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.
With all that is at stake today, we cannot afford to talk past one another. We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford to allow old differences to prevent us from making progress in areas of common concern. We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford to let walls of mistrust stand. Instead, we have to find Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and build on Ã¢â‚¬â€œ our mutual interests. For it is only when people come together, and seek common ground, that some of that mistrust can begin to fade. And that is where progress begins.
--President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, Saturday, April 11, 2009
No question that President Obama is summoning our nation and the world to a higher standard. Can he now apply it close to home and reject advisers that for domestic political reasons put him in conflict with a powerful consensus among our neighbors about Cuba?
There is no real reason why President Obama cannot demonstrate that he is hearing US and Western Hemisphere opinion by walking the walk at the Summit of the Americas in these ways:
1) Use his authority to immediately grant general licenses for unlimited use by all 12 codified categories of non-tourist travel, including not only family but also for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural and sports purposes
2) Indicate that he welcomes and will sign legislation from Congress to restore the right to travel of all Americans, while hoping that Cuba will do the same for its own people.
3) Announce that the US will dismantle the electronic billboard at the US Interests Section and support a reciprocal agreement for the Interest Sections in both countries to function in a more normal diplomatic fashion, including travel within the country and engaging in dialogue with a full range of official and unofficial persons while avoiding partisan intrusion in domestic affairs
4) Instruct the State Department to issue visas for Cubans wishing to visit the US for academic, cultural, professional and people to people dialogue purposes
5) Announce the appointment of a credible special representative such as Gov. Bill Richardson to begin high level discussions of available channels of practical cooperation and the resolution of all bilateral issues, including compensation for nationalized US property and the unilateral embargo
If the President wants to be truly bold he can:
1) Say the US has no objection to Cuba's participation in the Summit in whatever status is appropriate to its current non-membership in the OAS, a situation the US hopes will be soon addressed so the organization incorporates all countries in the Hemisphere on an equal basis.
2) Use his legal authority to partially lift the embargo for humanitarian reasons, allowing Cuba to purchase construction and agricultural supplies and equipment needed because of hurricane damage, and authorizing a general license for American organizations and individuals who wish to donate such supplies
3) Respond favorably to Raul Castro's suggestion of mutual gestures to resolve the problem of people imprisoned in each country which the other considers political (Cuban 5, Black Spring 54) [See Progresso Weekly article on the precedent for such gestures.]
4) Indicate that a review is taking place to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism
5) State that the return of the territory of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba is a legitimate topic for bilateral discussion
The discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations which can be heard here went beyond the revealing section Steve Clemons cited in a preceding blog, confirming the US is the "odd man out" in the Hemisphere, not Cuba.
George Dalley, Chief of Staff, Representative Charles Rangel
(to Davidow) Whether the credibility of really being a change agent might be at stake here because the great doubt is does the President have the ability to change policies that have this tremendous domestic overhangÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
(to Marina) What is your assessment of the disagreement that much of the hemisphere has with the United States with regards to excluding Cuba...what are hemispheric attitudes and what would the impact be of a change in terms of relationships between the US and the region, attitudes towards the credibility of the US being a different partner than in the past?
Luis Alberto Moreno, President, Inter-American Development Bank
there is no question that to move into Latin America Ã¢â‚¬â€œ US 21st century relations clearly Cuba has to be a part of thatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦at the end of the day it is about how to reestablish (US-Cuba) relations and you cannot just put democracy in front without being able to put all the nuances thereÃ¢â‚¬Â¦it would have a profound effect not only in the hemisphere but throughout the world if the US unlocks this problem and shows a different kind of leadership
* Convey your advice about the Summit directly to the White House Office of Public Liaison web page, click here
* Fax a copy of your comment to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, at 202-647-7095
OTTAWA Ã¢â‚¬â€ One of Fidel Castro's nicknames is "el caballo", the horse, but the tough, Cuban statesman will be the "elefante" in the room at the Summit of the America's next week.
Cuba's continuing exclusion from Organization of American States (OAS) and its triennial summits is threatening to hog the spotlight at this year's meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.
Even the summit host, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, has said that Cuba's membership needs to be discussed, despite pressing regional issues such as debilitating drug crime and the financial crisis.
Canada finds itself floating somewhere in the middle - between a U.S. administration determined to keep Cuba excluded and Latin American and Caribbean leaders who are clamouring for change. (full story here)
Amb. Jeff Davidow provided greater but not yet definitive clarity about how the US is preparing its position on Cuba. Presumably the final word awaits the return of President Obama from his successful international debut in Europe and Turkey.
What kind of press does the Obama Administration want from the Summit of the Americas? Another Europe-like triumph of moving beyond ritualistic antagonism and the Bush legacy of arrogance, or a reminder that we still don't get it in our own backyard?
More leaks confused further what the US game plan is for the Summit of the Americas (see my prior post here). While the Wall Street Journal on Friday only reported that unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans was in prospect, AP on Saturday said
"The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction," one official said. "One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island."
The logic of this would extend to enabling the other eleven categories of non-tourist travel with which the President can undo the damage of George Bush and achieve a bigger impact in both countries.
What is clear is that the US will not be able to avoid addressing the topic of Cuba. That is made abudently clear by the latest Reflection from Comrade Fidel (excerpted below the break) and the response from Hugo Chavez
"We cannot accept that the United States continues harassing Cuba. This is still a question of honor," Chavez told state television.
"We should ask ourselves: If we are all friends of Cuba, why does this country not exist? But we are not going to keep our mouths closed, even the rocks will be speaking in Trinidad and Tobago."
Which Fidel do we prefer?
Reflections by Comrade Fidel
April 4, 2009
WHY IS CUBA BEING EXCLUDED?
During my meeting with Daniel, he gave me a large number of paragraphs that are being debated about the final declaration of the upcoming Port of Spain Summit....
Surely there are a great number of inadmissible concepts. It will be a litmus test for the peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America. Could it be a step backwards? Blockade and also exclusion after 50 years of resistance?
Who will assume those responsibilities? Who now demands our extinction? Could it be that they do not understand that the days of treaties excluding our people are a thing of the past?
There will be important reservations in that declaration signed by heads of state so that it can be understood that in spite of the changes attained through tough talks, there are ideas which are unacceptable to them.
Cuba has always shown its willingness, in new circumstances, to provide maximum cooperation with the diplomatic activities of the countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. Those who ought to, know this well but we cannot be asked to keep silent in the face of unnecessary and inadmissible concessions.
Even stones shall speak!
full text here
April 5, 2009
Walking on Solid Ground
If President Barack Obama travels the world asserting, as he did in his very own country, that it is necessary to invest the sums needed to pull out of the financial crisis, to guarantee the homes where countless families live, to guarantee jobs for the American workers who are becoming unemployed by the millions, to install health services and quality education for all citizens, how can he reconcile that with blockade measures to impose his will over a country like Cuba?...
The Cuban Revolution, which has not been destroyed either by the blockade or the dirty war, is based on ethical and political principles; that is the reason why it has been able to resist....
Those who are capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana [Richard Lugar], use an irrefutable argument: the United StatesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ measures against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure.
There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: we do not fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need the confrontation to exist as some foolish people think: we exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary. It is the only way to secure friendship and peace among peoples.
full text here
A disturbing article from the Trinidad Express (available here) about the US take on Cuba's relationship to the Summit of the Americas was posted on Friday on the Miami Herald web site.
I am hoping that former ambassador to Venezuela Jeff Davidow who is coordinating our government's preparations was misquoted or misconstrued, and that this Administration is not still living in a state of denial:
"We do not believe that Cuba is a topic of discussion at this summit,..The policy of the United States on Cuba is that we hope that the Cuban people will someday be able to share the same kind of democracy that the people of Trinidad have,..Obviously, Trinidad is free to work on its own relationship with Cuba as all countries are. However, I think it would be very unfortunate if the topic of Cuba were to become the principal issue at this summit and detract attention from the other important things you and I have been talking about -energy, poverty, crime...We do not believe that Cuba should be at the summit because the summit is for the community of democratically elected heads of state. I don't think anybody in Trinidad would argue that Raul Castro was democratically elected."
Leaving aside the reality that Cuba has something important to contribute to the three topics Davidow cites, Vice President Biden claimed in Chile that, "the time of the United States dictating unilaterally, the time where we only talk and don't listen is over". How then can we peremptorily rule off the agenda a problem that everyone else in the Hemisphere believes is the principle obstacle to the US regaining a positive role?
The Obama Administration's commitment to listening is hollow and risks becoming a new form of Bush style patronizing if we are tone deaf to what everyone is saying and continue to be self-righteous and insular about the superiority of our political ideology.
Press reports on Friday are to be warmly welcomed that President Obama will fulfill his campaign commitment to unlimited Cuban American travel and remittances, but that is not sufficient for the Summit. As Brazil's Foreign Minister told the Washington Post in preparation for the meeting between Presidents Lula and Obama:
"I think we would certainly encourage dialogue, encourage the end of isolation," Amorim said, adding that ending restrictions on travel and sending money back to Cuba would not be enough. "I think something bigger has to be done," he said.
Lula is far from alone, as documented in an invaluable summary by Phil Peters here and in fact will be the more tempered critic of the US in Trinidad. A bold but unlikely step by the Administration is to say now that for the sake of universality it welcomes Cuba's participation in the Summit. This would take the wind out of the sails of harsher opponents and free the US from the defensive tone of Davidow and Biden.
As I wrote here earlier in the week, should the President open non-tourist travel to Cuba, as predicted in the Washington Post on Monday, that would help create a positive atmosphere for the Summit, as well as be an essential step toward Congress restoring a fundamental human right at home.
A more direct way for the President to address the strong demand that we end our embargo is to also announce a hurricane relief related six month humanitarian suspension of the embargo to enable sale and donation of construction and agricultural supplies and equipment.
The exclusion of Cuba from the Fifth Summit of the Americas is not helpful in achieving
improved respect for human rights in Cuba.... The absence of Cuba, the only country to be excluded, will diminish attempts to find regional solutions to regional problems. --Amnesty International (full statement here)
Two compelling essays raise harder questions that need to find their place on the Obama agenda:
Attorney JosÃƒÂ© Pertierra cites a 1979 precedent of mutual gestures leading to the release of prisoners held by the US and Cuba that offers a model to bring humanitarian relief to the Cuban 5 and the Black Spring 54. His article appears in the current issue of Progresso Weekly, which is also a good source of insight into Cuba's discussion of reform.
A new book from the very mainstream Brookings Foundation, The Obama Administration and the Americas, features a chapter on historical, legal and political reasons for return of the Guantanamo Bay territory to Cuban sovereignty. It can be ordered here.
It does not gainsay the importance of today's and Thursday's press conferences on the Senate and House bills to end all travel restrictions to note the more immediate consequence of this paragraph in yesterday's Washington Post story:
"Although the decision is not yet final, Obama is expected to further loosen remaining travel restrictions for all Americans by the time he goes to the April 17-19 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, senior administration officials said. Such restrictions were first imposed in 1961 and have been progressively tightened since then*. Removing all sanctions requires congressional action, but one senior official said that Treasury has wide leeway to ease the licensing requirements that limit travel."
If this is a trial balloon, no doubt the Cuban American rejectionists and allies in the House and Senate are doing their best to shoot it down. Folks in Congress and among Obama's supporters who want the Administration to use its authority to open the door as wide as possible to people-to-people exchange should find a way to assure the "final decision" is favorable.
The simplest is by sending a message to Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison, via her web page here. Personalize and expand this text:
As a first step to improve relations between the US and Cuba, the President should use his existing authority to provide general licenses for unlimited travel by Cuban Americans (as promised during the campaign) and for non-tourist people to people exchanges, including for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, and sports purposes.
Send a copy to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520, or by fax to 202-647-7095
If the Administration follows through, diverse non-tourist visits will take place in late spring and summer, contributing to mutual understanding and confidence building essential to successful bilateral negotiations, and energizing knowledgeable grass roots support for Congress to end all travel restrictions.
For a fuller account, read the just published newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development here.
* In fact, President Carter ended all travel restrictions and President Clinton liberalized those reimposed by President Reagan.