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 WednesdayÃ‚Â´s resolution, said that "as of now, CubaÃ‚Â´s participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on CubaÃ‚Â´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 CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation to a determination down the road Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“a lot of emotionÃ¢â‚¬Â passes, said Ruben Blades, tourism minister in Panama, a member of the Washington- based group.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a lot of emotion right now in the world,Ã¢â‚¬Â Blades, also a six-time Grammy Award winning singer, said in an interview in New York. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a matter of processing. Eventually we will see a different scenario in Cuba as we have seen everywhere else.Ã¢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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Salvador (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
In 1962, President KennedyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ambassador to the OAS, DeLesseps Morrison, a rabid anti-communist, pushed a resolution through the organization suspending CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership in the Western HemisphereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Papa DocÃ¢â‚¬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 HaitiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ostracism or Reconciliation? Cuba, the U.S. and the Organization of American StatesÃ¢â‚¬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 CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, 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 Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo 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.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢" (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 Ã¢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. Ã¢â‚¬â€œTim Padgett, Time Magazine
Not good enough. Placing special conditions on CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership or ducking the issue brands the organization as still too compliant with US domestic political agendas and sustains Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anti-OAS argument. An extended dialogue about reentry is likely given CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
Senator Robert Menendez, photo by Mike Derer -- Associated Press
The Washington Post today recognized the mess the Administration is getting itself into by overincrementalizing change with Cuba and trying to placate bitter-end exile politics in Congress:
The U.S. government is fighting an effort to allow Cuba to return to the Organization of American States after a 47-year suspension. But the resistance is putting it at odds with much of Latin America as the Obama administration is trying to improve relations in the hemisphere.
Reuters reported that the US has submitted a resolution for the OAS Assembly. It sounds like a holding action. However,
The OAS council appointed a task force to evaluate the U.S. proposal and two others that could more directly lead to reinstatement of Cuba, suspended from the OAS in 1962
If stronger language emerges than the AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, it will face a test of just how prepared it is to really listen to our neighbors rather than to bluster and extreme threats to cut off OAS funding from Sen. Menendez.
Reuters cites the text of the US resolution
"Some of the circumstances since Cuba's suspension from full participation in the Organization of American States may have changed," the U.S. resolution said, noting a "frank and open dialogue" was a hallmark of multilateral relationsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
The U.S. resolution instructs the OAS council "to initiate a dialogue with the present government of Cuba regarding its eventual reintegration into the inter-American system consistent with the principles of sovereignty, independence, non-intervention, democracy."
Hector Morales, the U.S. representative to the group, said Cuba's re-entry into the OAS required a deliberate and well-considered process. "It must and will depend more on what Cuba is prepared to do than on what concessions we as an organization are prepared to make," Morales said.
Condescension and conditionality seem wired into US rhetoric about Cuba, even from the Obama Administration, and we will see next Tuesday how much longer OAS members will tolerate it.
A Cuban journalist, Jorge GÃƒÂ³mez Barata, writing for theprogressoweekly.com challenges US self-righteousness by citing the actual text of the OAS Charter (its legal constitution, not the more recent and inconclusive Democratic Charter of the Americas).
"ARTICLE 3(e): Every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it ..."
"ARTICLE 19: No State or group of States 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 or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements."
"ARTICLE 20: No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind."
In general the tone of the article is quite different than Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Reflection (quoted two blog entries back). While GÃƒÂ³mez says that Cuba will not take its seat, his words suggest greater openness might be in play.
We are curious to see what happens when ... Hillary Clinton sees all hands rise in favor of repairing a historical injustice and the United States is left all alone. Cuba will not return to the OAS, but Latin America will win a great battle and create a precedent. From then on, nothing will be the same.
Based on the text of the OAS Charter, the US itself and our unilateral travel and trade embargo might find rigorous implementation problematic.
Logo for the 39th OAS General Assembly (web page)
WASHINGTON (AP) Ã‚Â Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says Cuba won't be allowed to rejoin the Organization of American States until it makes political reforms, releases political prisoners and respects human rights.
Clinton said Wednesday that the grouping of Western Hemisphere nations requires its members to adhere to democratic standards that the communist government of Cuba does not yet meet. She made the comments to lawmakers ahead of the organization's annual meeting.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been very vocal in saying that we must repeal Resolution VI of 1962. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an old resolution, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not valid anymore, and it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t condemn Cuba for not being democratic. It condemns it for being a member of the Sino-Soviet axis and says that this axis is aggressive against the United States. But it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exist anymore. The Sino-Soviet axis disappeared about four or five years after CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspension. The Soviet Union disappeared almost 20 years ago and the Chinese are even friends with the United States today, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really crazy. It is a piece of the Cold War that was left in a corner and we must get rid of it.
--JosÃƒÂ© Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS)
During the General Assembly, some may advocate to allow Cuba to participate in the OAS, without having made any progress on the fundamental tenants of democracy and human rights...as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance, I would expect the U.S. Congress to ask, "Should we continue to pay 60 percent of the budget of an institution that just discarded democratic principles as a fundamental part of its Charter?
--Sen. Robert Menendez
Governments can change but the instruments they used to turn us into a colony are still the same...The OAS was the instrument for those crimes...Cuba respects the opinions of the governments of sister nations in Latin America and the Caribbean who think in a different manner, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wish to be part of that institution.
--Fidel Castro, Reflections, May 10
An oft-repeated refrain at the Summit of the Americas was that Cuba should no longer be excluded from the Organization of American States. The issue will come to a head when the General Assembly of the OAS meets June 2-3 in Honduras. If Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and others insist on a vote, US isolation in the Hemisphere could be embarrassingly illustrated.
Secretary Clinton is ill advised legally and politically. This is another instance of the US listening without hearing, when conventional inside-the-beltway wisdom imposes the dead hand of the past over real US interests. As the Secretary acknowledged at a town hall meeting for Foreign Affairs Day at the State Department May 1st:
weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re facing an almost united front against the United States regarding Cuba. Every country, even those with whom we are closest, is just saying youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to change, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t keep doing what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing.
Had Cuba been suspended from the OAS because of its lack of multi-party democracy, other members then and subsequently would have faced the same fate. The goal of the Inter-American Democratic Charter was to discourage military coups by excluding a regime that overthrew an elected government, i.e. moved the democratic process backward in its country.
Article 19...an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, constitutes, while it persists, an insurmountable obstacle to its governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation in sessions of the General Assembly, the Meeting of Consultation, the Councils of the Organization, the specialized conferences, the commissions, working groups, and other bodies of the Organization. (full text)
While the Charter is unambiguous that "member states are responsible for organizing, conducting, and ensuring free and fair electoral processes", an accompanying OAS explanatory document demonstrates that the means of dealing with elections that are "divisive" or "controversial" are missions and dialogue not suspension. Cuba's unorthodox form of democracy can be challenged the next time it holds elections, but is not grounds for exclusion.
Is there any contemporaneous documentation that sustains a view that adoption of the Charter in 2001 was seen as an obstacle to Cuba's return unless it changed the form of its existing sovereign government?
Moreover, the Charter is not written to be retroactive. It is not reasonable to apply criteria for membership ex post facto to a country suspended only because of intense political and economic pressure by a disproportionately powerful member for no longer applicable reasons.
A specialist involved in OAS preparatory discussions wrote me that, "It is immensely complicated, and it is not clear how it will come out." Thus it is especially unfortunate if the US takes a hard line ideological stance responsive to special interests and tries once more to impose its will on the Hemisphere, reminiscent of 1962.
My analogy from Indochina is that the US originally opposed Vietnam joining ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), but the independent action by the region to incorporate it and Laos and Cambodia helped Clinton to normalize. Ironically, the US in the Bush era urged still communist Vietnam to take a leading role in ASEAN according to a high level friend from the Foreign Ministry.
When Hillary Clinton, Bob Menendez and Fidel Castro agree that Cuba should not reenter the OAS, it suggests this is just the kind of decisive timely move by the region that is needed to break the logjam of inertia and distrust. By proving itself independent of US domestic agendas, the OAS will strengthen itself--and not only in Cuban eyes.
Two opinions more expert than my own from Professors William LeoGrande and Philip Brenner of American University, in response to questions I posed, can be read here
President Bush at the White House, "Cuban Independence Day" 2008
photo Charles Dharapak / AP
The Bush Administration made much of "Cuban Independence Day", May 20th. It often used the anniversary as a platform to launch rhetorical volleys and harsh policies directed against Havana, Cuban Americans, and any normal relationship between our peoples.
It is a date that means one thing to the 10% of Cubans who've migrated to the US and just the opposite to the 90% for whom the island is home. To most Cubans the revolution that took power in 1959 was a rejection of the compromised political and economic sovereignty forced on them by the US in 1902, regardless of how they feel about their country's economy and government today.
How should the Obama Administration balance shoring up its ethnic support in Florida with reaching out to the people of Cuba and their leaders? Can it avoid choosing which version of history to endorse? Should it depoliticize the anniversary by ignoring it, or by using it for a counter-intuitive initiative that rises above old divisions?
A logical step is to employ the date and any related event to announce that the President will finish the job of non-tourist travel, reaching beyond Cuban Americans to enable unlimited visits for educational, religious, cultural, humanitarian and other people to people purposes. According to a May 5 story in The Hill newspaper, the only reason why many Americans can't go to Cuba legally now is Senator Robert Menendez' apparent ability to still intimidate a conflicted administration.
Some Cuba policy watchers suspected that Menendez may have had a behind-the-scenes impact on Obama's decision not to also allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for cultural, academic and humanitarian purposes. This would have marked a return to the policies in effect at the end of the Clinton administration.
Menendez spoke to Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, shortly before Obama announced his Cuba order. McDonough advises the president on Cuba policy.
A contact in Havana who is often critical of government policy has written an essay on what May 20th means to most Cubans which can be read here
For a longer analysis, read one of the excellent histories of Cuba by Lou Perez of the University of North Carolina, his indispensable "Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution" and most recently "Cuba in the American Imagination". Lou has also written a compelling op ed for McClatchey about the challenge facing the Administration to go far enough to make a difference which can be seen here.
Peter Yarrow, John McAuliff and then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
On April 30, 1975, I arrived in Hanoi for the first of over fifty visits. Literally as the last US ambassador closed one door in South Vietnam, I and four other American peace activists opened another in the soon to be reunified country.
The experience of the next two weeks in northern Vietnam, and a first visit to Ho Chi Minh City three years later, both made on behalf of the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee, focused my next twenty years on overcoming the legacies of the war.
I discovered that for southern and central Vietnamese, peace was liberation for many, occupation for some. The immense human cost of war was replaced by the lesser but still real suffering of reeducation camps, dispossession and exile.
Both countries wasted precious opportunities to quickly heal the physical and psychic wounds of war. Vietnam rebuffed an early Carter Administration effort through the Woodcock Commission to normalize relations and end our embargo because its leaders felt the US was obliged to fulfill its Paris Peace Agreement commitment of reconstruction aid. Later the Carter Administration rebuffed VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s readiness to normalize because it interfered with the strategy to align with China against the Soviet Union.
Although there were positive initiatives during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, the primary result was a lost decade and a half. Bill Clinton, with the help of Vietnam veteran Senators Kerry and McCain, rapidly transformed the bilateral relationship. (A tragic byproduct of the delay was a decade of civil war in Cambodia in which the US and China sided with the remnants of the Khmer Rouge to try to unseat the government and undermine the economic infrastructure that were being rebuilt with Vietnamese and Soviet assistance.)
As I worked with US educational institutions, foundations and non-governmental organizations to lay the private groundwork for bilateral official reconciliation, I witnessed (and may have assisted at the edges) Vietnam to transform itself economically and socially. Experimental steps in provision of land to those who farmed it and a family-based economy of manufacturing and trade, enabled the country to evolve from near famine and rationed poverty into food exporter, and one of the most robust economies and stable societies of Southeast Asia. The process of economic reform accelerated dramatically when the US embargo ended. Today we are VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest trading partner, a leading foreign investor, and the biggest source of tourists after adjacent China.
Strategically we have found common interests. Unlike other countries in the region, Vietnam faces no problem of religiously based extremism or terrorism and shares with us a preoccupation about the growing power of China. The US does not agree with VietnamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political system, state controlled media and repression of political dissidents. However this is the subject of normal diplomatic dialogue not of moralizing lectures and sanctions. The growth of personal freedoms and civil society and the increasingly active and independent National Assembly argue for the value of domestically defined democratic renovation, despite the historical dominance of a single Communist party ruling through semi-controlled elections.
Today I spend most of my time seeking a similar path to reconciliation between the US and Cuba. My touchstone is Ho Chi MinhÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slogan that, Ã¢â‚¬Å“nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ho was speaking of national not individual freedom, and failure to appreciate that perspective is the perennial failing of large powerful countries toward neighbors, not least the US.
In his opening remarks at the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama made a rare if not unprecedented official pledge, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He also spoke, as he had in Europe and Turkey and in that weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s radio address, of new international relationships based on Ã¢â‚¬Å“mutual respectÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Yet even Obama does not fully escape the prevailing assumption that the US is entitled, even obliged, to force Cuba to accommodate US views on democracy and human rights. We still would have an embargo and no relations with Vietnam, and for that matter with China, had such requirements for internal political change been conditions for normalization, or had US policy depended on agreement from political leaders in the exile community.
The US vainly appeals for regional support in its crusade to maintain a standard of democracy in the Hemisphere through leveraging Cuba, blithely ignoring that these same countries have made clear that the first step towards encouraging a more democratic Cuba must be the unconditional end of an interventionist US embargo.
Even the most sophisticated US leaders and media seem tone deaf to, if not dismissive of, regional voices. Our neighbors see US rhetoric about democracy as the persistent justification for decades of aggression, not to mention a large amount of hypocrisy. Many believe real American motives lie in our economic and strategic interests and unconscious assumption of hegemony. Cuba in particular sees US preaching about democracy within the context of a century of conflict over political and economic self-determination.
President Obama has taken a very admirable humanitarian step by ending all restrictions on remittances and travel by Cuban Americans. However he should not expect undue gratitude from Havana or the Hemisphere for terminating a peculiar policy that subjugated normal family relationships to political ends.
Obama should now use the same authority to allow equally unlimited travel by Americans for educational, religious, humanitarian and cultural purposes. This additional step would more substantively increase understanding and trust in both countries and, as with Vietnam, contribute to the process of healing and normalization.
The President should also urge Congress to adopt pending legislation to end restrictions on travel to Cuba by all Americans. Setting the example of restoring an important human right to our own people provides the moral basis for urging Cuba to make a comparable gesture for freedom of travel by abolishing exit visas that restrict the freedom to travel of its people.
The author is founder and executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a non-governmental organization based in Dobbs Ferry, NY
I well remember when those two small, unarmed planes doing nothing more than dropping pamphlets were shot down by the Castro regime. And I believed then, and I think you said it well today, it was done to prevent us opening. But it was also an act of such aggression and violence that you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let it go unanswered, either. So this is a difficult calculation. Our goal is for a free, independent democracy that gives the people of Cuba a chance to have the same opportunities that their sisters and brothers and cousins and my sister-in-law, who came to this country from Cuba, that they have in our country.
--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee
The burden of Secretary Clinton's testimony, beyond the obligatory negative rhetoric about Cuba, was actually helpful, as I will explore in another post. However, since the above statement has become one of the unquestioned verities of US political discourse about Cuba, I wanted to share a response by Leonard Weinglass that he sent to Jane Franklin.
Personally I think shooting down the planes was a terrible act by Cuba, a disproportionate response to unquestionably illegal activity. I don't know whether there was an alternative of forcing down the the planes, as I assume would be the US action in such a circumstance, and what the result would have been over open water.
However, my concern is the lesson being drawn from a debatable interpretation of events and motives. I do not buy the argument that Cuba acted to prevent an opening by the Clinton Administration. Rather, I believe the Cubans fell into a deliberately provocative trap set by Miami hard liners. Havana responding forcefully to repeated violations of national sovereignty would undermine pro-normalization opinion in the Administration and facilitate passage of Helms-Burton which was designed to block Executive flexibility toward Cuba. I don't imagine that the leaders and sponsors of Brothers to the Rescue intended such a tragic end to their adventurism, but they did achieve their goal in Washington and certainly bear some of the responsibility.
While one can appreciate the short term domestic political utility of the theme that we will end travel restrictions and the embargo because those evil Castros really don't want us to, it is risky to base policy on an illusion.
Weinglass offers (below the break) a lawyer's brief in a clever fashion. A contemporary article from Time magazine provides some perspective on the Brothers saga and reveals the problematic role of Secretary Clinton's sister-in-law.
Leonard Weinglass, Attorney:
The appropriate question for Hillary Clinton is the following:
What would the US do if the following were the undisputed facts?
1. The lead plane of the three aircraft involved (two were shot down) was piloted by a man who had previously committed acts of treachery and violence against the US and had been trained by a hostile foreign government in explosives and ordinance;and
2. that same pilot, according to US intelligence, had recently been training in dropping, not leaflets, but hand made explosive devices onto a field to test their effectiveness;and
3. that he had publicly stated on the radio in his home country two days earlier that the flight of the three planes was "on a mission" that day to destabilize the government of the United States; and
4. that the plane he and the others were flying was modeled after, and had the same characteristics, as a military aircraft that was used during the Vietnam war to drop small bombs against an opposing country and was actually navy surplus aircraft that had been recently used for that very purpose; and
5. that just prior to the shootdown the U.S. FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] had spoken to the lead pilot by radio and warned him that he was entering a militarily protected zone and should turn back, but the warning was disregarded as the aircraft continued on a course heading directly toward the US Capital; and
6. that the thee planes then overflew a designated area of open water that the US had closed due to military exercises, and in accordance with international rules and regulations, warning all aircraft not to enter; and
7. that the three pilots belonged to a group of former residents of the US and who had publicly advocated the overthrow of the US Government by force; and
8. that the leaflets that had been earlier dropped by this group of pilots had called on Americans to rise up against their government; and
9. that after 25 overflights of Washington by this group of pilots in the previous 20 months, all of which were protested by the US to the country that provided them a home base, and that prior to arming its interceptor aircraft, the US called in a high-ranking military officer from that country and warned him that henceforth the US would protect its airspace militarily if need be and urged him to return home and encourage the appropriate agencies to put a halt to those flights; and
10. He did just that but despite all the warnings the flights continued until they were shot down.
Under such circumstances was the US justified in downing the aircraft?
MADRID (AFP)--The U.S. shouldn't wait for Cuba to take the next step in efforts to bring an end to their half-century of feuding, Brazil's president said in a interview published here Sunday.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the ABC daily that U.S. counterpart Barack Obama's decision to lift some of the sanctions against Havana were "a first step in the right direction, but just the beginning." "It is important not to wait for a gesture from Cuba for other steps to be taken," Lula said
What should we make of the Summit of the Americas? There was lots of good atmosphere on Cuba, especially from the President and the Secretary of State, but little substance, at least that we know about.
One could see the good atmosphere as utilizing the Summit to lay the groundwork of overwhelming international support for a fundamental change in US policy or as damage control, to minimize the visibility of US isolation about Cuba. Maybe it was both.
Certainly the event unleashed a lot of anticipation in the media and the general public and, intended or not, may prove to be the turning point.
The President's opening statement provided a remarkable parameter:
I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries
and his post Summit press conference was also a dramatic and welcome departure from the past
as a starting point, it's important for us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow going to change policy, and the fact that you had Raul Castro say he's willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that's a sign of progress.
And so we're going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners. They could reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example of cooperation where both governments are working to help Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba.
Significantly prisoner releases and remittance costs are eminently solvable problems with good will and trust on both sides, the former through "mutual gestures" involving the Cuban 5, the latter by ending US interference in Cuba's international dollar transactions.
However, subsequent comments from Administration officials were not helpful, especially a Meet the Press appearance by Larry Summers.
Q. Under what circumstances would President Obama lift the 47-year-old embargo?
A: That's way down the road, and it's going to depend on what Cuba did--Cuba does going forward. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Cuba's known what it needs to do for a very long time and it's up to them in terms of their policies, their democratization, all of the steps that they can take.
In general Summers, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and Summit adviser Jeff Davidow appear to have been marching to a different drum of old style conditionality.
Principle adviser David Axelrod on Face the Nation seemed on the same page as the President conceptually but was badly misinformed about the remittance issue. His source may have been Sen. Menendez who accused Cuba of Ã¢â‚¬Å“taking 30 percentÃ¢â‚¬Â. [The truth is that 20% is charged for every dollar exchange to CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s CUC, whether from remittances or tourist expenditures, half being a fee applied to all foreign currencies, and half being CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s response to a Bush OFAC effort to block their access to international dollar markets.]
Good cop, bad cop? Covering their political backside? Internal conflict?
A positive but little noticed statement was made by a "Senior Administration Official" (Secretary Clinton?) in a press briefing on April 18th:
Look, I think what we are is at a beginning, an initiation of a new process. The President has been clear that our goals are to see a democratic Cuba. He's also been clear that there are many issues that we have that we could discuss with Cuba -- human rights being one of them -- but there are other issues that relate to just the nature of a relationship between two countries in the same hemisphere. Migration, for instance, is a big issue that I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe we've had recent talks with Cuba about. So, no, there's no concrete benchmarks that have been laid out. What we're talking about is a process hereÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
US Ã¢â‚¬Å“goalsÃ¢â‚¬Â with China, Vietnam, and many other countries are also democracy and human rights. The US and any nation are entitled to have their own goals for bilateral relations but not to tell other countries how they must organize their political, social and economic system.
And who could have imagined a US President reflecting positively (almost enviously) on Cuba's Peace Corps like program of medical assistance:
One thing that I thought was interesting -- and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms -- hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend. And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.
Needless to say, my biggest personal disappointment is that the Administration did not take advantage of the Summit to announce use of Presidential power to allow unlimited travel for the other eleven non-tourist categories, rather than just for Cuban Americans.
Whether on 14th Amendment grounds or common sense, it is untenable for an Obama Administration to institutionalize ethnic discrimination in the right to travel. Cuban Americans are not necessarily the best ambassadors (due to inherent tensions between migrant and resident populations), and are certainly not the only legitimate communicators of US values and perspectives to Cuba and of Cuban realities to the US.
The Administration will soon face a growing sense of resentment among its strongest supporters and even more blatant disregard of travel restrictions than currently exists. The solution is clearly Congress restoring our own human rights by ending all travel restrictions. That will be easier to achieve with the White House setting an example and declaring support.for the legislation, possibly based on a private understanding that Cuba will make its own comparable gesture, similarly ending limits on travel by its own citizens.
If the Administration exercised its power to enable travel now for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, etc. purposes, that action will move us toward full travel and carry forward the amazing spirit the President brought to and from the Summit.
--John McAuliff, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Cuba related text from
--the President's opening statement and closing press conference here
--the Sunday talk show transcripts here
--the various White House press briefings here
Tom Hayden discusses Jeffrey Davidow's checkered diplomatic past in the Huffington Post here
Presidents Obama and Calderon
Are we there yet, as our kids (at an earlier age) might ask?
Let's just say that Barack Obama and Raul Castro are laying the groundwork for something positive to happen, perhaps as early as the Summit session tomorrow.
An AP story reported major progress (as a later story, excerpted below the fold, dramatically updated)
MEXICO CITY Ã‚Â The new presidents of the United States and Cuba, in a surprisingly direct exchange, appeared to open the door Thursday for negotiations toward a new relationship between the two countries divided by 90 miles of water and 50 years of cold war.
After removing some of the restrictions that lock Americans and their money out of Cuba in what he called a show of good faith, Barack Obama said Thursday that it was up to Havana to take the next step.
Within hours, Raul Castro replied from a summit in Venezuela: "We have sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything Ã‚Â human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything."
That was the boldest and most conciliatory language Castro or his brother Fidel Ã‚Â who handed him the presidency a year ago after falling ill Ã‚Â have used with any U.S. administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower in early 1961, when the nations broke off relations. It appeared to be a transcendent development, the best opportunity for talks in a half-century....
"We're willing to sit down to talk as it should be done, whenever," he said, while also condemning decades of efforts by Washington to undermine the Cuban government. "What's going on is that now ... whoever says anything, they immediately start (talking about) democracy, freedom, prisoners."
...Raul Castro said his only conditions for talks now are that Washington treat them as a conversation between equals and respect "the Cuban people's right to self-determination."
The AP story includes a reference to Castro's offer of mutual gestures for the release of prisoners. It's not a direct quote, but perhaps the topic was mentioned on background.
The full story is here.
As interesting is the full text of press conference answers about Cuba by Presidents Obama and Calderon here.
Notable is that President Obama did not repeat the Bush-light democracy lecture that dominated the Gibbs/Restrepo press briefing. Rather he simply said the new policy was a "a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our relationship" and focused on the benefit to Cuban Americans and their family members.
But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only do U.S.-Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be released.
We talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there's not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they're under. I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years.
Interestingly, the only concrete illustration Obama gave is exactly the reform Cubans themselves have openly debated and the government has been rumored to be on the verge of making.
I'm optimistic that progress can be made if there is a spirit that is looking forward rather than backward....What I do insist on is that U.S.-Cuban relationships are grounded with a respect not only for the traditions of each country but also respect for human rights and the people's -- the needs of the people of Cuba. And so I hope that the signal I've sent here is, is that we are not trying to be heavy-handed. We want to be open to engagement. But we're going to do so in a systematic way that keeps focus on the hardships and struggles that many Cubans are still going through.
"Hardships", dare we hope like those produced by three hurricanes?
President Calderon's response may also be read as scene setting for the Summit:
The question that has to be posed rather is whether the U.S. embargo on Cuba has worked. The reality is that the embargo has been there long before we were even born, and yet things have not changed all that much in Cuba. I think we would have to ask ourselves whether that isn't enough time to realize that it has been a strategy that has not been very useful to achieve change in Cuba....
I welcome the measures that President Obama has taken in order to change this attitude, and to try to attempt -- and the attempt must be appreciated -- to change the policy towards Cuba little by little. But what is clear to me is that we both share the same ideals. I think we would both like to see the world living at some point under a full democracy, a world with full respect for human rights, with no exceptions whatsoever. We would like to see a world working with people being able to take care of their families, to live in peace, and those principles that must protect humanity. That we do share.
We also share the idea that each nation must be respected in its own decisions. It's like we were saying a moment ago when we were talking about the prohibition of assault weapons. Of course, we do not want those weapons to be out in the streets, but at the same time we want those decisions to come from the people themselves and to be self-determinant. And it's the same for Cuba. But I believe that the steps President Obama has taken are very positive....
What are the principles we believe in? Democracy, human rights, but also liberty, property, trade, free trade, free economy. And I think as long as those principles can function and bring benefits to the Cuban economy, then things can begin to change. We cannot change anything that has already taken place in the past, but I am certain that as heads of state, we can do a lot to try to make a different future, both for the world, both for our countries, and also in relation to Cuba.
I told President Obama that the best of luck in this panorama that is now so totally different from what U.S. policy has been in the past. I hope for the best, and I hope that more expeditious steps could be taken so that we can move forward in this regard, and that everything will be done with good understanding.
A just posted AP story from the site of the Summit provides more reason to hope
The head of the Organization of American States said Friday that he will ask its members to readmit Cuba 47 years after they ousted the communist nation. And in another step toward improving relations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Cuban President Raul Castro's latest comments a "very welcome gesture."
After a series of overtures by U.S. President Barack Obama, Castro said Thursday that he is ready to talk with the U.S. and put "everything" on the table, even questions of human rights and political prisoners.
That prompted a warm response from Clinton: "We welcome his comments, the overture they represent and we are taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond...."
Things seemed to be moving quickly. Obama and Clinton had earlier said that Havana needs to reciprocate after Obama's "good faith" gesture of removing restrictions on some American money and travel to Cuba. But Raul Castro's conciliatory response seemed to be enough to move things forward even without a more concrete move on U.S. sticking points....
Jamaica's prime minister, Bruce Golding...told The Associated Press that Caricom leaders also agreed to not push Obama too hard on the issue during the summit.
"I'm hoping that nothing is done that will make the process more difficult and that we seek to encourage further progress rather than cause the situation once again to become polarized and intractable," he said....
Raul Castro has previously said he would be willing to discuss all issues with Obama. But Cuban officials have historically bristled at including human rights or political prisoners in the talks, saying such matters are none of the Yankees' business.
Now, he even suggested that "many other things" could be up for discussion. "We could be wrong, we admit it. We're human beings," Castro said. "We're willing to sit down to talk as it should be done, whenever."
Castro said his only conditions are that Washington treat his government as an equal, and respect "the Cuban people's right to self-determination."
I suppose one could see all of this as smoke and mirrors, intended to save Obama from being publicly isolated at the Summit from a united Hemisphere that insists on US reconciliation with Cuba. I am more optimistic, but we will know very soon.
The Summit web site is here They will stream the opening session tonight, and so presumably the speeches tomorrow. Obama's will certainly be on C-Span.
Detroit Free Press editorial available here "White House sets more mature policy on Cuba"
NAFSA statement on including educational travel
US Conference of Catholic Bishops letter to the President
Cheapflights.com letter to the President about baseball and leisure travel
President Obama gave an interview to CNN en EspaÃƒÂ±ol last night which offers food for thought and hope:
Obama is to travel later in the week to the summit in Trinidad and Tobago for meetings with Latin American leaders.
He refused to criticize the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, who have taken measures to change their constitutions to extend their holds on power.
"I think it's important for the United States not to tell other countries how to structure their democratic practices and what should be contained in their constitutions," he said. "It's up to the people of those countries to make a decision about how they want to structure their affairs."
Obama offered no criticism when asked how he plans to interact with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce U.S. critic who once described President Bush as the "devil." "Look, he's the leader of his country, and he'll be one of many people that I will have an opportunity to meet," Obama said.
He said he believes the United States has a leadership role to play in the region, but he qualified that role this way: "We also recognize that other countries have important contributions and insights."
He added, "We want to listen and learn as well as talk, and that approach, I think, of mutual respect and finding common interests, is one that ultimately will serve everybody."
On Cuba, Obama -- who this week eased restrictions on travel and sending money to the island -- offered a prod and a carrot to Havana.
"What we're looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted," he said.
"And if there is some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes."
I have bolded some words that might be productively applied to US attitudes about Cuba. Regarding President Obama's specific expectations of Havana, signals already abound:
1) According to human rights groups, political prisoners have been released steadily since Raul Castro became President, albeit not enough of them. The problem could be solved tomorrow if the US accepts Castro's suggestion of mutual gestures to release prisoners each country considers political (Cuban 5, Black Spring 54 and earlier victims), a precedent set by President Carter.
2) Cubans don't hesitate to speak their minds freely among colleagues, friends and family and with foreigners they trust. In the Raul era that has extended to more public forums, both official and unofficial. A prominent example is the speech by Eusebio Leal, Historian of the City of Havana, at the congress of the writers and artists union, UNEAC. (And remember the video of students vigorously questioning National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon.) As a prominent Cuban intellectual, Rafael Hernandez, told Progresso Weekly
Any relaxation of the relations between Cuba and the United States, any measure that tends to reduce or dismantle the external mechanisms of coercion favors policies that are more realistic, more convenient, more directed at benefiting the Cubans who live in Cuba and the ones who live outside Cuba. It seems to me unthinkable that, if a relaxation of the antagonism between Cuba and the U.S. occurs, it will not have an effect, because it creates a climate that is more favorable for all kinds of new policies.
3) One of the changes Cubans have called for publicly, from neighborhood meetings to national conferences, is their own freedom of travel, the end of exit visas, the so called white card. Action by Cuba's government on travel restrictions of all its citizens is the most direct and appropriate response to US changes in travel restrictions of all our citizens. (Vietnam did not abolish exit visas until after normalization with the US.)
4) I am not sure what kind of writing the President refers to, but attending church is a long established normal activity in Cuba. Holding a religious faith hasn't been an obstacle to Communist Party membership for years. (Cuba was ahead of Vietnam on that front.)
We can be optimistic that Obama has not just listened to, but also heard, what Lula and everyone else has told him in the run-up to Trinidad and Tobago, as Phil Peter's listed here, and as reported from Brazil by Bloomberg.com
While Latin American leaders split on many issues, they agree that Obama should lift the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. From Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez to Mexico's pro-business Felipe Calderon, leaders view a change in policy toward Cuba as a starting point for reviving U.S. relations with the region, which are at their lowest point in two decades.
The transformative leader we saw in Europe and Turkey can use the Summit podium to announce the end of all restrictions on non-tourist people to people travel and other practical initiatives toward Cuba that more than two thirds of Americans want (see new poll data here). Just as a key element in FDR's highly regarded "Good Neighbor Policy" was abolishing everything but the Guantanamo base provision of the despised Platt Amendment, Obama's path south lies through reconciliation with Havana.
Secretary of State Clinton suggested more is on the horizon, as reported in the Miami Herald:
Asked specifically whether it was not preferential treatment to permit only Cuban-American exiles to travel to Cuba, she replied:
``That's part of our policy review. Our first goal was to reverse the Draconian rules imposed by the Bush administration, which took away privileges that had been available for a long time."
My further thoughts about what the moment offers can be found in an earlier blog and here.
Some additional related links
Prof. Stanley Katz expresses frustration in the Chronicle of Higher Education that "the total revocation of OFAC regulations limiting travel to Cuba" was not included in the White House announcement. He is Director, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University; former President of the American Council of Learned Societies; and chairs the Cuba Working Group of the Social Science Research Council.
Time Magazine's Tim Padgett makes the case for Obama backing travel legislation here.
A creative way of being present at the Summit can be found here.