(President Nixon with Premier Enlai during his famous visit to China in 1972)
In 1972, President Richard Nixon, in responding to the toast of Premier Chou En-Lai at the now-famous banquet that highlighted the beginning of a new U.S. policy toward China, made these remarks:
So, let us, in these next five days, start a long march together, not in lockstep, but on different roads leading to the same goal, the goal of building a world structure of peace and justice in which all may stand together with equal dignity and in which each nation, large or small, has a right to determine its own form of government, free of outside interference or domination. (my emphasis)
On 26 June 2008, Senator Chuck Hagel, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, said:
This American presidential election presents unparalleled opportunities for our country and our two candidates. They must not squander the magnitude of this moment. The next president and his team will have a unique opportunity to capture domestic and international support unlike any time since September 11, 2001. I believe that America and the world will follow an honest, competent and accountable American president. To seize this moment, the next president will not have the luxury of extra time to prepare to govern. The candidates must begin that work now as they earn the trust of the people over the next four months. (my emphasis)
One of the "unparalleled opportunities" that confronts America is a new policy with respect to Cuba, that island nation of 11 million souls just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. But unlike Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan/Pakistan, China, Russia, India, global warming, the need for a rational energy policy, infrastructure refurbishment, tax reform and a host of other international and domestic issues, reshaping Cuba policy is not at the top, or even near the top, of either presidential candidate's agenda. But it should be.
Our own hemisphere is changing as rapidly as the power changes that are rocking the United States from Beijing to Baghdad, from New Delhi to Dubai. In Brazil, one of the best leaders in the world, Luiz InÃƒÂ¡cio Lula da Silva, charts an increasingly positive course for a nation almost as large as the U.S., while in Argentina -- once the world's tenth most wealthy country -- the potential is there to recapture economic success. In Mexico, historic changes are underway that in a decade or two may propel that country into the economic limelight as well and, if not, send millions more immigrants into the United States. Wherever one looks in Latin America, change is underway. But the U.S. is either not involved or only marginally. Worse, in the one country where its aid money speaks volumes -- Colombia -- the U.S. focus on narcotics looks to South Americans more like pure self-interest than anything else. This neglect and single-issue policy must cease.
Moreover, in some countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, the U.S. is increasingly seen as unimportant or, worse, antagonistic to the wishes of the majority of the people and supportive still of wealthy elites and rapacious corporations. This damaging image needs to be erased as well.
The best way to begin reshaping our Latin America policy is an opening to that little island off the coast of Florida, Cuba.
Such an opening would signal immediately to the entire region that the U.S. has regained its collective senses, has rethought its foreign policy and, most importantly, will act accordingly. Such an opening would also begin to dispel the apprehension, now shared around the world, that neither global interests nor even national interests drive U.S. foreign policy anymore. Instead, that policy is driven exclusively by U.S. domestic interests -- and usually and most dangerously by narrow and extremist domestic interests pandered to increasingly by politicians of both political parties desperate to please their respective bases.
Such a rational foreign policy opening to Cuba would be welcomed by all of our friends and allies in the world, not least of which is our very best friend, ally and trade partner in the hemisphere, Canada.
Whoever is president in January 2009 should make a commitment to review U.S.-Cuba policy in the first 100 days. A review of that policy based strictly on national interests cannot help but lead to a lifting of the embargo on Cuba and, thus, a whole new policy for Latin America.
-- Lawrence Wilkerson
In the May issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, arguably the most prestigious magazine in the realm of military affairs, appears an article entitled "Castro's Passing: Time for Engagement, Continued Confrontation, or Punitive Action?" by Colonel John C. McKay, USMC (Retired). Colonel McKay possesses the necessary bona fidesÃ¢â‚¬â€not only is he a veteran of combat, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with an advanced degree from Georgetown University, and a former Olmsted Scholar in Spain, he grew up in Latin America, served as naval attachÃƒÂ© in El Salvador, and commanded Joint Task Force 160, GuantÃƒÂ¡namo Bay, Cuba.
Colonel McKay's argument with respect to U.S. policy toward Cuba centers in comments such as this:
The next step would be to start the process of correction, both of perception and of reality, of past indifferences toward and neglect of Latin America. The first order of business is to formulate a new national policy toward CubaÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Colonel McKay adds:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦U.S. policy must demonstrate to Cuba, starting now, receptivity to engagement rather than continued confrontation, or worse, punitive action.
Why is it that with respect to CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€and for that matter so many other critical parts of American foreign policyÃ¢â‚¬â€the military seems more attuned to potentially successful policy initiatives than the civilian side of our government? Could it possibly be that the military thinks, plans, and acts on the basis of realities in the world rather than ideologies, pipe dreams, and other phantasmagoria? You betcha' sweet bippies they do.
As a military man myself for 31 years, I know this to be the case. When you and your fellow soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and coastguardsmen and women know that your lives may be placed on the line to ensure U.S. policies are carried out, you spend a great deal of time contemplating those policies. Those who say such thinking isn't a military man or woman's responsibility or purview should get a life: all of the military's senior educational processes have been aimed at that purpose since Alfred Thayer Mahan first raised his hand and President Theodore Roosevelt recognized it. And thank God for that development since the only really sane thought about foreign policy these days seems to emanate from the military.
Whether Iraq, Iran (see the General Petraeus confirmation hearings on his selection to be the new commander of U.S. Central Command), Syria, Cuba, Latin America in general, or a host of other foreign policy issues, the military's take on realistic options is far sounder than that of the current administration's civilian members, with the possible exception of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Perhaps in that latter case, exposure to the military has affected Mr. Gates.
Presidential possibilities Obama and McCain need to listen not only to the better angels of their nature but to the sanest minds in their midst once either man attains the Oval Office. With regard to Cuba, Colonel McKay's advice is an excellent starting place.
- Lawrence Wilkerson
In an unpublished letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, John McAulliff, Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development in New York (email@example.com) , wrote about "The Cuban Five" and Luis Posada Carriles:
It is often said that terrorism lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Real horrific, crimes are committed, but political identification too often clouds moral judgment.
Think of Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka, even 9/11. One man's villain
is another man's hero.
Venezuela and Cuba demand extradition from the US of Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist and the US justifies the anachronistic listing of Cuba as a terrorist state
because it has given asylum to Joanne Cheismard. Brothers to the Rescue planes
were shot down by a country protecting its sovereign air space or as wanton murder.
After 49 years, it's time to stopÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Cuba has a new leader, as soon will the US. They must show the courage to bridge
90 miles with a spirit of mutual respect. After a long conflict, wishing that the other
were different is normal. However, setting preconditions for talking, insisting that the antagonist must first change itself to become an acceptable interlocutor, means one
is not serious about solving problems.
Mr. McAuliff went on later to add that, today, the Cuban 5 and the US 59 seemed particularly to fit this mirror perspective. In Havana, the Cuban 5:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦are heroes and people of conviction who were unfairly arrested, tried by a biased
legal system and sentenced to inappropriately long and harsh terms.
Read over the same words and see if they fit for the way most Americans, and
certainly our government describe the situation of the 59 dissidents still imprisoned
of the 75 who were arrested during, if not because ofÃ¢â‚¬Â¦the involvement of the US
Or turn it around:
The imprisoned were paid agents of a hostile foreign power, received a fair trial under
the country's established laws, and received their just deserts.
The mirror image fits both ways.
Although the idea is not popular with either government, I believe it is time for a cold
war style exchange between Cuba and the US, the Cuban 5 for the US 59.
The 5 obviously want to return home. The 59 and their families must be given the opportunity to come to the US. If they want to stay in Cuba, they should be paroled
with the pledge by them and the US government that there be no contact for a
specified time with the Interests Section or US funded organizations.
From my perspective, both sets of people are victims of the hostile relationship
between the countries.
Now, the Vatican has weighed in. The Catholic News Agency, reporting on a meeting between Cardinal Bertone and Cuba's new president, RaÃƒÂºl Castro, reported in late February that:
Cardinal Bertone said, 'the President emphasized the importance of reciprocity at the international level. He said he was willing to address all the problems with great openness and even to make concrete gestures in an atmosphere of reciprocity.' In that regard, Cardinal Bertone mentioned 'the crucial problems of Cuba' related to the US-led embargo and the European Union sanctions, which 'slow its development and do not allow for the serious socio-economic difficulties that afflict the island to be faced.'
The Vatican cardinal said President Castro also brought up the issue of five Cuban prisoners in the United States and their humanitarian treatment, 'with the eventual possibility of an exchange.' (my emphasis)
What an excellent opportunity for a new president in January to reach out and settle in a spirit of newfound cooperationÃ¢â‚¬â€and in a more profound sense of real U.S. security needsÃ¢â‚¬â€this festering problem. Let's exchange the Cuban Five for the US 59. Moreover, let's use that exchange as the start of something new and different, discarding the failed policy of half a century and replacing it with one that works.
- Lawrence Wilkerson
Comrade and General RaÃƒÂºl Castro Ruz has now, it seems, taken full control of the reins of government in Cuba and el commandante y jefe, Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â€who for nearly half a century successfully defied nine (not counting Ike, who knew better) American presidentsÃ¢â‚¬â€has receded more and more into the background noise of a slowly changing Cuba. But what does this successful and now almost complete transition portend for the 11 million Cubans who deserve a better life?
Well, that is the question on everyone's mind who follows Cuban affairs. From a very cynical viewpoint like that of Patrick Symmes in the most recent edition of Harper's Magazine ("The Battle of Ideas"), to the very realpolitik views of U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, to the yammering of strident right-wingers like Roger Noriega, we receive frequent prognoses, plans, or pronunciamientos.
But what is really going on?Ã¢â‚¬â€apart from the carefully contrived rhetoric of Dade County spinmeisters, Administration hacks, or even on-island government mouthpieces. It's hard to tell, really.
Cellphone use, limited property rights, incentives for farmers, moves toward shaped privatization, increases in salaries, and other initiatives reach our ears and entice but it's very hard to tell what they mean for average Cubans. And, as with most situations of rising expectations, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know if the situation will get out of hand, as viewed by the leadership, and a severe backlash result, or further openings will occur, or what.
Whether Symmes knows it or not is debatable, but the central theme of his very film noire-like article is that Cuban dissidents are few and far between, ill-equipped, ill-resourced, and compose an inchoate group of ne'r-do-wells. Irony of ironies, but they appear in Symmes' descriptions to be much like those who tried to wade ashore at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and whose remnants, aged but still defiant, now occupy a decrepit training camp in southern Florida.
On the other hand, if there is a sound statement of strategy with regard to how the U.S., el coloso del norte (and, under George W. Bush, el coloso sin una cabeza!), ought to be responding to all this ferment and creeping change in Cuba, it is without mistake that of Senator Dodd's:
Our Cuba policy has been agonizingly static for almost fifty years.
It has neither served AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interests nor brought democracy to the island.
When Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul, we reached a critical moment.
We all now have a choice -- either we engage the Cuban people and leadership to help shape the landscape for the next fifty years, or we remain on the sidelines to no one's benefit.
I believe we must dramatically alter our posture towards Cuba, by ending the trade embargo, lifting travel restrictions and caps on remittances to the struggling Cuban people, and by engaging in bilateral and multilateral talks on issues of mutual interest.
The only certainty guaranteed by our Cuba policy over the past forty years has been the continuation of Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grip on power.
Once we embark on this road to reform, I am confident that it will be nearly impossible for the Cuban government and its people to turn back.
And the same will be true for us.
I'll take Dodd's prescriptions even further:
If the U.S. does not change its policy toward CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€and change it more or less along the lines Dodd proposesÃ¢â‚¬â€then regardless of the outcome of the changes now taking place on the island, plus those changes undoubtedly to come, the United States will be on the outside peering in, not on the inside helping to shape change. Indeed, not even on the outside ready to assist change. We will be, as we have so often been under the feckless leadership of Richard Cheney and George W. Bush, out in the coldÃ¢â‚¬â€with no influence, no weight, and no friends.
If only our presidential election were tomorrow morning!
- Lawrence Wilkerson
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s look at what Cuba is doing with regard to diversification. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s darned smart.
Having experienced the Soviet withdrawal from their islandÃ¢â‚¬â€a move that impacted nearly every Cuban in some wayÃ¢â‚¬â€and the concomitant epiphany of the tragic downside of sole-source support, the Cuban leadership vowed never to repeat. As a result, today that leadership is diversifying its support by state and function. Spain, China, Germany Canada, Israel, Venezuela, Brazil, and others fill the former role and nickel, tobacco, oil, rum, tourism, and other trade the latter. Cuba will never be trapped again into reliance on one state or on one or two commodities or trade functions.
The latest move in this regard was executed by the man about whom Ricardo AlarcÃƒÂ³n, President of CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s National Assembly, said in 2007: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Give me ten LulaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and I will rule the world.Ã¢â‚¬Â I tend to agree with AlarcÃƒÂ³n, particularly when I cast BrazilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wise leader against our own feckless leader, George W. Bush. In fact, Bush calls to mind most poignantly ShakespeareÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s words, as uttered by the Fool in King Lear: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.Ã¢â‚¬Â How very apt.
Lula has just quietly visited Cuba and left a one billion dollar line of credit in his wake. Moreover, Brazil is working to assist Cuba in exploring its offshore oil potential, along with China and Venezuela (another smart form of diversification by Cuba).
The missing "state" in all of this is, of course, the United States. Its embargo looks like something from the dark ages; its policies donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even have the rationale of Ã¢â‚¬Å“impassioned brotherhoodÃ¢â‚¬Â of a 1962 Bobby Kennedy intent on offsetting his brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bay of Pigs image by eliminating Castro. In fact, there is no longer any reason for the embargo except the hardline Cuban-American lobby whose members increasingly act more like Batista clones than freedom fighters.
Moreover, as the U.S. embargo continues, our relations with all of Latin America suffer. Lately, as Brazil and Mexico in particular have recently highlighted, the U.S. is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the entire region. And as this kind of U.S. negligence usually generates in the relations of nations, other powersÃ¢â‚¬â€such as ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â€are making hay while the U.S. sun refuses to shine. In short, their power is flowing into the vacuum we have purposefully and even spitefully created.
This has to cease.
Whoever is the new president in January 2009, two things need to happen with regard to Latin America and Cuba. First, Cuba, never on the front burner, needs at least to be put on the stove. Second, U.S. relations with Latin America should be completely refurbished. And there is the connection: no more effective and swifter way exists to signal a new approach to Latin America than to effect a rapprochement with Cuba as the opening gambit.
Mr./Madam President, over to you.
No matter how many times I listen to George W. Bush, I can still be stunned by his absolute detachment from reality. Whether Iran or Iraq, World War III or General David Petraeus, his remarks sometimes are baffling. The President's recent words with regard to Cuba are yet another proof. The President demonstrated an ignorance of the real situation on the ground in Cuba that defies belief and scares the bejeezus out of me. Here is a man, for example, who doesn't even know that the transition of power in Cuba has already happened. Moreover, he doesn't understand that given the present U.S. Cuba policy, Cubans don't want U.S. help -- indeed, the U.S. is increasingly irrelevant to any meaningful change in Cuba. In part, this reality is simply due to the inability of any outside power to bring democracy and freedom to another country by fiat. But with respect to Cuba, it is also because U.S, policy is geared to do precisely the opposite, i.e., it is by design crafted to keep Fidel Castro's revolution alive and well. Vicki Huddleston, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former chief of the United States Interests Section in Cuba, covered these points well in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post. Here's the gist of what she argued:
President Bush yesterday [24 October 2007] made a case for bringing democracy to Cuba. Yet by telling the Cuban people not to expect help from the U.S. until they have made Cuba free, and by refusing to make any substantive change to U.S. policy, he is actually forestalling democratizationÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
WeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦won't see meaningful movement toward democracy without changes to the U.S.'s rigid travel restrictions. These prevent the person-to-person contact and exchange of ideas that could build support for democracy and competition within Cuba.
At the same time, the U.S. provides a safety valve that allows the most disillusioned Cubans and their families to escape rather than press for change at home. Bush was joined by many Cuban-born, could-have-been-reformers at the State Department yesterday, including Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and former Sen. Mel Martinez, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of FloridaÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Fidel Castro has outmaneuvered two Bush administrations and a total of nine American presidents. By continuing hard-line policies, President Bush is making it more likely that the Castro family will be in power on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1, 2009.
The president said our goal in Cuba is democracy. But it should be both democracy and stability. No one -- most of all the Cuban people -- wants bloodshed or a humanitarian disaster. To encourage democratization and a peaceful transition, the U.S. must start a dialogue with both the people of Cuba and their government.
In his speech, Bush said the Cuban government "isolates its people from the hope that freedom brings, and traps them in a system that has failed them." By maintaining the status quo, the U.S. government is just reinforcing that isolation.
My hat is off to Ms. Huddleston for speaking the truth. The U.S. has reconciled with the Communist governments in China and Vietnam. We support dictators throughout Central Asia under the strategic mantra of "contact and influence is better than isolation". We talked to the Communist Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. But we cannot bring ourselves to deal with Havana and have maintained that failed policy for 47 years. There must be something about those 27 electoral votes in Florida that contaminates reality.
When Steve Clemons and I visited Cuba in March of this year, one of the places we both were excited to see and tour was the home of Ernest Hemingway -- "La Finca Vigia" -- near Cojimar, Cuba. Hemingway lived there for longer sustained periods than anywhere else.
In my youth, I was such a fan of Ernest that I tried to emulate his writing style -- so aggressively, in fact, that I even did formal papers in college using his succinct, simple but often laden-with-irony methodology. I remember a sociology professor's writing on one of my papers something like "Wilkerson, Hemingway does not belong in our classroom". He gave me a "C" on the paper. I was incensed -- not by the "C" but by the implied disparagement of my artist hero. I loved Hemingway and had read everything he ever wrote that hit the public domain. I envisioned my self as a modern Robert Jordan (perhaps explaining my 31 years in the military later on) and, besides admiring Donne's poetry, never read his lines about "Ask not for whom the bell tolls" again without thinking of Hemingway who, by the way, wrote that book while at Finca Vigia.
Since my heady salad days, I've lost some of my ardor for the bullfight-loving big game hunter, but not enough to keep me from feeling a shiver of excitement as I stood and looked at the Pilar, his sea-going fishing boat, as it was being refurbished by the Cubans in charge of Finca Vigia. (I couldn't help but think of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Key Largo, because the boat looks a lot like the one in that superb movie, the boat in which the movie's denouement is worked out over blazing pistols). I felt similar excitement as we toured Hemingway's house and grounds as well. Seeing the items in the rooms, just as they may have been in Hemingway's own time, and hearing about who stayed in those rooms -- from Hemingway himself to people such as Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner -- was a stroll through the past I never thought I would make, and learning that he used to run in the streets of the village below and then come back to his swimming pool, shed his clothes entirely, and jump right in was an added insight into the life in Cuba of this ruggedly individualistic but nonetheless global citizen.
There is no question that Hemingway loved Cuba and its surrounding sea. Indeed, perhaps his best work -- The Old Man and the Sea -- derived its inspiration and probably its central character from the location. Equally, there is no question that Ernest Hemingway belongs to Cuba as well as to the United States and, more importantly, to the entire world, as do all great artists. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered how difficult the United States is making this restoration effort in Cuba. And why? You guessed it: because it is in Cuba and Cubans are responsible for it. After all, the thought among the hardcore Cuban-Americans who control U.S. Cuba policy, is that the Cubans may make some money from it.
U.S. policy wasn't always so ridiculous. In the past, the U.S. decided to help the Cubans in their efforts to preserve this very special place and legacy. But after George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and wanted to repay the hardcore Cuban-Americans in Florida and elsewhere for helping him get re-elected, all of this cooperation began to change. Now, listen to what sort of "help" occurs more recently:
As we toured the house, Steve Clemons asked what was being done to preserve the historic collection of books that are stored in the house -- on tables, in bookcases, and elsewhere Hemingway located them -- books that have Hemingway's own marginalia on many of their pages as he commented on what he was reading.
The answer we received would make a grown man cry.
It seems that the machine the Cubans needed most was a sort of digital copier that costs upwards of $30,000 (U.S.). With this machine, they could photocopy all of the books, complete with Hemingway's notations, and thus preserve them for posterity. In the humid, moist air of Cuba, even with some modern precautions, the books are rapidly decaying, so such action is imperative if this precious legacy is to be saved.
When Steve Clemons offered to orchestrate the purchase of such a machine and ship it to Cuba, the Cubans had to tell us such a move would be impossible because policies enacted by the Bush administration prohibited it. We then learned how draconian those policies truly are, even with regard to something such as the Hemingway legacy, a legacy of the entire world.
This situation is so absurd it borders on being pathetically laughable (and there is much more to add to the pathos and the laughter, including the fact that American citizens cannot travel to Cuba to see Finca Vigia -- or anything else in Cuba for that matter).
A few members of Congress (Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona being prominent among them) are aware of this pathetic situation which makes the United States a laughing stock among its friends and allies. But so far, they have been unable to interest their colleagues in the Congress in taking corrective action.
Perhaps more cards and letters should be in the making?
--Lawrence Wilkerson, die-hard Hemingway fan
I attended a briefing by Leonard Weinglass (he of the Daniel Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers fame, of the Amy Carter tribulations, and other famous efforts to achieve justice against at times huge odds) at Howard University's Law School on Wednesday, 12 September. I was stunned by what counselor Weinglass revealed.
As a military officer for 31 years, I occasionally encountered Cuba. In exercises, I recall vividly that when we wargamed "the Cuba scenario" what happened was that the U.S. Navy, the FBI, the Florida State Police, the Coast Guard, and a host of other folks got involved not in invading Cuba, but in preventing a group of Cuban-Americans in Florida from doing so. I might add that such actions violated U.S. law and so, in the exercisesÃ¢â‚¬â€which were in my view very realisticÃ¢â‚¬â€we spent our time attempting to stop several hundred small boats, loaded with automatic weapons, explosives, and lots of Cuban-Americans, from getting to Cuba. So, I was acquainted with some of the vagaries of U.S. Cuba policy.
At Howard University last week, I learned the truth about yet another vagaryÃ¢â‚¬â€"The Cuban Five." Here's a quick backgrounder.
Because the Cuban government had come to much the same conclusion as the U.S. military and did not want to be invaded by a bunch of Cuban-Americans from Florida, it decided to send five Cubans to Florida to spy on this "invasion group". (And what I haven't mentioned is that this group of Floridians is considered to be a group of terrorists by Cuban authorities. Why? Because over the past few years this group has allegedly carried out terrorist acts in Cuba and killed by some counts over 3,000 Cubans. One of these acts was to bring down a Cuban airliner with 76 souls on board, all of whom perished.)
When these five Cubans began reporting back to Havana about what they were discovering in Florida, the picture became very clear. In short, Cuban authorities were convinced that their country did indeed have much to worry about.
So, in Havana the thought was, let's give this evidence our five "spies" have gathered to the U.S. FBI. Surely, the FBI will then understand what the U.S. military already understands, i.e., the threat to peace in the Straits of Florida is in Florida not in Cuba. And so Havana did just that. It gave to the FBI the evidence its five men had gathered in southern Florida.
What did the FBI do? Well, here is the crux of the matter. The FBI turned the evidence over to the U.S. Government and it, in turn, used the evidence not to investigate and, if necessary, arrest and prosecute the law-breaking Cuban-Americans and their supporters in southern Florida, but to arrest and eventually imprison for life the five men who "spied" on these fine, loyal Floridians.
When the case came to trial, a change of venue was warranted and asked for because no Miami court was going to give the Cuban Five a fair trial, since the city is largely in the hands of some of the very Cuban-Americans and their supporters who've allegedly perpetrated these atrocities on the Cuban people and are prepared to invade the island. But the change of venue motion was denied. And of course the five were convicted.
But on appeal, in a decision by three of the judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the trial's results were thrown outÃ¢â‚¬â€as of course they should have been on the denial of the change of venue motion alone. The Five returned to Cuba and their families, right?
No, because in a full meeting of the 11th Circuit Court with all 12 members present, the ruling of the three members was reversed and The Five went back to jail, where they have been now for nine years.
The case is being reviewed yet again even as I write. That is one of the reasons that Leonard Weinglass gave the briefing at Howard University that I attended. He wanted to inform us of this apparently egregious miscarriage of justice and solicit our support in getting the decision reversed.
If the facts are as counselor Weinglass reported, it is hard to believe that this case ever happened in the first placeÃ¢â‚¬â€unless, of course, one contemplates the real power of this group of Cuban-Americans in Florida and the hold they exercise over the U.S. Government.
But this case sort of takes the cake: to punish with life sentences men who came here to determine how and when their country was going to be attacked by people breaking U.S. law. These men were unarmed, not intent on any physical damage to the United States, and were motivated to protect their fellow citizens from invasion and repeated attacks by Cuban-Americans living in Florida.
And we have to ask also, just how is it that we have become a safe haven for alleged terrorists? How is it that weÃ¢â‚¬â€the United States of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â€may rate a place on our own list of states that sponsor terrorism?
If the facts are as counselor Weinglass reported, this case is truly the bottom of the pit. I had great trouble believing it, but I had nothing with which to refute Mr. Weinglass' superbly delivered presentation. But more than that was my four years inside the Bush Administration. You see, I know the depths to which our government is capable of sinking. Torture. Lies. False intelligence. Tyranny. Is the continued failure to resolve fairly this case against the Cuban Five, even though it began in the second Clinton administration, really so unbelievable when cast against the characters of the current administration?
Talk to your congressman or woman, please. This is a travesty. And, by the way, if you can disprove any of what Mr. Weinglass contends, fire away. America has many disastrous actions chalked up to its discredit at the moment, so to be disabused of one of such heavy import would be a gift from the gods.
Let's just stop for a minute and tell the truth about U.S. Cuba policy. It's dictated by a few hardcore Cuban-Americans, who live principally in Florida, and who pay vast sums of money into the political coffers of such luminaries as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Ray Martinez, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and others.
In return, these congress persons vote forÃ¢â‚¬â€and, worse, cajole their fellow feckless congresspersons to vote with themÃ¢â‚¬â€legislation that grants millions of taxpayer dollars to the people in Florida who run the "anti-Castro campaign". This campaign consists principally of these folks putting the money in their pockets and lifting their standard of living. Rarely if ever do they do anything to advance democracy in Cuba. What's wrong with this picture?
Well, for starters, not a lot that anyone would object to these days because this is the way most politics is conducted in America today. Whether it's Iraq, ENRON, U.S. actions to help Katrina victims, or thousands of dollars stored in a congressperson's freezer unit, Washington politicians are not noted for their brainpower, their honesty, or their decency. When you find one who breaks this moldÃ¢â‚¬â€like Senator Chuck Hagel of NebraskaÃ¢â‚¬â€he or she can tolerate only one or two terms in Washington and then they must return to heartland America and take a month or two of resuscitation so as to revive their fundamental feelings about what America ought to be about.
But policy toward Cuba is different.
Cuba is only 90 miles off our coast. It's 11 million people are very talented, possessed like the city-state of Singapore of a lot more brainpower and energy than their island's size would indicate, and incredibly altruisticÃ¢â‚¬â€the most recent manifestation of which is that they send more than 30,000 of their medical personnel overseas to help impoverished people who otherwise could not afford any medical care.
These really decent people also live on an island where oil exists. Oil on land and oil offshore.
But because of the stupid policy that those old SOBs in Florida have us locked into, American companies cannot offer to recover the oil that Cuba possesses. Instead, China may be doing the drilling. Or Venezuela whose leader, Hugo Chavez, loves the U.S. so much that he bashes us every chance he gets.
What's wrong with THIS picture?
The bottom line here is so simple it makes your head hurt (like President Bush and our Iraq policy).
We need immediately to lift at least that part of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba that deals with our oil companies so that they can bid on drilling in Cuban territory. Leave the rest of our idiotic policy in place if you want to (America seems incapable of changing it). But since access to oil relates directly to our national security, let's do this little bit immediately.
Since I know that every American with a brain (which is most of them) understands the truth of what I'm saying, why can't we do this?
Because the Cheney-Bush lock on stupidity is impenetrable as long as the separate but equal branch of government known as the Congress refuses to find its courage and reverse this stupidity.
-- Lawrence Wilkerson
(Cuban doctors attend to an injured Pakistani refugee after the 2006 earthquake.)
With Steve Clemons and others, I recently visited Cuba (March 2007). One of the areas of Cuban activity on which we focused was what has been described as one of the world's best systems for delivering healthcare to impoverished peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€in Cuba, in Venezuela and elsewhere in South and Central America, and increasingly in sub-Saharan Africa. We visited Cuba's medical "contingency brigade", for example, and talked with doctors and other healthcare personnel about the brigade's recent, highly successful tenure in Pakistan following the devastating earthquakes there in 2006. The passion in the doctors' eyes as they related their experiences in delivering basic healthcare in isolated, freezing regions of Pakistan was truly heartwarming. Some of the human interest stories the doctors related brought laughter to us all and served to demonstrate conclusively how deeply these medical personnel had been touched by their almost year-long experience in Pakistan. They were proud to announce that as a result of the good relations thus created, Cuba was asked to open its first-ever embassy in Islamabad. Talk about effective public diplomacy!
We also visited the Finlay Institute: Center for Research-Development and Production of Human VaccinesÃ¢â‚¬â€incidentally, one of the places that the jacobin Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs, John Bolton, alleged in 2002 was manufacturing biological weapons. We didn't find any such activity (and we did discover that at best the Institute has a rudimentary Bio-Level III capability and no Bio-Level IV capabilityÃ¢â‚¬â€the latter needed if one is to engage in sophisticated biological agent research and development). After the visit, we assumed that Bolton's insights were right up there with the CIA's in 2002-2003 with respect to Saddam Hussein's mobile biological weapons labs. It's safe to say we considered the assessment by the former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Marine General Charles Wilhelm, as more definitive: "During my three year tenure, from September 1997 until September 2000 at Southern Command, I didn't receive a single report or a single piece of evidence that would have led me to the conclusion that Cuba was in fact developing, producing or weaponizing biological or chemical agents."
In March of this year, what we did find at the Finlay Institute, for example, was information about its having developed a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (VA-MENGOC-BC), one that had virtually eliminated that deadly disease among the children of Cuba. Moreover, we discovered that there was a significant incidence of the disease among children in the western U.S., but that due to the embargo on Cuba our doctors and health officials had been unable to avail themselves of this new and very effective (more than 80%) vaccine.
One of the most dramatic moments for us occurred when we visited one of Cuba's hospitals in Havana and plowed through a waiting room of people from all over the worldÃ¢â‚¬â€poor people who had come largely to have eye surgery of some sort, many to have cataracts removed so their blindness or near-blindness would be eliminated. Speaking to some of them was, again, heartwarming. They all said that they were there because of Cuba's outreach. Again, what public diplomacy!
I had reason to compare starkly what I had seen in March in Cuba with what I experienced up close and personal in the U.S. in June, July and August. My 91-year-old Dad and my 87-year-old Mom were caught in the clutches of the U.S. healthcare system. During this time, Medicare was raped, pillaged, and plundered to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars until I intervened, stopped the vicious cycle of short-term hospitalization followed by therapy and rehabilitation (both mostly on the taxpayers' dollars), completely colluded in by all medical personnel, and said "Enough!" and moved my parents to a full care and assisted living facility nearby. Not only did the financial outlay stabilize and become the burden mostly of my parents rather than the U.S. taxpayer (my parents are relatively affluent), but their health improved as well.
My rough calculations informed me that, with trips each time through the emergency room at the local hospital, a five-day hospital stay, and a 21-day stay at the nearby therapy and rehabilitation centerÃ¢â‚¬â€all mostly on MedicareÃ¢â‚¬â€my parents likely used up close to a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money. My conclusion: the U.S. healthcare system is so broken that "broken" is not sufficiently descriptive. (And let me add that as a veteran and a retired military officer, I have not used the TriCare Health system since leaving the U.S. Army 10 years ago; I fear the results too much. When I need a doctorÃ¢â‚¬â€not often, thank God, so farÃ¢â‚¬â€I go to a nearby civilian-run clinic and pay cash for or charge whatever expense I encounter. It's in and out, like going to Wal-Mart for a loaf of bread and some eggs.)
We could learn much and benefit from how the Cubans deliver healthcare, particularly applicable to our rural areas and our inner cities where impoverished people predominate. And in the process, the contact would benefit Cubans. They would be able to study what is strong and robust about the U.S. healthcare systemÃ¢â‚¬â€the high technology components, for exampleÃ¢â‚¬â€and at the same time learn that freedom and democracy are pretty good items too. But we won't do soÃ¢â‚¬â€not until we change our Cuba policy, "the stupidest policy on earth."
-- Lawrence Wilkerson