Are We Verging on the Verge? Will Snowden Undo It?
Seniors from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, meet students from the club at the Lenin School in Havana that is responsible for the science museum
My initial enthusiasm for candidate Barack Obama was based on his biography, and what he wrote about it. With a father from Kenya and a mother who had lived and worked in Indonesia, including with the internationalist Ford Foundation, he seemed unusually qualified to move beyond the democracy evangelism and national chauvinism of George Bush. Growing up black in but-recently-desegregated-America also seemed to provide built in skepticism about US triumphalism.
I particularly welcomed his proclaimed readiness to negotiate with long time adversaries, his use in speeches of the term mutual respect, and his wry approach to the question of US exceptionalism:
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
Perhaps in a state of denial, I am still inclined to believe Obama is uniquely qualified to change history with Cuba.
His frustrating gradualism can either be ascribed to a methodic implementation of strategy or inability to grapple with the fundamental contradictions of US policy.
If it's strategy, the first step established unrestricted travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, transforming sentiment and politics in south Florida and accelerating development of non-state grass roots economy in Cuba embraced by reformers. The second step of people to people, university and religious travel opened institutional links on both sides, albeit with serious bureaucratic obstacles for all needing specific licenses from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The groundwork is laid, and the next steps are obvious: taking Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, authorizing a general license for all purposeful non-tourist travel, and ending harassment of third country banks that handle Cuba's dollars .
Delay in taking these steps is often ascribed to short term politics. The priority of passing a migration bill meant not alienating key Cuban American allies, Senators Menendez and Rubio. Yet both have strong reasons to stay on board and not be seen as sacrificing the top priority of Latino politics on the alter of their own ethnic special interest, especially when that same community has a uniquely privileged immigration status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.. In any case the action has moved to the House which could delay the process indefinitely.
US-Cuba talks about establishing normal postal links were held last month and migration talks are to resume this month. Behind the scenes, are larger topics under discussion?
Paul Haven of Associated Press raised the possibility:
Cuba and the U.S.. have taken some baby steps toward rapprochement in recent weeks that have people on this island and in Washington wondering if a breakthrough in relations could be just over the horizon.
Long time reporter Tim Padgett echoed it on WLRN in Miami
could this finally be the summer of love on the Florida Straits?... Diplomats on both sides report a more cooperative groove.
There will never be a good moment to cut the Gordian knot that obstructs a rational relationship with Cuba but the next couple of months look about the best we can get.
Whether the President wields the sword turns on his willingness to walk away from a half century old prerequisite that Cuba transform its political and economic system in order to deserve normal relations and a century long presumption of obligation to intervene in a close neighbor's domestic affairs for its own good.
These are the fundamental contradictions of US policy. How can you seriously engage in negotiations when you don't accept the legitimacy of your interlocuter and reserve the right to interfere in its society?.
The former still finds echoes in official US statements. The latter is almost an unconscious cultural reflex inherent in the hegemonistic DNA of large powerful countries toward neighbors, e.g.. Russia with Georgia, China with Vietnam, Great Britain with Ireland. (My non-Marxist perspective on imperialism is that state and private economic interests are an expression of, not the cause for, the impulse to dominate.)
The resolution of both the Alan Gross and Cuban Five cases are part of the knot. A variety of solutions are possible once the US acknowledges privately if not publicly that the activity it undertook in Cuba through Alan was not acceptable to a sovereign state and therefore it is reasonable to negotiate his release. The Gross case is politically and legally linked to the fifty year problem, but morally and psychologically tied to the longer standing issue of the right to intervene.
The wild card is the situation of Edward Snowden.
When I was in Cuba two weeks ago, friends advised me that Cuba would stay out of this problem. But whatever hubris infected US official was responsible for blocking transit rights of the Bolivian President's plane has elevated the issue to regional principle. President Raul Castro is reported by Reuters to have told the National Assembly meeting
"These actions demonstrate we live in a world in which the powerful feel they can violate international law, violate the national sovereignty of other states and trample on the rights of citizens," he said, accusing the United States of employing a "philosophy of domination."
It still seems unlikely that Cuba will offer Snowden asylum, but it could be obligated to grant him transit rights Russian style through its pre-immigration airport lounge if Venezuela provides a travel document.
Regardless of one's view of the long term balance between benefit and harm of exposure of the omnipresent post 9/11 security state, official US statements have been tone deaf to the reaction of the rest of the world to e-mail and phone calls being surveilled 24/7 by the NSA. Nor has public opinion been moved by self-righteous demands for Snowden's extradition and denial of his right to asylum.. Venezuela has noted US refusal to extradite Luis Posada Carriles. And, no doubt with a sense of irony, as reported in the Los Angeles Times,
a group of Russian lawmakers is initiating a request to seek extradition from the United States of a Russian intelligence officer, Col. Alexander Poteyev, who escaped to America in 2010 after betraying a major network of Russian spies in the U.S..
Two Supreme Court decisions call into question whether Snowden's US passport could actually be revoked based only on charges or even an indictment (and not incidentally challenge the legal and moral premise of travel restrictions.)
Kent v. Dulles (1958) is a United States Supreme Court case that ruled that the right to travel was one of the personal liberties described in the Fifth Amendment to which no citizen can be denied without due process of the law. http://constitution.laws.com/supreme-court-decisions/kent-v-dulles#sthash.BTTDRzd4.dpufTexts of decisionsKent 1958 http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/357/116/case.htmlAptheker 1964 https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/378/500/case.html
As regards your reduction to de facto statelessness occasioned by the Executive Branch to penalize your alleged violations of the Espionage Act, the United Stated Supreme Court lectured in Trop v. Dulles (1958): "The civilized nations of the world are in virtual unanimity that statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment for crime." Text of decision http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0356_0086_ZO.html
My on line comments (since July 1)