008, the Chinese government released a policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, as it had previously done so for Europe in 2003 and for Africa in 2006. Although it may not come as a huge surprise that Latin America is the most recent region for which China has formally spelled out its foreign policy position, the region has been historically perceived as being under the United StatesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ sphere of influence. Perhaps the importance of the Chinese policy paper lies in the timing of its release. The release of the paper deliberately coincided with the unfolding of the current financial crisis; this congruence of events has allowed China to expand its influence in this somewhat neglected region without attracting any lasting venom from the U.S. ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policy paper formally evidences the importance of Latin America and the Caribbean as part of ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s growth plan for its long-term strategic interests. Most of all, this includes access to raw materials as well as a plethora of natural resources, the infiltration of new foreign markets, the reduction of diplomatic support for the Republic of Taiwan, and the strengthening of Beijing political standing on the global stage through strong alliances cemented with the developing world.
The policy paper explicitly states its main objective is to "clarify the goals of China's policy in this region, outline the guiding principles for future cooperation" and "sustain the sound, steady and all-around growth of China's relations with Latin America and the Caribbean." In the economic realm, China expresses an interest in investing in energy, mineral resources, forestry, fishing, and agriculture, areas important to expanding ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s productivity. Additionally, the Chinese government seems to show interest in infrastructure projects not directly related to its economy, albeit essential in the transportation of natural resources, and proposes to fund these projects in order to be perceived as a partner in development.
Furthermore, China expresses its desire to increase military diplomacy and sale of equipment to the region. Although many of the reportÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s statements are merely rhetoric and general in scope, the paper helps formalize ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s economic, diplomatic and military ties with Latin America, which were first proposed by then President of China Jiang Zemin in 2001.
Recently, I was on a panel at the New America Foundation where one of the members spoke of the U.S. political neglect of Latin America as inevitable because the region was simply unimportant. While I have respect for most of the views of this particular individual, on this he was very much mistaken.
I was just in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the dynamism is palpable. Blessed for almost eight years now with the best leadership in our hemisphere from President Lula da Silva, Brazil is on the move. That movement can and will occur with or without the United States. Better that it be in cooperation with the United States. Similarly, whether it's immigration, narcotics, planetary warming, energy resources, or global disease, we divorce ourselves from our own hemisphere at our imminent peril. In brief, we had best begin caring about Latin America (even as we ourselves transform in just a few short years into a majority minority country with Hispanic-Americans composing a huge chunk of that majority).
The door to a wiser, more productive foreign and national security policy vis-ÃƒÂ -vis Latin America is easy to discern in the foreign policy mists: it is normalization of relations with "that infernal little Cuban Republic" off our southeastern shore.