Sen. Menendez Irked by Carter Visit, Wants Havana in Control of U.S.-Cuba Policy
For the past two days, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has met with a range of government officials and religious leaders in Havana. This morning, he spoke with a group Cuban human rights and pro-democracy activists including bloggers Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo, Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Oswaldo Payá co-founder of the Varela Project, members of the Damas de Blanco, and 12 “Black Spring” prisoners who, upon their recent release from prison, have remained in Cuba.
Of particular interest to many is his meeting this morning with members of the dissident community, something that puts him in sharp contrast with other high-level officials who visit Cuba and do not publicly meet or otherwise acknowledge Cuba's human rights and pro-democracy activists.
In spite of Carter's well-balanced agenda, critics are of course arguing that his visit brings legitimacy to the Cuban government. Yes, after more than fifty years of relatively stable communist rule in Cuba, some are still pulling their hair out over questions of legitimacy. However one defines legitimate, the Cuban government is a functioning actor in the international community whether you agree with their ideology or not. And beyond questions of legitimacy, to think that engagement equals endorsement is to reduce U.S. foreign policy to the simplicity of pre-school politics. “I don’t like you, so I’m not going to talk to you”. Our foreign policy making tool box is too well stocked to circumscribe our powers within such an immature and simplistic doctrine.
It is true that U.S. support, or the withholding thereof, can be decisive at moments of political upheaval abroad, such as during electoral disputes or times of open revolution, but Cuba is not experiencing such instability. While we may be outraged by the lack of basic freedoms in Cuba, refusing to engage with Havana on this and other issues will only provide fodder for Cuban propaganda that paints the U.S. as behemoth of the North. It's already been observed that Cuba's state-run media is reporting on Carter's trip in much more neutral language than is normally used in relation to the United States.
I won't rehash here all the reasons we should be engaging with Cuba, but in so far as we are interested in advancing the freedom of both the Cuban and American people, our dismal track record should be evidence enough that the status quo isn't working.
“Your visit suggests that the improvement of relations between the U.S. and Cuba is contingent upon some action by the United States, rather than acknowledging that it is Cuba’s intolerant and tyrannical actions that continue to define the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.”
So instead of allowing U.S. interests to determine our policy toward Cuba, Senator Menendez would have us surrender it to Havana? Given that U.S. policy toward Cuba has already been hijacked by the Cuban-American hard-liners, the Senator’s argument is, unfortunately, quite familiar.
The letter goes on to ask Carter “to address with the Castro regime the aspirations of Cuba’s civil society”, an admirable request and given his interests and track record in Cuba, one that President Carter is likely to fulfill. As 67 percent of both Americans and Cuban Americans now support of the freedom of all Americans to travel to Cuba, I would urge Senator Menendez to ponder the hypocrisy of his request.
(-Photos courtesy of The Carter Center- Global Health Council; Office of Sen. Robert Menendez)