Missing An Opportunity at the Summit of the Americas
“For the most part, the tension over Cuba seems mostly to be behind Mr. Obama — a not insignificant consideration in a presidential election year in which Florida, the bastion of anti-Castro sentiment, could be a critical swing state.” --New York Times, 4/13/12
The White House projected a lot of self-satisfaction on the eve of the summit of the Americas.
It is hard to tell whether that is just the normal spin (accentuated by the pre-election dynamic), based on diplomatic assurances from the major players, or just the normal disregard about how we are seen by our neighbors.
Bottom line, the Administration could have used the Summit to increase US stature by showing we have finally moved beyond the Cold War, neoconservative agendas and the Monroe Doctrine. Instead we are at best going to stay even.
To preclude a photo opportunity of Barack Obama shaking Raul Castro's hand, the US has assured the Summit will be shaped by the absence of Cuba and debate over how to address the problem.
Instead of throwing its weight around and using consensus as a veto mechanism, Washington should have adopted the Quaker practice of "standing aside". We could have maintained our opposition, whether due to principle or electoral calculation, but not blocked the overwhelming sentiment of other participants--among whom there was certainly no consensus to exclude Cuba.
In addition to upping Cuba's sympathetic profile, we have strengthened the case for CELAC, a regional organization designed to separate the hemisphere from the asymetric power and wealth of the US, similar to how the Association of South East Asian Nations functions in relation to China, India and Japan.
Note the concluding comments after the pre-Cartegena visit of Mexico's President to Cuba.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon … condemned the U.S. trade embargo and praised Cuba for its role in forming CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a hemispheric organization created in 2010 that Cuba and its socialist ally Venezuela have promoted as an alternative to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States. --Reuters, 4/12/12
One thing clear from Dan Restrepo's remarks in the White House phone briefing is that we still pretend to an interpretation of the OAS decision to restore Cuba's membership in the OAS not shared by other countries:
"And the countries of the Americas -- all the countries that will be present in Cartagena, including the United States -- came to the conclusion that the path for that return was Cuba complying with the same basic criteria, the same basic democratic commitments that the other countries of the Americas have made."
All most of them intended, as the Secretary General of the OAS confirms, is that they weren't prejudging that Cuba in fact wanted to return to membership. They were simply saying Cuba was no longer unwelcome and had to express its interest and proceed with administrative requirements. A retroactive membership requirement was not going to be imposed, particularly one that was intended to deal with military coups against existing elected governments.
Regime change may still be the controlling ambition for Washington, but for no one else, regardless of their opinion of Cuba's political and economic system.
Most Americans don't care whether or not Cuba participates in the Summit. Many would have applauded Obama for reminding them he could break with the hoary past. The only people who would have been upset are hard line Cuban Americans who will never vote for him.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development