Help Haiti Together, But Don't Stop There
Photo from: http://www.havanatimes.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/haiti-cuba-florida-map.jpg
First there was a honeymoon. Then it got called off. And now, brought together over the tragedy in Haiti, the U.S. and Cuba have at least found something productive they can do together. Phil Peters posted coverage of not only of Cuban doctors already on the ground in Haiti, but also of an agreement reached for Cuba to grant standing authority to U.S. medevac overflights, eliminating what would otherwise be a 90-minute detour around the island back to Miami. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say:
Well, we very much appreciate the Cubans opening their air space for medical evacuation and emergency flights, and we would welcome any other actions that the Cuban Government could take in furtherance of the international rescue and recovery mission in Haiti.
With the Secretary's invitation out there, it makes you wonder whether Cuba has put forward any proposals (or if the U.S. has) for how the United States can help Cuba help Haiti. Cuba has tremendous human resources, but it does not have much equipment, supplies or transport resources at its disposal. It would sure be encouraging to see politics put aside, no matter with whom we have to cooperate to help meet the overwhelming need in Haiti right now.
Seeing this type of cooperation go forward doesn't surprise me much. This Administration has repeatedly encouraged (and received) - in ways we read about and in others we don't - common sense cooperation with Cuba.
There have been renewed talks on migration, new talks on postal issues, the U.S. has proposed easing restrictions on diplomats' host country travel, and the U.S. Mission in Havana has gained consular access to several Cuban Americans in prison in Cuba.
But the common sense diplomacy, so far, stops there. It doesn't have to. Certainly there are other areas to expand cooperation - like in counter narcotics, law enforcement, and environmental protection, for starters. But at some point, such initiatives must square - and they don't - with the overarching approach to and framework on Cuba.
In an interview posted last week at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig points out the fundamental flaw in the Administration's approach to Cuba (Sweig also analyzes where the Obama team went wrong in the rest of the region in 2009):
Knowing that Congress must do the lion's share of the heavy lifting, the administration has either genuinely or likely just politically made the decision that further steps to unilaterally lift pieces of the embargo--which it can and should do, for example, it can significantly liberalize travel for Americans without a vote from Congress, or it can take Cuba off the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list--will not be done without gestures by the Cuban government, such as releasing political prisoners, becoming more democratic, taking steps politically that this Cuban government seems to have no intention of doing.
[It's] the same equation of, you commit suicide domestically and then we'll lift the embargo. That's been the equation essentially for the last fifty years, so without shifting that paradigm, the Obama administration really is perpetuating the policy of its predecessors. The main difference is that in poll after poll, Obama has the American public, including South Florida, now supporting a much broader set of openings than he's delivered to date.
For President Obama, perpetuating the policy of his predecessors on Cuba has far broader consequences in the hemisphere, argues Collin Laverty, of the Center for Democracy in the Americas:
The Obama administration's refusal to develop and implement a new Cuba policy - one based on U.S. national interests with a goal of fully normalizing relations - exemplifies continuity in the way the U.S. views the region, and vice-versa.
For the good of the Haitian people, let's hope U.S. cooperation with Cuba and any other country that wants to be helpful deepens. But such heartening and necessary cooperation is no substitute for this Administration taking a long (overdue) hard look in the mirror in the year ahead.