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.
Texts of decisions 
Kent 1958
Aptheker 1964 
Snowden's father has written a passionate defense of his son's actions citing another Supreme Court decision
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
Two important characteristics of US normalizaton with Vietnam and China are indispensable for there to be a breakthrough with Cuba:
1) The agendas of exiles for control over relations must be politely ignored.
2)  Improvement of internal governance can be an aspiration but never a condition.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Resources and links
An analysis of the controversial case of Joane Chesimard / Anata Shakur was featured in our last newsletter


My on line comments (since July 1)
The only way to address the poignant story Shoer Roth leads with is to end the Cuban Adjustment Act. Sen Rubio is being opportunistic, trying to use the legitimate objection to the special privilege of Cuban Americans as a way to hurt those already here and Cuba. He knows and fears that the natural flow of ideas and engagement is encouraging evolution in both countries, but most dramatically in the Cuban American community here.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development.
Mr. Farinas and Mr. Claver-Carone need to promote the story that most dissidents favor maintaining the embargo.  I doubt that is based on any systematic analysis or documentation.  Certainly, many prominent dissidents like Yoani Sanchez have called for the end of travel restrictions and the embargo.  
More to the point, sentiment in Cuba is overwhelmingly in favor of an end to the embargo so if Farinas/Claver-Carone are correct they are confirming the isolation and ineffectiveness of the dissidents, as described in a Wikileaks published evaluation by the head of the US Interest Section,
I wonder how big the membership base is of the dissidents that Farinas contrasts with the intellectuals.
The dissidents should certainly be free to express their opinion and to organize politically, but I doubt that will happen as long as the economic warfare of the embargo and regime change strategy of the US government remain in place.  
Objectively dissidents who receive funds and support from Miami and the US government are like members of the US Communist Party during the Cold War who were fundamentally compromised by their relationship to the Soviet Union.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Tampa is opting for the future as Miami is mired in the past.  
However, you are a little out of date.  Fidel Castro may or may not have changed his mind about cruise ships but he is no longer in charge.  Cuba has welcomed a couple of lines that are able to come because they are not US owned.  
The President could waive this aspect of the embargo any time he wants to.  
For the sake of Habana Vieja, I hope the Cubans send all the large cruise ships to Mariel.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Mr. Padgett could be right about this summer, but he's wrong about this:
"Hence Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s 2009 Christmas gift to Obama: the arrest of U.S. aid subcontractor Alan Gross on dubious espionage charges."
Gross was funded as part of a Bush administration USAID democracy program intended to foster regime change.  Aside from some sloppy language by then Assembly President Alarcon, the Cubans did not characterize his crime as espionage, nor did they charge him with spying..  
My guess is that Gross was arrested to signal to the Obama Administration that it could not speak about changing the relationship and yet continue with the same old same old, covert intervention and subversion.  
The total refusal of the Administration to acknowledge what Gross was actually doing and take responsibility for it, even as more became known to the public, convinced the Cubans that the US was disingenuous about seeking mutually respectful the bilateral relationship.
The idea of trading Gross for the Cuban Five did not emerge until after the Cubans saw how ready the US was to exchange agents with the Russians.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
The Post is to be commended for offering space to a perspective at odds with its anti-normalization editorial policy.
Ms. vanden Heuvel's reasonable approach provokes the same predictable responses from the commentariat, including mine.
Should President Obama have the vision and courage to significantly change US policy, a not inconsiderable benefit will be the diminution of sterile debate.  How many times do we see posts denouncing normal US diplomatic and trade relations with China, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, etc.?
The most bizarre aspect of the present dialogue is that the hard liners are so caught up in ideology and bitterness that they minimize the seriousness of internal mainstream (i.e. non-dissident) debate in Cuba and the impact a more rational US policy would have on it. 
While Cuban hard liners will fear a substantial opening from the US as just a more devious Yanqui strategy, they will be isolated and neutralized.
American hard liners fear nothing more than a democratic and market evolution in Cuba, confirming their own isolation and neutralization and ending their dreams of collapse and restoration.
President Obama has the option of making history by overcoming inertia, ideology and mythology as Nixon did with China and Clinton with Vietnam.  He just has to put national interests above short term political expedience.
The first step is to hold serious high level negotiation in a spirit of mutual respect where issues can be the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, travel and migration rules, imprisonment of hostile government agents, harboring of  criminals, economic warfare, nationalized US property and Guantanamo.
Without establishing preconditions, the US can urge Cuba to reform one party governance, political repression and media control, and Cuba can offer equally critical observations about our incarceration and money driven electoral systems.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
CNN is on a downward spiral and pushing aside Soledad O'Brien is one more marker.
Add her Cuban and Irish heritage to the mix. She brought more personal insight into America as it is than most of her media counterparts.
BBC cable broadcasts have become the only source for real international news on a day to day basis. Hopefully Al Jazeera will strengthen its hand with hires like O'Brien,
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development