Raul Castro's interview on December 31 suggests the road map for serious US-Cuba reconciliation. His view of Barack Obama, while more cautious, is not unlike that of his daughter (see following post). His theme of mutual gestures reprises the case for a prisoner exchange (see below).
Journalist: Since the recent result of the presidential election in the United Status, various analysts in the international press have speculated that there are expectations of change with Barack ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rise to the White House. What is your assessment of that?
RaÃƒÂºl Castro: Now there is a president that has aroused hopes in many parts of the world; I think excessive hopes, because although he is an honest man, and I believe that he is, a sincere man, and I believe that he is, one man cannot change the destiny of a country, and far less Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I mean one man alone Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in the United States. He can do a lot, he can take positive steps, he can advance just ideas, he can curb the tendency, almost uninterrupted since the emergence of the United States, of almost all presidents to have had their war, or their wars. He said that he goes to get out of Iraq, good news. He says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to double the forces in Afghanistan, bad news. The solutions to the problems of the world cannot be founded on war.
I think that there is no solution in Afghanistan, except for one: to leave the Afghanis in peace. Only Alexander the Great entered that country and returned unscathed, maybe because he married an Afghani princess, but, above all, because he left quickly. The British suffered a defeat there in the 19th century; in the 20th century the Soviets suffered another defeat, which we all experienced, and in the 21st century the U.S. and other forces remaining in Afghanistan will also suffer a defeat. These are realities and that is negative.
The vast resources that they are being dedicated to military matters, to war, since the war in VietnamÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Why the Vietnam War? Why the aggression? Close to 60,000 U.S. soldiers killed for what? I do not know the huge quantity Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it must be two or three time greater Ã¢â‚¬â€œ of those disabled, wounded, mutilated. Why four million Vietnamese from both parts killed? For what objectives? What did they achieve? Why the 50-year blockade of Cuba, what have they achieved? They have made us stronger, we feel prouder, our resistance, we are stronger, we are more confident.
I hope that I am wrong in my appraisal. Hopefully Mr. Obama will have some successes; in terms of us, that he is successful, but in a just policy, and that he can help to solve, with the power that they have, the grave problems of the world.
Our policy is well-defined: any day that they want to discuss, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll discuss, in equality of conditions; as I have already said, without even the smallest shadow over our sovereignty and as equals. And, as is usually the case, or was the case, that from time to time someone would come along to ask us to make a gesture, just as I received a letter from a former president suggesting Ã¢â‚¬â€œ before the U.S. elections Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that changes were approaching and that it would be good if Cuba was to make a gesture, with the same kindness that he wrote me I responded: the time for unilateral gestures is over; gesture for gesture. And we are disposed to talk whenever they decide, without intermediaries, directly. But we are not in any hurry, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not desperate, and, of course, we have said it and Fidel has said it for years: we will not talk with the stick and the carrot, that time is over, that was in another period.
That is our position, we shall go on patiently waiting. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incredible that with the Cuban temperament we have learned patience; we have it and at least in this we have demonstrated it.
The full interview available here provides a revealing perspective on US-Cuba history. Like any national leader's narrative, it is a partisan view of a contentious history, but understanding where the other side comes from is the place that any serious effort for reconciliation must begin
Mariela Castro is Director of the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba and the outspoken daughter of Cuba's President.
She was interviewed by Russia Today and the entire video is worth watching on You Tube. Following are excerpts of most relevance to US-Cuba relations, in particular her comments on socialism and democracy and her positive evaluation of President-elect Obama.
Anastasia Haydulinam, Russia Today: One day your uncle Fidel Castro, the symbol of longevity of the revolution, is going to die. Do you think his death will change the status quo of your Cuba?
Mariela Castro: First of all, the death of Fidel will bring great suffering for the Cuban people, and it will be an enormous loss. But as far as I can see, Cubans are willing to continue on the path of socialism even when our Comandante is no longer with us, even when my father and other forefathers of the revolution are not. Our people want socialism. Of course, we are very self-critical, so what we need is a better enriched version of it that will resolve most of the existing contradictions. The people themselves are proposing actions necessary for the survival of our socialist society, a society that should always guarantee social justice, equality, and solidarity within the nation, as well as in relations with others. We want welfare, but not as exaggerated as that of the consumer societies. I think that socialism in Cuba will survive and become what we have considered to be a utopia.
Anastasia Haydulina, : What other changes would you like to see in Cuba?
Mariela Castro: The first I would like the US government to lift the financial, economic, and commercial blockade that it has imposed on our island for fifty years against the Cuban people and that considerably prevented us from achieving our development goals. It has affected our economy, our commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn't receive credits from any bank, and it's very difficult for us to survive in the field of international economy. The companies that trade with Cuba are being penalized. We have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber. This would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then, we'd be able to produce, obtain more materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I'd like to see improvements in the democratic participation mechanisms on the island, so that our government could function more fluently. It has a very peculiar and good structure, like no other in the world, but it lacks maturity. That's why we need to cultivate the mechanisms for people's participation. It's one of the things that preoccupy me most and that will bring about a whole range of other changes.
Anastasia Haydulina: What do you expect from the new President of the United States?
Mariela Castro: I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people of the United States. The people of the United States deserve a President like Obama and a first lady like his spouse. They and all of us need civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent and honest world leaders. I think with Obama's Presidency, a whole new era will begin. It will be a totally different story in the US and all over the world.
(transcript checked against translation but not original Spanish)
The best ambassadors for democracy in Cuba are American tourists, American businesses and American cultural representatives. The Cuban people may have been isolated from the world for 50 years, but they are smart and pragmatic. The United States should reach out to them, not only in their interest, but also in our own.
St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial
Happy 2009! The future begins today.
There are short and long term questions about what we know so far of President-elect Obama's policy on Cuba.
Short term the question is whether or not he has the vision and determination to use his authority to immediately end all restrictions on non-tourist travel.
Longer term the question is whether he can overcome a century long culture of big country chauvinism and regional hegemonism and engage Cuba with the kind of mutual acceptance of political differences and values that was essential for negotiation of normalization with Vietnam and China.
Will he honor his own commitment to domestic civil liberties, the views of two-thirds of Americans, and strongly expressed Western Hemisphere opinion, or buckle to cold war ideology and a fading minority of hard line special interest exiles with deep pockets for PAC contributions, apparently now counting on Senator Bob Menendez?
Is Obama pragmatic enough to see that gestures are not a one way street? If the US wants Cuba to release prisoners we value, will we release prisoners they value? (see earlier post below)
A positive step in the short term, opening up non-tourist travel, offers hope for the longer term as mutual understanding and respect depend on reestablishing and creating personal relationships. These ties will come from rapidly enabled trips by world affairs councils, religious bodies, museums, professional associations, business groups, students, alumni, elderhostel, people to people organizations, musicians, sports teams, etc. and allowing similar Cubans to visit counterparts here.
Even if we quickly ramp up to the peak level of 84,500 non-tourist US visitors in 2003, the number is a drop in the bucket economically in a sea of this year's record of 2.3 million tourists. But the psychological confidence building impact from mainstream encounters in both countries will be far more powerful than only Cuban American renewal. (This was the reason that the Bush administration throttled even Clinton's bureaucratically hobbled channel for non-tourist travel four years ago.)
Folks in the Obama inner circle and transition team need to start paying attention to what so many people are saying (see yesterday's Los Angeles Times editorial and a dozen statements from business, NGOs, religious bodies, educators, foreign policy specialists, etc.
They need to hear directly and forcefully that no decision is a bad decision.
[For a compilation of my New Year thoughts on the seven choices facing the new administration, go here.]
Tim Shipman has a long story in the December 28th issue of the British newspaper The Telegraph that cites "a Latin American adviser to Mr Obama's transition team" who conveys disturbing information:
First to go under Mr Obama will be rules, brought in by George Bush in 2004, that say Cuban-Americans can only return home once every three years. In addition to annual visits, the amount of money they can take will be raised from $300 to $3,000.
An adviser to Mr Obama said: "Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the US. That can only aid understanding." Those changes require only a presidential order. The adviser said: "He could do it on day one. Obama has a lot on his plate with the economy so Cuba will not be top of his list but I'd expect it to happen fairly quickly." During the campaign, Mr Obama vowed to maintain the economic embargo older even than he is which prevents other Americans from visiting the island.
Obama's campaign statements and the platform pledge were for unlimited travel and remittances. He also said he would do it "immediately after taking office", which makes sense if a primary motive is humanitarian.
It is also not clear whether the transition team source or the reporter obfuscates Obama's ability to just as easily allow other kinds of non-tourist travel. Certainly travel by tens of thousands of mainstream Americans for educational, humanitarian, religious, cultural and sports purposes is at least as great a contribution to mutual understanding.
I'd like to think this is just a rewrite of a Miami Herald story of several weeks ago rather than new reporting but some of the details are fresh. Since then Obama has gotten a lot of flack from his strongest long term supporters because of national security appointees and the Rick Warren invitation.
A bold step on Cuba that provides general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travels is an effective way to remind his friends, the American people and international opinion that he will bring real change to tired and counterproductive policies.
[Members of the transition team are listed here.]
Raul Castro has responded from Brazil to Barack Obama's call for release of prisoners by urging the US do the same:
"Let's do gesture for gesture," Castro told reporters during a visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
"These prisoners you talk about -- they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We'll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts," he said, referring to five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prison.
Coincidentally, I wrote Presidents Castro and Bush on December 10th urging both grant pardons.
In the generous spirit of the Christmas season and the ending of the year, please consider granting pardons to the five Cubans imprisoned in the US and the fifty-five Cubans imprisoned in Cuba as agents of hostile foreign powers.
I am not proposing your actions be characterized as reciprocal or seeking to compare or judge the merits of the arrest, trial and imprisonment of either group. Suffice to say both situations are surrounded by politics in both nations. One countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hero is the other countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s villain, and vice versa.
However, the prisoners and their families have suffered enough from the unresolved political conflict between our countries. Rather than waiting for their cases to be addressed as part of a bilateral normalization process in the future, I urge you to courageously remove this problem from the agenda of negotiation.
Castro's words are obviously directed at the next administration but wouldn't it be historic if such an important humanitarian breakthrough were accomplished by this one?
The deliberately provocative undiplomatic behavior by Chief of the Interests Section Jim Cason, conceivably at the behest of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, provided the perfect excuse if not the reason for the 2003 "black spring" arrests in Cuba.
It would only be decent for the Bush Administration to clear the books by taking steps that will lead to the freedom of those remaining in prison in Cuba at no real cost to the US.
Keeping the five Cuban spies/heroes in our prisons accomplishes nothing except to provide an increasingly effective international propaganda theme for Havana.
Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton left office under a cloud but with permanent respect for their vision and courage in opening relations with adversaries China and Vietnam--not to mention with enduring appreciation from the affected nations.
AP's long time correspondent in Havana, Anita Snow, reminds us of Barack Obama's promise and potential to do more.
Obama said during the campaign that immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, he will lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba Ã‚Â not just roll them back to previous rules that were tightened by the Bush administration.
A poll in Miami-Dade County confirms that neither politics nor policy should inhibit Obama from going further than his oft-pledged humanitarian step of family travel. The survey (detailed results here) undertaken for the Brookings Institution and the Cuba Study Group reveals Cuban Americans favor
* Ending the embargo 55%
* Normalizing relations 65%
* Ending restrictions on Cuban American travel 66%
* Ending restriction on travel for every American 67%
These numbers are virtually identical to Zogby's finding in October that 68% of all Americans favor unrestricted travel. Unlike previous polls, Cuban Americans did not give greater support to allowing their own visits
What more does Team Obama need? On January 21 the new president can send a bold signal that will be heard enthusiastically by 185 UN members, including every Latin American and Caribbean nation, two thirds of all Americans, 84% of his own supporters and by a Congress looking for leadership.
All it takes is an executive order to provide general licenses for twelve categories of non-tourist travel. Putting off the decision will send a different and less palatable signal.
Enabling non-tourist travel will encourage Congress to finish the job by removing remaining restrictions and open the way for the promised meeting between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. One can imagine Vice President Biden, UN Ambassador Rice and Commerce Secretary Richardson laying the bilateral groundwork.
[Note: nearly 600 persons have signed the on-line letter to the President-elect, often appending moving personal comments. We don't know how many Obama supporters have shared their vision on Cuba policy at his transition web site.]
The Brookings Institution is as mainstream and prestigious as you get on the Democratic leaning side of Washington think tanks.
Its President is Strobe Talbott, a leading foreign policy adviser in the Clinton Administration and a long time friend of our former President and of our prospective Secretary of State.
Talbott served on Brookings' Partnership for the Americas Commission. On Monday he hosted a C-Span broadcast public presentation of its remarkable report entitled "Rethinking U.S.Ã¢â‚¬â€œLatin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World".
Their first recommendation on Cuba "that should be implemented immediately by the US government":
* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.
Many of the proposals made in its Cuba section are not new to experts in bilateral relations, but their source is. The Commission, half from the US and half from Latin America and the Caribbean, eschews the usual judgmental rhetoric and focuses on addressing problems with a Hemisphere impact. The co-chairs are Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico and
Thomas R. Pickering, Former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
If the Obama Administration and Congress want a blueprint for how to proceed with Cuba, this is it.
Go here for the full text, Cuba section pp 28-30
A streaming video of the presentation can be seen on the C-Span archives and will be available on the Brookings website.
Overview:and recommendations below:
"The last section addresses U.S. relations with Cuba. Though this issue is of a smaller order of magnitude than the other four areas, it is addressed here because Cuba has long been a subject of intense interest in U.S. foreign policy and a stumbling block for U.S. relations with other countries in the hemisphere.
The report puts forward these recommendations for the next U.S. administration and Congress:
* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.
* Repeal all aspects of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“communications embargoÃ¢â‚¬Â (radio, TV, Internet) and readjust regulations governing trade in low-technology communications equipment.
* Remove caps and targeting restrictions on remittances.
* Take Cuba off the State DepartmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s State Sponsors of Terrorism List.
* Promote knowledge exchange and reconciliation by permitting federal funding of cultural, academic, and sports exchanges.
* Provide assistance to the Cuban people in recovering from natural and human-made disasters.
* Encourage enhanced official contact and cooperation between U.S. and Cuban diplomats and governments.
* End opposition to the reengagement of the international community with Cuba in regional and global economic and political organizations.
* Work with the members of the European Union and other countries to create a multilateral fund for civil society that will train potential entrepreneurs in management and innovation."
What should we make of Jim HoaglandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s semi-complimentary report that Secretary of State Rice proposed,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“moving toward a better diplomatic relationship with Cuba by upgrading the existing U.S. interests section in HavanaÃ¢â‚¬Â?
It is not a bad thing that Secretary Rice tries to initiate a different approach to Cuba. It's more useful than former Secretaries of State seeing the light after they leave office (e.g. George Schultz and Madeline Albright now call for an end to the embargo).
However, upgrading the Interests Section won't matter much unless it abandons non-diplomatic intervention in support of regime change advocates.
More useful would be a change in Bush Administration policy re private initiatives to help Cuba recover from three hurricanes. All Americans should be given a general license to visit and donate funds to assist relatives and friends. US NGOs should be free to send humanitarian and reconstruction aid without time consuming and cumbersome Treasury and Commerce Department licenses.
The same step could be taken by the incoming administration. Obama already called for a hurricane related suspension of limits to Cuban American visits, remittances and aid packages, although that will be superseded if he keeps his pledge to completely end their restrictions. As with travel, it ill befits a post-racial administration to deny the same right to all Americans and to private aid agencies because of ethnicity or national origin.
Should Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State, she brings baggage on Cuba. Clinton's campaign strategy was to align closely with Bush travel restrictions and to place unacceptable preconditions on negotiations. During Bill ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s administration, her Cuban-American sister in law was an active and influential opponent of reform in US policy toward Cuba.
Hopefully Clinton (and Obama) will pay attention to former Secretary of State AlbrightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s advice in her book Memo to the President Elect.
"We need a policy towards Cuba that is free from the political wrangling of the previous half century. The embargo may have served a purpose originally, but it has outlived its usefulness. It currently has no international support and little function except to provide a convenient justification for Havana's repressive policies. The United States has no license to dictate Cuba's future, and heavy handed attempts to do so will only sabotage those inside Cuba who are working for democracy and human rights. Our approach should be one of friendship towards the island's people and support for increased contacts between our two countries at every level. Cubans do not need us to point out that Castroism is an insufficient answer to the demands of the global economy. In the post-Fidel era, they will inevitably have to adjust. Let us encourage them to do so through increased political openness, but let us also deprive Castro's successors of the excuse of yanqui bullying." p 176
Readers who wish to encourage the President-elect to meet his rendezvous with history on Cuba can do so on the Obama transition site change.gov. Presumably someone will notice articulate personal comments by his campaign supporters and a total will be kept of what issues are roiling the grass roots.
Another way to express your opinion is by joining an on-line letter and by sharing this link with friends and colleagues. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/obamacuba/
(picture, no doubt a photo shop montage, borrowed from www.nerve.com)
Visits to Cuba by ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s President (seen here in 2004), RussiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Prime Minister and BrazilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s President illustrate that the Obama Administration delays at its peril setting a bold new course on Cuba. Even the Bush Administration in its final months may be having second thoughts.
Reuters reports that during a two day stopover,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to put off some of Cuba's debt payments and gave the island $80 million for hospital modernization and other projectsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦China is Cuba's second largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Next up in Havana is Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who is reported by Reuters to have both economic and strategic goals, in part to counter the Bush AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s adventurist policies in countries that were part of or dominated by the former Soviet Union.
Closer to home,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Brazil will offer Cuba financial aid for industry, energy and infrastructure projects during a December visit by communist President Raul Castro Ã¢â‚¬Â¦We'll discuss the production of buses, building roads, as well as oil investments," Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign policy adviser, told Reuters.
Obama might ponder the implications of a remark made during the recent visit to Cuba by Lula, our non-Chavez role model, about his invitation to Raul
"to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."
The struggle to influence the direction of the Obama administration on Cuba is underway.
A good article by Carol Williams in today's LA Times quotes Jake Colvin, Al Fox and myself about prospects for change by the new administration.
I developed the same ideas at greater length in an op ed in Sunday's Sun Sentinel
The contrary effort to influence Obama was expressed in Myriam Marquez' column in Sunday's Miami Herald. She boasts of CANF's influence and distorts Obama's position on family travel. She also echoes the CANF critique of US democracy funding, that it is not deployed effectively enough for purposes of subversion.
"With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years....With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect? An aggressive policy to get more money to the opposition in Cuba....The U.S. embargo toward Cuba will rightly stay. The 2004 Bush restrictions on travel and remittances will go. Returning to the pre-2004 rules would mean Cuban Americans could travel once a year to see family instead of once every three years, and remittances could go up to $3,000 a year -- instead of the current $1,200 -- and open to all family members."
In fact, every Obama campaign statement about Cuba and the Democratic Party platform position clearly pledge "unlimited family visits and remittances" , not only return to the pre-2004 formula.
As far as I know, Obama has not spoken to the controversy over "democracy" funding, other than the skepticism expressed by his votes against TV Marti in 2005.
Yet Marquez assumes he will follow CANF's line that,
"the rules need to change so that money and equipment can reach the opposition -- just as it did during the Cold War for the Polish Solidarity movement."
She seems oblivious to both Cuban and Eastern European history. Poland and other communist regimes on the periphery of the Soviet Union were externally imposed and sustained. The Solidarity model is totally irrelevant to Cuba which is why many people who took advantage of the opening offered by Mikhail Gorbachev believe the US embargo and travel restrictions are counterproductive--and vote against them in the UN every year.
Vietnam and China are better analogies to Cuba. Whether admired or disliked, their revolutions were internally created and managed and have evolved on their own terms to market economies and greater personal freedom. (The US expresses criticism of their human rights records and political systems but does not presume to intervene in domestic debates.)
Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.
CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks. It would be like Bill Clinton inviting Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky to be part of the US-Vietnam normalization discussions. (Much after the fact Ky made his peace with Hanoi and has been back to Vietnam several times, to the great dismay of Vietnamese American extremists who still dominate community politics here.)
The full range of Cuban American opinion should be listened to by the new administration: the unconditional engagement voices, the soft intervention groups, and even the no-dialog forces. However, none of them should be given weight beyond their numbers in the whole US population and in the spectrum of public opinion which favors ending all travel restrictions by 2 to 1.
--John McAuliff www.ffrd.org