June 2009

Honduras and Cuba: Ending the Hypocrisy

President Eisenhower and Cuban President Batista meet in Panama.

One of the most difficult communications challenges for President Obama will be overcoming America's history of ideological hypocrisy. In his speech in Cairo, Mr. Obama started down this path, recognizing that our own history in the Middle East, such as the invasion of Iraq and the coup against the popularly-elected Iranian government of Mossadegh, was less than stellar. Indeed, whenever the United States has intervened on behalf of democracy and everyday human rights, our efforts have generally made things worse. Iraq, Grenada and Vietnam come readily to mind. The premature elections in Palestine and the failed 50-year old embargo on Cuba are also examples. Democracy is an organic and indigenous political condition and cannot be imposed by intervention or isolation.

Now we are confronted with the reality of a military-backed parliamentary coup in Honduras. The United States, Cuba, Venezuela and many others all condemn the coup and, citing the Inter-American Democratic Charter, call for the restoration of the old president, Manuel Zelaya. Some critics, like my own colleague Andres Martinez, believe that this is the proper reaction.

Of course, nothing in politics is black and white. The problem is that Zelaya was, arguably, himself in the process of making Honduras less democratic and, after he refused to abide by the decisions of the Honduran Supreme Court, the Legislature asked the military to intervene to preserve democracy.

And that explains why Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama are taking the same position on the coup. For Obama, the coup is a breach of the rule of law. For Chavez, the coup is a defeat of a fellow leftist ally who just a few weeks ago in Honduras with Chavez, led an effort to ignore that same Democratic Charter and fully reinstate Cuba into the OAS.

Unfortunately, my friend and colleague, smelling fresh hypocrisy, takes the bait. Regional leaders, the argument goes, cannot have it both ways without 'rolling back' democratic gains:

...Some of the very same regional players now urging a united front on behalf of democracy in Honduras are the same leaders who in recent months have been eager to embrace Cuba and give the tropical gulag nation a pass on its lack of democracy and basic civil liberties, citing explicit principles of nonintervention and implicit nostalgia for anti-gringo revolutionary lore.

If this were a debate and if democracy were the main issue facing the people of Latin America, then such arguments would have merit. But the simple fact is that this is not a debate, rather, U.S. policy towards Latin America anchors a tragically dysfunctional relationship. And democracy is far from the top issue, taking a back seat to the hemisphere's unsatisfied need for economic inclusion and, increasingly, environmental sustainability.

In fact it is the anachronism of ideological purity that hits the wrong note here. Standing up for democracy above all else in Latin America, just like standing up for democracy in the Middle East in recent years, amounted to twisted justification for supporting illiberal, generally right-wing dictators, whether it was Batista in Cuba or Pinochet in Chile. What was needed by the people in Cuba, Chile, in Central America and elsewhere was justice and a measure of peace. But for most of the 20th Century, with almost no exceptions, whether your government was right wing or left wing mattered little; none could deliver what the vast majority of the people so desperately desired.

And the United States cared very little. We supported our dictators with money, guns and spies so long as they stayed on our side in the East-West conflict and kept the oil, bananas and coffee moving north. That was what Containment demanded. We were leaders of the the free world and at the same time paymasters for many of the world's dictators.

So for the United States to talk about hypocrisy in Latin America rings hollow and misses the point. The task before the United States in Latin America is to restore trust by proving to the people of the hemisphere, in our deeds, that we understand that ideological labels matter nothing if, at the end of the day the people's basic needs and aspirations are not met.

In the twenty years since the end of the Cold War U.S. policy has failed on that score. Where Latin America has improved, such as in Brazil or Chile, they have done so despite the policies of the United States. But for too many of the region's people, economic survival is impossible at home and they are forced to migrate to work in the fields and factories of the United States.

What the leaders of the region have now told President Obama is simple: you say you want a new relationship with the Hemisphere. So do we. First, however, you must prove to us you have changed, that you will no longer treat Latin American nations as your playthings. And the test will be Cuba. End the embargo and we will talk.

Hypocrisy in Hemispheric relations is nothing new and the United States has for decades been the most prolific purveyor of such hypocrisy. What is needed is proof, in concrete actions, that the era of American hypocrisy is over. Standing up for the rule of law in Honduras is fine and good. But it is important here to realize that getting the speck out of our neighbor's eye is secondary to getting the plank out of our own.

Missing Opportunities, But Still Momentum

Demonstration against Supreme Court inaction on the Cuban 5 at USINT in Havana

Two recent events have demonstrated that key leaders in Cuba and the US are determined to create a new more rational relationship where differences are accepted if not approved (as with other nations that have non-American values and systems of government).

At the same time, both countries contain powerful forces that are psychologically and politically committed to the status quo. Whether they are fearful of losing the current and potential power the present impasse affords them or of giving opportunities to still hostile adversaries, they must be patiently listened to and then ignored for relations to improve.

Most recently, the President of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, expressed profound disappointment that the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the Cuban 5 (spies to us, national heroes to them) but made clear this would not derail efforts to improve bilateral relations.

in Havana, the head of Cuba's parliament said the Supreme Court's decision won't jeopardize negotiations with Washington, even though the Cuban government considers the denied appeal ``a great insult.''

Similarly US officials have confirmed that the case of alleged espionage by Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers will not short-circuit diplomatic progress, despite predictable exploitation of the incident by opponents of change.

''I'm surprised State is still pushing for a hasty reinstatement of the talks,'' Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said. ``There are legitimate concerns about the extent of the recent espionage uncovered by the FBI. What's the rush to conduct talks with the Cuban regime when we still don't have a full damage assessment of the regime's covert efforts?''

However, I must admit to personal frustration with the overcautious approach on both sides to available practical and substantive steps forward.

The US has liberalized considerably its policy of granting visas for Cubans to come here for academic, cultural and professional reasons but oddly still refuses to remove Bush era bureaucratic obstacles to similar trips by Americans to Cuba.

Cuba readily issues visas to Americans for tourism through travel agents and at airport counters but not for more meaningful “officialâ€Â encounters. (The latter visa is virtually indispensable for meetings with persons in the state sector, including professors, professional counterparts and government administrators.)

Cuba could also afford to be a bit more generous with exit visas, especially for students admitted to non-political US educational programs. (Hopefully when Congress with Presidential support ends all travel restrictions for Americans, Cuba will respond by terminating the requirement of a ‘white cardâ€Â for departing Cubans.)

Most amenable to influence by the American people is the Obama administration’s postponement of granting licenses for unrestricted travel for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and other people-to-people visits.

It has been more than two months since the President reaped overwhelming domestic and international approval by ordering unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. Yet the implementation regulations have still not been issued by OFAC. Nor have we seen the educational travel that key foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough embraced on behalf of candidate Obama at the NAFSA conference in Washington a year ago, foreclosing summer and fall programs.

A growing number of Americans are voting with their feet and ignoring illegitimate and unenforceable travel restrictions. Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the US/Cuba Labor Exchange will return from Cuba in early August, having once again undertaken public civil disobedience for humanitarian or solidarity reasons. These are important symbolic actions, but are a drop in the bucket of unlicensed travel which is estimated to be around 40,000 persons a year.

The Obama administration finally needs to decide whether it or Senator Bob Menendez is in charge of Cuba policy. Menendez channels on Cuba the reactionary Republican Jesse Helms, rather than the progressive Democrat he is on other issues. He notoriously held up the supplemental appropriations bill for days, a politically costly tantrum that alienated Senate colleagues and the Administration, because of minor Cuba family and agricultural export provisions.

Menendez is also reported to have blocked educational and other non-tourist provisions from the announcement of family remittances and travel. His threat to cut US funding to the OAS pushed the Secretary of State into a potentially embarrassing misinterpretation of the OAS Cuba resolution. He held up confirmation of two key science advisers and apparently is against the appointment of Cuban American Carlos Pascual to be ambassador to Mexico. (Pascual’s sin was co-chairing a Brookings Institution project that proposed a creative road map for relations with Cuba.)

A certain amount of impatience is now deserved, especially from Obama supporters, who expected far more than they have gotten to date on change with Cuba.

--John McAuliff


Action Resources

Tens of thousand of people have signed the Orbitz travel petition to the President and Congress. It takes less than a minute here

The Office of Public Engagement needs to receive messages on its web site from lots more of us that the President must allow non-tourist travel without further delay and support legislation to end all restrictions.

A travel flyer can be downloaded here for local printing and distribution.

OAS SG Confirms Cuba's Path to Participation is Procedural Not Political

Secretary of State Clinton and Honduras President Zelaya at OAS Assembly

June 24, 2009

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, expressed his satisfaction on the political willpower shown by Member States during the 39th General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which ended the suspension of Cuba from the institution.

“It was a difficult decision,â€Â Mr. Insulza acknowledged at a conference organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, a well-known “think tankâ€Â in Washington, DC.

Mr. Insulza reminded the audience that at the OAS “all countries participate with the same rights and the same duties.â€Â “From the point of view of this principle, Cuba is a member of the OAS as long as it is willing to have the same rights and the same obligations as the other countriesâ€Â, he added, and explained it with a graphic example: “The lock is off, the door is not open. The resolution says how you open the door, and there is only one doorâ€Â.

Representatives from all 34 Member States in attendance at the General Assembly unanimously agreed on revoking the resolution adopted on January 31, 1962, at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which excluded the Government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system.

The 34 Heads of Delegation also decided in the same document that “the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.â€Â

Secretary General Insulza stressed that “how historic the resolution will be, it will depend on what Cuba is willing to do and what the other countries are willing to accept.â€Â He also highlighted that the aforementioned rights and obligations are “not a new condition, it’s not like somebody invented a new gadget to keep Cuba out.â€Â

“In fact, everybody knows that the return of Cuba would take a few weeks if they were willing clearly to say that they are willing to abide by the same obligations and the same responsibilities,â€Â he added, and mentioned specifically the OAS Charter.

The maximum representative of the OAS also called for calm regarding new developments, because the process will be slow. “Fortunately things have quieted down since the days of the assembly, because at the beginning everybody wanted to know what was going to happen that week. Nothing is going to happen this week, next week or the next one,â€Â he said. “I don’t think we will have any new movement in the case of Cuba until the Cuban government decides to makes some move,â€Â he added.

Analyzing what happened in San Pedro Sula, the Secretary General emphasized the role played by the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama. “What the US did at that meeting is exactly what the President said that they were going to do from now on: engage Latin America, do policy all together.â€Â

--OAS press release here

When the full speech is available on line, I'll post a link. Note that the OAS Charter is not the same as the Democratic Charter of the Americas. Most importantly Insulza's remarks reflect what actually took place in Honduras, not the post OAS Assembly provocative spin by US officials that made it sound like Cuba had to eat humble pie and change its system of government in order to take its unsuspended seat. My own analysis posted at the time can be read here.
--John McAuliff

Luis Tiant's Home Run Bridges Tough Politics


“No es facil.â€Â Luis Tiant, confronted with the pain and sadness of leaving his country and his family for a second time, utters this most Cuban of Cuban expressions at the end of the stunning documentary Lost Son of Havana. This week producer Bobby Farrelly and director Jonathan Hock arranged a screening of the film in Washington, bringing together political figures from both sides of the policy spectrum: Massachusetts Democrat Bill Delahunt (a longtime advocate of opening to Cuba and author of legislation that would lift travel restrictions for Cuba) and Senator Mel Martinez (Peter Pan exile and fierce defender of the status quo). People on both sides know that the politics are tough on this one.

But baseball, as any fan of the Durham Bulls can tell you, isn’t hard: You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. And Luis Tiant reveled in the game - reliving his baseball career from sandlot struggles in Havana to his two victories in the ’75 World Series is a rare joy.

Playing in a Mexican summer league, Tiant was away from home and family as the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs fiasco unfolded in 1961. His father wrote that a return to Cuba would mean giving up any chance to play professional baseball. And so his American baseball career began. Tiant didn’t see his parents again until 1975, when Senator George McGovern visited Cuba during one of the many false springs in the U.S.-Cuba relationship and appealed to Fidel Castro to allow Luis, Sr. - known in his playing days as Lefty – and his mother Isabel to leave the island.

One of the most compelling scenes in the movie depicts the senior Tiant, close to 70 years old, kick high and send a gorgeous strike across the plate before one of his son’s starts with the Boston Red Sox. Luis Sr.’s story is an epic at least the equal of his son’s: a Cuban ace in the Negro Leagues, he struck out Babe Ruth and excelled for years in America’s Jim Crow years, only to return to Cuba and eke out a living as a gas station attendant in Havana. He and Isabel died within a few days of each other in Boston.

After the film, Luis Tiant waited for the chants of Loo-ie, Loo-ie to die down before thanking the filmmakers and the crowd. And then he said, “I want all the embargoes to be opened…But we got a problem there. And we have to respect the people there – so many people struggled and died, trying to come here…â€Â And then he admonished the American audience to appreciate what they have.

Luis Tiant was clear in saying that he’s no politician. But the return experience clearly changed him. In the film, he says to his father’s sisters through tears that from now on, things would be different. The 46 years of exile were too many -- he wouldn’t stay away from his country or his family again.

Only a few years ago, Tiant criticized the Baltimore Orioles for playing one of a two game series in Havana against the Cuban national squad. Tiant’s tone is different now. For him, the years have been too many, and he’s clearly going to be going home more often. Maybe politics isn’t easy, but when it comes to his heart, it’s not hard at all.

The McCaffrey Plan

"Strangulation is no solution." That's General Barry McCaffrey's assessment of the U.S. policy towards Cuba. He's right.

More importantly, writing in the Miami Herald, McCaffrey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, hero of Desert Storm and, more relevant to this discussion, former commander, U.S. Southern Command, finally gets to the endgame on Cuba policy.

His prescription is straightforward: U.S. policy has failed, Cuba is changing, and we need to clear out the Cold War-era policies and position ourselves to become "a constructive guiding agent in this process of change."

His list of particulars is refreshingly decisive:

  • Remove Cuba from the State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
  • Repeal enforcement of the ''Helms-Burton'' legislation.
  • End the economic embargo on Cuba.
  • End U.S. restrictions on travel by American citizens to Cuba.
  • Close the detention facility at Guantanamo and return the base to Cuban sovereignty.
  • End the ''Wet Foot/Dry Foot immigration policy'' and treat illegal immigrants from Cuba as we do those from Mexico or any other country.
  • Formalize coordination on anti-drug trafficking matters with Cuba's law enforcement and security forces.
  • Provide significantly increased funds to the U.S. Agency for International Development so that we can support economic development as democratic political transition inevitably occurs in Cuba.
  • End U.S. opposition to Cuban participation in the Western Hemisphere multilateral fora...

General McCaffrey's position on Cuba would, if implemented, transform U.S. relations with the nations of Latin America and create the conditions for the people of Cuba to judge their government's performance without interference from Washington.

Unfortunately, the politics of Washington are slow to recognize the imperatives of diplomacy. The more leaders like Gen. McCaffrey stand up to be counted, however, the sooner the politics in this town will change.

Cuban Five: An Opportunity for Change Cubans Can Believe In

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States officially refused to hear the case known as the "Cuban Five." That puts an important ball back in the administration's court.

The Cuban Five are five men convicted in federal court of unregistered foreign agents. To grossly oversimplify, the men were indeed agents of the Cuban government trying to infiltrate the various right-wing paramilitary groups--and the groups supporting them--that are operating outside U.S. law in South Florida and seeking to destabilize Havana. What brought the case to the Supreme Court however, was not the question of whether the Five were spies. Rather, the case went to the highest court in the land because instead of getting the standard 6 year prison sentence they got 25 years and the Five were not granted a change of venue. They were tried in Miami, where it is arguably impossible for accused Cuban agents to get a fair hearing. It was, plain and simple a miscarriage of justice.

We will never know on what grounds the Court refused to certify the Cuban Five case. But what we do know is that this action by the Supreme Court is making our diplomatic efforts with the Cuban government that much more difficult.

That's because Cuba had its hopes up that the American justice system would live up to its name and rectify what they see as a grave injustice by releasing the Five and deporting them back to Cuba. Their hopes were raised, in part, because of our new president, Barack Obama, and his promises of change.

Ah, but Cuba policy has been changing, you might say. From an American perspective, yes, but for the average Cuban citizen the Obama administration's actions so far have not materially improved their lives while the economy is going from bad to worse.

So here was an opportunity for a branch of the U.S. government to address a symbol of how dysfunctional the U.S.-Cuban relations have become and ... nothing.

Time to turn lemons into lemonade. Before too much time passes, the Obama administration needs to consider sending a hopeful signal to the Cuban people, to show that there is a new government in Washington that actually cares about the hopes of the Cuban people. Raul Castro has offered to trade 200 political prisoners for the Five. Pardoning and deporting the Cuban Five, though Constitutionally possible, is politically out of the question ... at this time. Instead, the American President can and should expeditiously grant visas to the families of the Cuban Five so they can visit their husbands, fathers and sons on a regular basis, until diplomacy can catch up with justice.

That would at least be hope they can believe in.

Cuba spies shouldn't deter Obama

What should we make of the news that two former State Department employees, Walter Kendell Myers and his wife Gwendolyn Myers, have been revealed as longtime spies for Cuba? I confess to being somewhat bored with the subject, and exasperated at those who would shut off the tiny opening to Cuba the Obama administration has made thus far.

I know, you’re thinking I must have misspoken. The shock and betrayal of American citizens spying right in our midst is many things, but boring cannot be one of them. But in the U.S. – Cuba context, it’s not such a rare revelation. In 2001, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Analyst plead guilty of spying for Cuba. And five Cuban counterintelligence agents who infiltrated Cuban American organizations in Florida during the 1990’s are serving lengthy prison sentences (though none of those agents obtained any sensitive or classified U.S. government information).

The fact is Cuba has one of the best intelligence operations around. Of course, many countries invest in covert intelligence operations, even against their allies. Case in point: Jonathan Pollard, who was a Naval intelligence officer for the United States when he was passing U.S. government secrets to Israel.

So, what’s a government to do when we nab spies for other countries? My colleague at the Cuban Triangle gave it some thought and considered how President Obama’s predecessors have responded in similar situations:

Like when it was discovered in 1985 that the Soviets had placed listening devices throughout the U.S. Embassy building in Moscow while it was under construction . . . The Reagan Administration of course responded by breaking off diplomatic relations, President Clinton restored them, only to break them off again when it was discovered that the Russians had bugged a conference room in the State Department.â€Â

And after Pollard:

We all remember that the United States downgraded diplomatic relations and cut off economic and military aid to Israel for several years.

Wait - what? I don’t remember Reagan cutting off relations with the Soviet Union, and I certainly don’t remember cutting off aid to Israel. Well that’s because the writer made up the parts about responding to espionage to make a point. I couldn’t agree more: spying is a fact of life around the globe. That doesn’t mean we just look the other way; that’s what counterintelligence is for. The appropriate response is to get better at finding the spies and shutting them down.

Or, you might also try to undermine their recruitment in the first place. The folks at Investors.com think they have it figured out – just keep keeping Americans out of Cuba:

[Myers] wormed his way into the State Department after a legal trip to Cuba in 1978 made possible by Jimmy Carter, the president who thought Americans had an "inordinate fear of communism."

The Obama administration is contemplating a similar opening now. It goes hand in hand with talk of lifting the Cuban trade embargo and the already-lifted restrictions on travel and telecommunications. Taken together, all these will be new opportunities for more harm by the Castro brothers.

But none of this has anything to do how the Myers came to be spies: they disagreed with U.S. policies and sympathized with Cuba. Cuban intelligence specializes in recruiting “true believers,â€Â something that makes them more difficult to uncover than spies motivated for other reasons.

Perhaps if the United States were not only to maintain the tiny opening to Cuba the Obama administration has initiated but in fact to throw the doors open, it might help undermine that true believer recruitment strategy. We won’t get all the spies (and I assume they haven’t gotten all of ours either). But to suggest that Americans’ exercising their basic right of freedom to travel to Cuba – the only country in the world to which the U.S. government bans its citizens’ travel - makes them instruments of the Castro government is the equivalent of sticking our national head in the sand. Besides, if we were truly worried about the threat of Cuban spies in the United States, we’d stop welcoming with open arms the thousands of Cubans who arrive illegally in the United States under what’s called our wet-foot dry-foot policy.

Too often, Cuba observers focus obsessively on Castro – Fidel or Raul – and how to prevent the Castro government from doing one thing or anything. But you can never control every variable – and any true expert on Cuba will assure you there is no controlling or predicting the Cuban government. But what we can control is how we engage and influence this country just 90 miles from our shores, and not just the two men at the top but the 11 million other Cubans on the island.

What Is Most Important in the US-Cuba Policy Narrative?

cuba bicycle.jpg

My colleague Patrick Doherty decided to push back on the comments made by Cuba's Ambassador in Geneva today that Human Rights Watch was somehow a tool of the U.S. government.

Doherty made the case that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other groups concerned with improving the human condition in Cuba actually oppose the United States embargo of Cuba and are as such bedfellows along with a growing coalition of US State governors, travel and agricultural groups -- as well as serious foreign policy strategists -- who think that this embargo significantly undermines American interests. I am glad that HRW and these other NGOs see the perversity of the US embargo and how it has damaged the human rights of Cuban citizens.

Human Rights Watch also made clear that its funding is one hundred percent private.

All that said, there is a tendency on all sides of the US-Cuba debate to fall into a circular, never ending debate about what place the human rights question should have in our debate to end the Embargo. That is not my lens.

I believe that the human rights of Cuban citizens are harmed by the US embargo -- but that has for me less significance than the geopolitical and geostrategic consequences of maintaining a 'failed policy' that has hurt American interests.

I do not believe that we should be focusing on fine-tuning or manipulating the internal dynamics of another government with tools like the embargo. I don't share my colleague Patrick Doherty's practice of nudging Cuba one way or another on its internal dynamics.

I remember when Francis Fukuyama told me when he was taking on Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol and leaving the fold of their brand of neoconservatism, he said that "In the old days with Irving Kristol, we knew that government policy couldn't affect the school test scores and social outcomes in Anacostia -- so certainly, it made no sense to think we could meddle with Iraq's dynamics to do the same. . ." I think the same is true about Cuba.

At this point, we need 'macro jumps' in US-Cuba relations, and we need to move to a different position of interest-driven mutual respect. I believe that increased commerce and people to people exchange will benefit both sides of the US-Cuba relationship, but we should not get lost in debates about how Cuban government officials see human rights NGOs.

Human Rights Watch needs to pursue its agenda, and I respect that -- and various Cuban government officials may be on the defensive and may not want to acknowledge the positives that could come from HRW and other groups opposing the embargo as they know that ultimately, these groups do want to work to transform the internal political conditions of Cuba.

But that is not an efficacious lens through which to frame the opportunities and constraints in changing US-Cuba policy.

I keep reminding people that today Cuba is not exporting guns and arms and revolution; it is exporting doctors.

It is imperative that we stop deluding ourselves to think that the embargo is a leverage point or that the embargo can effect internal change in Cuba. This is a fallacy.

This is an important debate -- and I look forward to engaging Patrick Doherty and others on this subject -- but I felt it important for me to state my views that the way to move Cuba policy forward and to encourage Cuba forward is not to tell it to trade prisons for hotels.

That's an internal decision of Cuba that it should wrestle with when and if broader public exchange and communications take place between Americans and Cuban citizens. There is very little trust or common understanding between the Cuban and American governments -- and fueling a little tit-for-tat escalation of words is distracting and undoes the broader dynamics of finally ending this anachronistic embargo.

That is the imperative.

-- Steve Clemons directs the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Human Rights Watch: Independent and Right

The Associated Press is reporting today that Cuba's representative in Geneva, Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios, accused Human Rights Watch of being "mercenaries" of the U.S. Government.

First of all, this is nonsense. Human Rights Watch is in the front lines of challenging the U.S. government's detention, rendition, trial and torture policies. In addition, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, they take no money from any government. The sad truth is that the world has long-established standards for human rights and Cuba does not abide by those standards.

So this is a tactic, but of what strategy?

There are two potential candidates as I sit here this morning. One is that elements of the Cuban government are still trying to recover from the self-inflicted rhetorical damage caused to Fidel's Revolution by Raul's statement that he was willing to talk to the United States about human rights and political prisoners back in April. It was the first time a Castro had used those words, and big brother was not amused.

Second, the government could be positioning itself to slow down the train of policy change in the United States. Cuba must know that its own human rights record is a major, but surmountable speed bump in the U.S. Congress. Human Rights Watch has led the way, along with Amnesty International, Freedom House, and the Catholic Church in calling for an end to the U.S. embargo as a means to improving human rights and human dignity in Cuba. To the extent that they puff themselves up as being a big bad dictatorship with their collective head in the sand, the harder, they might believe, it will be to change the embargo that is a major driver of the Cuban nationalism they rely on to stay in power.

Unfortunately for Havana, the train has left the station. The policy is changing, regardless of what they do or do not do, regardless of what they say or do not say. That's because our Cuba policy is against our interests, less because it has failed to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans, though that is important. Rather, our Cuba policy is now the main obstacle to a greater regional partnership in the Western Hemisphere. Better solutions on energy, immigration, climate change and so many other issues are now being held hostage by Hemispheric leaders in order to end the Embargo.

Change is scary, Cuba. But instead of planning nonsense verbal attacks that make you look like a relic of the 20th Century, it would be more productive to focus on turning those prisons into hotels. You're going to need the rooms for all the pharmaceutical and oil investors who will be soon knocking on your doors.

Applying Cairo to Cuba

Salt Lake City’s Deseret News – not known for radical foreign policy views – opined yesterday that, when it comes to change in Cuba, it would be best for the US to get behind the ball and push rather than the other way around:

Showing Cubans that Americans are not demonic but are simply people like them â€â€ curious about the world, wanting the best for their families and in love with the idea of living in a world where people can do pretty much what they please â€â€ is the best way to tear down the "sugar cane curtain" Castro has hung up and give the Cuban people a chance to bask in the sunshine of freedom.

And our Mountain Time friends did this despite the recent news that two longtime spies for Cuba were arrested and charged by the Justice Department. Indeed, yesterday, CNN, asking its viewers to share their opinion after a mini-debate between Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Charles Rangel, went 76 percent in favor of ending the embargo.

It's likely the president will also not be deterred. Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly enchanted audiences at home and abroad with calls for openness and reconciliation isn’t likely to be deterred by deeds committed by retirees over the last thirty years, no matter how serious they turn out to be.

In Cairo, the president said this, about Iraq:

Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Thomas Jefferson is a helpful model. He was an American original when it came to advocating for limited government and created the eponymous philosophy that continues to inspire conservatives. Yet, he was also the president who, contrary to that philosophy, agreed to double the size of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase when the country’s access to a Southern port was in jeopardy (and contemplated the acquisition of Cuba, come to think of it). For Jefferson, security trumped philosophy. Evidence suggests that this is also the case for the current president. Barack Obama believes that our security is enhanced when we limit recourse to overt power but rely on more profound strategies of influence.

But for those who seem to think that he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are liable to give away the store as they rush headlong to rapprochement, the president also said this, of more general application:

…I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.

Self-defeating Spin on OAS

Eduardo Verdugo, AP

"SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Jun 3 (IPS) - After heated debate, the 39th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) decided Wednesday to lift its 47-year suspension of Cuba, without conditions...

Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, one of the main architects of Wednesday´s resolution, said that "as of now, Cuba´s participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on Cuba´s request and in the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS."

"(A)s the host country for this assembly, we are pleased with the amends made to the island nation. We have begun to build a new history in our relations, of tolerance, respect, solidarity, the self-determination of nations and the right to organize ourselves," said Rodas. "

When Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon addressed the OAS Assembly on Wednesday afternoon after it had adopted by acclamation its historic resolution to end Cuba's suspension (text here), he received the longest and warmest applause for a government representative's comment, 30 seconds. That happened because his words were those of a statesman and a partner.

However, subsequent expressions by US officials threaten to undo his breakthrough in US-Latin American relations.

The OAS was faced with very different approaches going into the Assembly. The US was willing to see Cuba's 1962 suspension an ed but only on the condition that to resume participation Cuba be obligated to meet US goals for democracy and political prisoners. Virtually all other member countries simply wanted to let Cuba resume its active membership without creating new and unprecedented conditions.

The diplomatic compromise was to end completely the 1962 suspension and leave ambiguous what would happen if Cuba decided it wanted to come back.

Having watched on streaming video the extraordinary excitement and satisfaction of the Assembly delegations, I was startled by the official statement from the Secretary of State:

"I am pleased that everyone came to agree that Cuba cannot simply take its seat and that we must put Cuba’s participation to a determination down the road – if it ever chooses to seek reentry."

US media coverage also seemed to have missed the substance and spirit of what took place. The likely source was a telephone press briefing held on short notice by Shannon and National Security Council official Dan Restrepo.

Washington's new position seemed to be not only trying to put the best face on a compromise upsetting to Cuban American hardliners, but also to frame the decision in such a way as to make it less likely that Cuba would respond favorably. While that may make sense in the hermetic kingdom of the Beltway, it gave Havana an opportunity to celebrate the undoing of an historic wrong and take a pass at least initially on re-engagement, as Ricardo Alarcon quickly did.

In the briefing Restrepo goaded Cuba that the Assembly had made it a supplicant and spun a bizarre rewrite of history:

"The process begins with what is a difficult decision for a Cuban Government that has spent 40 years railing against an institution because of its defense of democracy and individual human rights. They would have to swallow that to ask to get into the organization."

Shannon took the same position in more diplomatic terms:

"the resolution makes very clear that the process by which Cuba must follow in order to reenter the OAS, requires first that Cuba request permission. Secondly, that it enter into a dialogue with the relevant organs of the OAS, and that that dialogue and the decision rendered by the OAS must be in accord with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS. And the resolution makes very clear that the fundamental instruments and documents in the OAS, like the Inter-American Democratic Charter, will be the guiding documents as the OAS engages with Cuba."

However their words are alien to the spirit of the Assembly as expressed in speeches after the vote of acclamation. Nor are their interpretations justified by the actual text as read by the chair of the Assembly, Foreign Minister of Honduras Patricia Rodas:

"the General Assembly... resolves

1) that resolution 6 adopted on January 31st 1962, at the 8th meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs which excluded the government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system hereby ceases to have effect in the Organization of American States. (55 seconds of standing ovation)

2) that the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the government of Cuba and in accordance with the practices and purposes and principles of the OAS" (15 seconds of applause)

The content of clause 1 clearly means that Cuba is no longer suspended. Logically, since it never lost its membership, it is now legally entitled to resume it. The content of clause 2 simply describes the mechanics of how that will happen. Cuba first has to decide it wants to resume its seat and say so, i.e. no one is forcing it to reenter the organization. The process of actually retaking its seat will then be discussed. A dialogue is not an application. No further decision or vote is mentioned. Being in accord with "practices and purposes and principles" is not a list of preconditions.

The US seems to be relying on this paragraph in the preamble,

"The General Assembly, recognizing the shared interest in the full participation of all the member states, guided by the purposes and principles of the OAS, embodied in the Charter of the organization and its other fundamental instruments related to security, democracy, self-determination, non-intervention, human rights and development"

Note that language does not set conditions. It makes "full participation" the primary goal. The list of "purposes and principles" are characterized as "guides", i.e. values. Similarly, security, self-determination and non-intervention could be guides advanced by Cuba and the rest of the membership of the OAS against the US embargo and prolonged strategy of regime change. Cuba's less than ideal approach to democracy and human rights would not be inherently disqualifying unless the US was similarly judged in reference to the other guides.

Restrepo waxed self-righteous

"for Cuba to return to the organization, the organization has to agree that Cuba is abiding by the same rules that everybody else is abiding by".

Cuba's practice of harsh imprisonment without sufficient objective legal due process is hardly unique on an island that includes the Guantanamo prison camp. And if the US can choose which parts to abide by of even the primary constitutional Charter, Cuba certainly has the right to do the same with the content of a secondary instrument, the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The point is not to make a lawyer's argument for Cuba's eligibility. This is a political decision. Every other member of the OAS wants to return to the status quo before the despised 1962 suspension, to bring Cuba back in as a full functioning member without posing political obstacles which they know it will refuse. The US tried to use OAS participation as one more vehicle for pressuring Cuba to make changes. Many other countries favor those same changes and have no problem with their inclusion as goals in principle, but no one else agrees to imposing them, knowing that is a tired and ineffective strategy.

Washington ducked the bullet of either facing a vote, where it would have been completely isolated, or of alienating the Hemisphere by blocking a consensus. However, underlying sentiments remain the same. If and when Cuba decides it wants to take its legitimate seat at the OAS, there is no reason to believe Washington will be able to force or win a vote to stop it. Note that Minister Rodas spoke of, "the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS" not the domestic political systems of its members.

Bloomberg.com offered an unusual regional insight that may be predictive:

Cuba will rejoin the Organization of American States after “a lot of emotionâ€Â passes, said Ruben Blades, tourism minister in Panama, a member of the Washington- based group.

“There is a lot of emotion right now in the world,â€Â Blades, also a six-time Grammy Award winning singer, said in an interview in New York. “So it’s a matter of processing. Eventually we will see a different scenario in Cuba as we have seen everywhere else.â€Â

CNN reported that Miami's extremist wing was not appeased by the US spin of the OAS compromise:

"Today we witnessed an example of the Obama administration's absolute diplomatic incompetence and its unrestricted appeasement of the enemies of the United States," Cuban-American U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, said in a joint statement. "The OAS is a putrid embarrassment."

Dan Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue summed up the situation well for the Guardian,

"The vote sends a powerful signal to the Obama administration that the path of moderate, incremental change in US policy towards Cuba is depleting America's political capital in the region at an alarming rate."

--John McAuliff


Articles giving a non-US spin to the OAS, the text of the OAS resolution and the US draft, the text of Clinton, Shannon and Restrepo statements are posted here

To see streaming videos of the plenary session that dealt with the Cuba resolution, go here or here (This is the original feed, so most of the speeches are in Spanish. On request to director@ffrd.org, I can send a download of part of the English feed which included translations.}

The lobbyist in Washington for Cuban American hard liners, Mauricio Claver-Carone, comes to a similar conclusion that the OAS resolution effectively allows Cuba to resume membership whenever it wishes.

U.S. Policy: Thinking Beyond the Cold War

Lost in the debate over whether the OAS should have rescinded its 1962 suspension of Cuban membership and whether that means Cuba could or would take a seat at the table, is how this episode reflects and informs the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy.

It turns out that all that talk during the election about talking and listening to our allies (and our adversaries) – wasn’t just talk.

During a press briefing Wednesday, Dan Restrepo, Special Assistant To The President and Senior Director For Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, counts the final OAS resolution to rescind Cuba’s 1962 suspension – which originated of strategic Cold War anti-communist concerns – as “example of where talk is a very effective mechanism of advancing our national interests.â€Â According to Restrepo: “[B]y engaging in a constructive dialogue and listening to their concerns, we made folks more open to our concerns. And that I think, at the core, is how this is a clear sign of the effective use of all the power of the United States, and here the diplomatic ability of the United States, to change the course of events that would not have served our national interests and our core values into one that strengthened our national interests and our core values, and the partnership that we have with important countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.â€Â

You might be tempted to say that Restrepo is trying to put a good face on having this Cuba resolution pushed on the new administration. And there’s ample debate whether Cuba could, should or will even try to take a seat at the OAS now. But that debate overlooks what else this exercise may have meant for the Obama administration.

Of all the talking this administration is trying to do around the world, the OAS discussions on Cuba this week offered the lowest risk with the surest returns. At the Summit of the Americas this spring, President Obama said: "We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations."

By working toward and achieving a consensus resolution on Cuba this week, the United States just made good on its promise to talk, but not dictate, and most importantly to listen to the hemisphere. The ink is still trying, but there can be no doubt that the administration has won a new measure of trust from the region – in a sense, taking one for the team – and it didn’t cost us a penny.

Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs confirmed that in negotiating a compromise resolution on Cuba, the Obama administration listened to members of the OAS who, “wanted to find a way to deal with Cuba that wasn’t based on Cold War instruments or decisions that the OAS had taken, but instead was is based on the current instruments related to democracy, to human rights, to self-determination, non-intervention, security, and development.â€Â

Cuba was not the only country in the hemisphere to be caught up in the Cold War; but it was the last. Rescinding the 1962 resolution wasn’t really necessary – Cuba maintains it doesn’t want back in. The OAS action won’t resolve the U.S. – Cuba conflict, nor does it make clear what happens next in the OAS. But it does help put to a symbolic end a difficult chapter in the Hemisphere’s history.

New York Times: End the Embargo

Ah, the Grey Lady speaketh.

In today's New York Times, the editorial department came out in favor of ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba. It also came out against re-admitting Cuba into the Organization of American States.

I think both positions are laudable.

Yesterday, at the OAS meeting in Honduras, the hemispheric organization repealed the act that suspended the Cuban government from membership, while conditioning actual return on adherence to the organization's (democratic) principles.

That's smart. It denied Venezuela the wedge issue it sought in the OAS, while also avoids triggering Senator Menendez's threat to suspend U.S. funding for the international body if Cuba is re-admitted.

But ending the embargo is another matter. The embargo is, as the NYT editorial board puts it, an "anachronism" and it is doing more to support the illiberal Castro regime by giving the government a perpetual excuse for poor performance and by giving them a ready-made enemy around which to rally Cuban national pride.

Both the president and the secretary of state have argued in favor of "tough but smart" diplomacy. Now is a time for getting even smarter on Cuba. With the OAS meeting behind us, the Obama administration has another window for ending the embargo on its own terms, and delivering to the nations of Latin America and our European partners change they can believe in.

That kind of real change, rather than a change in rhetoric delivered in well-crafted speeches in world capitals, will do more to convince global audiences that the United States has changed and changed for good.

Countering the Spin About OAS Membership

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Salvador (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

In 1962, President Kennedy’s ambassador to the OAS, DeLesseps Morrison, a rabid anti-communist, pushed a resolution through the organization suspending Cuba’s membership in the Western Hemisphere’s most important regional institution. Given the lack of overwhelming regional backing for such a move against Cuba at the time, this was no easy task. In fact, in order to convince Haitian President Francois “Papa Docâ€Â Duvalier to support the U.S. initiative to bar Cuba from the OAS, Ambassador Morrison had to bribe the reprehensible Haitian dictator by promising to fund the construction of a new airport in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haiti was thus won over to provide the last of the necessary fourteen votes to suspend Cuba from the organization. (In enlisting the assistance of one dictatorship to expel another, Washington demonstrated its selective indignation at authoritarianism.)

From “Ostracism or Reconciliation? Cuba, the U.S. and the Organization of American Statesâ€Â prepared by Council on Hemispheric Affairs Research Associates Arienna Grody and Lily Fesler (full text here)

Much reporting on the coming OAS meeting has incorporated the spin emerging from official US sources. Some correctives:

1) Cuba is still a member of the OAS. It was suspended, not expelled, in 1962 as the result of an intense and still-resented campaign by a US government more dominant than today. Justifications for suspension did not include internal democracy or human rights and are now moot.

2) Virtually all OAS members support ending Cuba’s suspension without conditions, not only more left-leaning governments.

3) Nothing in the OAS Charter, or subsequent documents, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) precludes Cuba taking up full and active membership. The IADC is quite explicit about measures to be taken in the face of ‘unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state’, i.e. a military coup. It incorporates aspirations that all members be representative democracies with respect for human rights but does not address restoring the status of an existing member with a different political orientation.

4) The US embargo and forced transition agenda with Cuba seriously violate the OAS Charter, which is quite explicit that ‘No State...has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference...against its political, economic, and cultural elements.’" (Article 19, see also Articles 3e and 20)

Diplomats tell TIME that major Latin broker countries like Brazil are stepping in now to help hammer out a deal palatable to both Washington and Havana â€â€ one that would probably demand a lesser gesture of democratic commitment on Cuba's part, like the release of political prisoners. But they also suggest that the General Assembly may end up deciding to simply hold a yearlong "dialogue" on the matter, to allow the U.S. and Cuba to ease into a compromise that would be unveiled in 2010. –Tim Padgett, Time Magazine

Not good enough. Placing special conditions on Cuba’s membership or ducking the issue brands the organization as still too compliant with US domestic political agendas and sustains Fidel Castro’s anti-OAS argument. An extended dialogue about reentry is likely given Cuba’s oft repeated denunciation of the OAS, but such a very useful process can only begin if the 1962 suspension is repealed and it is only up to Cuba to decide if and when it retakes its seat.

As with the rest of Administration Cuba policy to date, trying to maintain leverage by incremental change is living in denial and counterproductive. Secretary Clinton should simply abstain if the OAS votes on ending Cuba's suspension without conditions. In that way she demonstrates we are listening and serious about a new collaborative role, even if the Administration is not able politically to join the affirmative vote.

Most of all, the Administration cannot let it seem as though Sen. Menendez (D, NJ) controls US foreign policy with bluster and threats to cut off OAS funding.

--John McAuliff