As we travel back and forth to Cuba, often with delegations of U.S. policymakers, we focus our research and reporting on issues that the broader American public can relate to, that can help us strip away mysteries surrounding Cuba, and press our case for changing Cuba policy and normalizing relations.
That’s the goal behind our report, “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” that we release this week in time for International Women’s Day.
Rather than making the false choice common to narratives about Cuba –everything is either paradise or lying in ruins – our report depicts just how complicated this problem is, by being honest about the successes and failures of Cuba’s revolutionary commitment to equality for women.
It begins with the findings of global organizations, from Save the Children to the World Economic Forum, which give Cuba high marks for making all its citizens healthier and more literate, bringing girls out of their homes and into the classroom, tripling the number of women at work, and providing the strongest protections of reproductive rights and producing the lowest incidence of HIV/AIDS in all of Latin America.
But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. There are key objectives of equality– equality at work, equal sharing of burdens at home, and equal access to positions in which women can exercise real power –where Cuba falls short.
William Booth of the Washington Post broke an exceptionally important story this weekend about an editorial published on the website of Radio and TV Marti – the anti-Castro, taxpayer -funded government broadcasters –which called Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega a “lackey” and asserted the Cardinal espoused views that were “contrary to the doctrine of Christ.”
Hours after Booth’s story was published, the editorial disappeared from the website, and links that were once live instead produced a message “Esta página no existe,” [This page does not exist], although the piece for Spanish readers can currently be found here.
Name-calling against the Cardinal is considered fair game among some hardliners in the exile community who worry that successful efforts by the Church to help free political prisoners and to open spaces for debate in Cuba on economic reform and human rights convey an image of openness on the island inconsistent with their preferred views of the Castro government.
In those precincts, it’s commonplace to read language like this, “The Pope came and went from Cuba, salsa dancing with the excommunicated Fidel (in 1962), saying not a word about, nor once acknowledging, never mind meeting with, any of the dissidents,” which is both harsh and consistent with expression in a free society.
It is both untrue and a travesty to paint Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as the United States government did in its annual report on the subject last week.
For twenty-nine years, Cuba has appeared on the list, which comes with considerable economic and diplomatic costs. It disqualifies Cuba from economic assistance, punishes Cuba for engaging in legal trade and financial transactions, and deprives Cuba of access to modern technology by way of exports, to name but a few.
Most of all, the list stigmatizes Cuba – not everywhere, but certainly in the United States and elsewhere in the world where our country’s word is respected and the terrorist label stings and stays.
Terror exists in the world; both the U.S. and Cuba have experienced it, and the purpose of the list is to get perpetrators to stop and enlist other nations in a global effort to get them to do so.
This activity took on special meaning for the U.S. after September 11, 2001, but it also should have come with a greater responsibility to use the list seriously and not use it to play domestic politics on a higher and more fraught stage.
Other nations listed in the State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism, including Iran and Syria, are said to provide “financial, material, and logistical support” for terror groups. Iran is cited for arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and supporting militants in Iraq who kill American forces; Syria for supplying terrorist groups in Lebanon and Palestinian militants aligned against Israel.
So why is Cuba on the list?
In yesterday's Washington Post, George Will reaches the conclusion that many of us have held as an abiding faith for some time -- America's Cuba policy doesn't work and its counterproductive. His column (available in full here) concludes as follows:
Today, the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba by means of economic embargoes and travel restrictions serves two Castro goals: It provides an alibi for Cuba's social conditions, and it insulates Cuba from some of the political and cultural forces that brought down communism in Eastern Europe. Barack Obama, who was born more than two years after Castro seized power, might want to rethink this policy, now that even Castro is having second thoughts about fundamentals.
Will's last comment frames the right question. Why, in the face of really big changes taking place in Cuba is the President so utterly failing to capitalize on these developments, even to help realize the goals of his own policy?
For some U.S. political figures in both parties, there is nothing that Cuba could do -- short of dissolving its government and economic system unilaterally to curry favor with the United States - that would satisfy their definitions of progress. But President Barack Obama was not supposed to be from that school of thought - not because we imagined him or wanted him to be different, but because he declared himself to be.
Let us not forget in the 2008 presidential campaign that he expressed his willingness to meet with President Raúl Castro, with an agenda and with pre-planning, if there were something real to discuss. He said on one occasion "I would never, ever, rule out a course of action that could advance the cause of liberty." He promised he would not substitute posturing for serious policy -- "we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.
By Sarah Stephens, Center for Democracy in the Americas
If you're thinking about a vacation this year, may I recommend North Korea?
I am not kidding. If you visit this website, "North Korea 1 on 1," you will see some pretty impressive itineraries. They offer a 13-day trip coinciding with the annual May Day Festival. Other trips enable American tourists the chance to see "card stunts" featuring thousands of school children holding up colored cards, and great displays of choreography and artistic performances by tens of thousands of gymnasts and dancers.
You don't have to worry about U.S. government restrictions. Americans can travel to North Korea freely; scheduling and affordability (tours costing $4,000 per person are not unusual) seem to be the only barriers. And what won't stop American tourists from visiting North Korea are political differences or threats posed to the United States by the North Korean government.
What are those threats? As the World Fact Book published by the CIA summarizes them:
North Korea's history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, long-range missile development, WMD programs including nuclear weapons test in 2006 and 2009, and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.
These facts aside, the Obama administration places some values on maintaining citizen-to-citizen connections with North Korea. It even allowed the New York Philharmonic to play a concert there. If you can afford the ticket, and the idea of traveling 6,300 miles to get there doesn't daunt you, U.S. policy seems to say -- knock yourself out. Go.
But, if you'd rather stay closer to home; if you'd rather visit a destination that welcomes Americans; if you'd like to go to a place which offers no security threat to the United States (as a variety of respected, retired senior military officers have said repeatedly); please do not even consider visiting Cuba. It's off limits. Visiting the island without a license can subject you to civil fines -- even prosecution. Coming to Cuba as a tourist from the United States is flatly illegal. Even the New York Philharmonic can't play there -- they tried to get to Cuba last year, but the Obama Administration wouldn't let them go.
So, our policy under President Obama boils down to this: engagement is for the North Koreans (the guys with nuclear weapons), but we'll continue to isolate America from Cuba (whose army, the CIA says, lacks replacement parts and sufficient fuel). Engagement, he seems to say, works better the further we are from home, and only with nations that threaten our security, while Cubans will learn more about real democracy and American values when our government ignores both to keep us from traveling there.
It's a glaring inconsistency, "the audacity of nope," a policy where common sense has taken a holiday.
This is a guest note by Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas
On October 28th, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution condemning the United States embargo against Cuba.
If past is prologue, it will pass resoundingly. The General Assembly has adopted similar measures in each of the last seventeen years; in 2008, by a margin of 185-3. But that was a condemnation of an embargo enforced, energetically and unapologetically, by the administration of George W. Bush. The vote this year takes place for the first time on President Obama's watch, and so has special significance.
The Secretary-General has prepared a public report that catalogues what UN members and UN organizations say about the embargo.
This document is a powerful reminder that the U.S. embargo is viewed internationally with great seriousness and in ways that are deeply damaging to U.S. interests and our image overseas.
Lest anyone think this policy is only provocative to nations in the non-aligned world, its opponents include Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Russia.
They are plain-spoken in their opposition. Australia reminds us it votes "consistently" against the embargo. Brazil says it is the "Cuban people who suffer the most from the blockade." China says the embargo "serves no purpose other than to keep tensions high between two neighboring countries and inflict tremendous hardship and suffering on the people of Cuba, especially women and children." Egypt and India condemn the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions, which Japan says run "counter to the provisions of international law." Mexico calls these measures coercive. Russia "rejects" the embargo. Nations across the planet have enacted laws making it illegal for their companies to comply.
Our policy is especially controversial in our own hemisphere, where the U.S. alone is without diplomatic relations with Cuba, and where forum after forum -- including the Rio Group, the Ibero-American Summit, the Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean, and CARICOM -- has rejected the embargo and called for its repeal.
Beyond our diplomatic interests, the report forces us to move beyond the stale, political debate in which the embargo is most often framed (where every problem on the island is blamed on either Cuba's system or U.S. policy) and to confront the significant injuries this policy inflicts on ordinary Cubans.
It reminds us:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining diagnostic equipment or replacement parts for equipment used in the detection of breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining patented materials that are needed for pediatric cardiac surgery and the diagnosis of pediatric illnesses.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The embargo prevents Cuba from purchasing antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV-AIDS from U.S. sources of the medication.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining needed supplies for the diagnosis of Downs' Syndrome.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Under the embargo, Cuba cannot buy construction materials from the nearby U.S. market to assist in its hurricane recovery.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ While food sales are legal, regulatory impediments drive up the costs of commodities that Cuba wants to buy from U.S. suppliers, and forces them in many cases to turn to other more expensive and distant sources of nutrition for their people.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Because our market is closed to their goods, Cuba cannot sell products like coffee, honey, tobacco, live lobsters and other items that would provide jobs and opportunities for average Cubans.
This list, abbreviated for space, is actually much longer, more vivid and troubling, as the report documents case after case of how our embargo affects daily life in Cuba. And for what reason? Because it will someday force the Cuban government to dismantle its system? As a bargaining chip? These arguments have proven false and futile over the decades and what the UN has been trying to tell us since 1992 is that they should be abandoned along with a policy that has so outlived its usefulness.
And yet, it is now the Obama administration supporting and enforcing the embargo -- still following Bush-era rules that thwart U.S. agriculture sales; still levying stiff penalties for violations of the regulations; still stopping prominent Cubans from visiting the United States; still refusing to use its executive authority to allow American artists, the faith community, academics, and other proponents of engagement and exchange to visit Cuba as representatives of our country and its ideals.
To his credit, President Obama has taken some useful steps to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. He repealed the cruel Bush administration rules on family travel that divided Cuban families. He joined efforts by the OAS to lift Cuba's suspension from that organization. He has opened a direct channel of negotiations with Cuba's government on matters that include migration, resuming direct mail service, and relaxing the restrictions that Cuban and U.S. diplomats face in doing their jobs in each of our nation's capitals.
This is a start, but more -- much more -- needs to be done. Not because the UN says so, but because our country needs to embrace the world not as we found it in 1959 -- or in 2008 -- but as it exists today.
President Obama can do this. Our times demand that he do so.
-- Sarah Stephens
This is the event that fifty years of U.S. policy was designed to stop.
Fidel Castro has announced his retirement. He will be replaced in a peaceful succession, without the violent upheaval that U.S. policy makers have been predicting since the 1960s.
Now that Fidel Castro has announced his retirement, it's time to retire our Cold War era Cuba policy. It failed.
Every U.S. president since Eisenhower has tried to kill or topple Fidel Castro and replace Cuba's government and economic system with something more to our liking. They never succeeded.
It was the express purpose of the U.S. embargo, with sanctions more comprehensive than any we impose on Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria to stop this transition. But it couldn't.
For years, the U.S. embargo has been rebuked in lop-sided votes in the U.N. General Assembly. On October 30, 2007, when we were last drubbed by a margin of 184 to 4 (and one abstention), not a single country in South America, Central America or the Caribbean supported our policy. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, three countries praised by President Bush one week earlier for their support of U.S. policy against Cuba, joined the condemnation -- so did Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and South Africa, a nation whose democracy was born with the help of U.S. sanctions.
As the Cuba embargo sullies our image around the world, it undermines the national interest and our highest values here at home. The embargo sacrifices the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to travel. It cruelly divides Cuban families on both sides of the Florida straits. Trade sanctions cost U.S. businesses about $1 billion annually, and deny U.S. citizens access to vaccines and other medical treatments. Enforcing the embargo drains resources from the war on terror. By isolating the American people from the Cuban people, we stop our citizens from doing what Americans do best; we can't offer Cubans our support or our ideas, and we're unable to benefit from what they could offer us.
I have been to Cuba close to thirty times in the last seven years and I have spoken to Cubans of every stripe -- fans of the revolution and diehard opponents of President Castro.
Cubans by their nature have vastly divergent opinions, except on one fundamental point: it is Cubans living on the island -- not politicians in Washington, not their kinsmen in Miami -- who must decide for themselves what happens next in Cuba. They cherish their sovereignty, they reject violence and instability, and they want the United States to respect those values as much as they do, especially now that they can see a future past President Fidel Castro and beyond the 50th year of their revolution.
There is a debate happening in Cuba right now, triggered by RaÃƒÂºl Castro on economic reform that is remarkable in its sweep. Leaders have spoken to us with unusual candor about the inability of Cubans to keep pace with prices, but they are committed to raising living standards in ways that are consistent with the preservation of Cuba's political system. We have to have clear minds about their intentions for this debate, its limits, and where it might lead.
Now would be a perfect time to send the long overdue signal that the United States is no threat to Cuba's national security, that we honor the aspirations of average Cubans, and that we are capable of having a constructive relationship with their government.
If President Bush cannot answer the call to history that has been issued in Havana, perhaps his successor will respond with greater imagination when he or she takes office in Washington next year.
People here should not misunderstand this historic moment: the Cubans we know, even determined political opponents of Fidel Castro, are proud of their country, proud of its accomplishments, and persuaded that only Cubans in Cuba -- not politicians in Washington or hardliners in Miami -- have the right and responsibility to determine their own destiny. We owe them that opportunity, now more than ever.
Ed. Note: This was originally posted on The Huffington Post.
This piece, originally published at The Huffington Post, was co-written with Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, a non-profit research center in Washington D.C.
Think of how angry Americans would be if Pakistan's government let Osama bin Laden emerge from his cave of refuge and take up open residence in Islamabad?
A scene just like that is the reality here in the United States where Luis Posada Carriles, who ranks in the top ten list of the world's most prolific terrorists, is living freely in Florida--despite his known involvement in blowing up a civilian airliner and other bombings and assassination attempts over more than forty years. Since May, when a Federal judge tossed out the minor charges of immigration fraud leveled by Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department, Posada has been enjoying life in Miami's hard-line Cuban exile community. The U.S. media has all but forgotten about him. His victims, however, remain seared by this remarkable injustice and so should we.
Today [October 6th], after all, marks the anniversary of the mid-air destruction of Cubana Airlines flight 455, which took the lives of 73 passengers and crew, including the Cuban Olympic Fencing team and a group of teenage Guyanese science students on their way to Cuba to go to medical school. Their families will commemorate this day of loss, as they have for 31 years, wondering whether Posada and his co-conspirator Orlando Bosch--who is also living freely in Miami--will ever be brought to justice.
But for those of us in the United States, the case of Luis Posada Carriles is not only about a long overdue legal reckoning for the victims of terrorism, it is about the hypocrisy of the purported leader in the global fight against international terrorism now harboring a renowned purveyor of terrorist violence. "The United States cannot tolerate the inherent inhumanity of terrorism as a way of settling disputes," declared a 1989 Justice Department ruling that Orlando Bosch should remain detained or deported after he illegally returned to the United States from Venezuela. "We must look on terrorism as a universal evil, even if it is directed toward those with whom we have no political sympathy."
That principle was ignored by the administration of George H.W. Bush which, urged on by politically powerful rightwing Cuban exiles in Florida, set Bosch free in 1990. Following in his father's footsteps, George W's administration has politicized the Posada case as well, allowing him to go free and flaunting the credibility of the U.S. war on terror in the process.
Make no mistake, this former CIA asset and demolition trainer is a resolute and unrepentant advocate of terror. As early as 1965, declassified CIA intelligence reports cite Posada's operations to blow up ships and other targets, financed by benefactors in Miami. Documents uncovered in his office in Caracas link Posada to a string of sabotage attacks on consulates and travel agencies that did business with Cuba in the summer of 1976. Those same records contained information on the route of Cubana flight 455.
Indeed, the part Posada played in the first atrocity of aviation terrorism in the Western Hemisphere is especially well corroborated. Declassified FBI reports place him in meetings in Caracas where the attack on the plane was planned. According to a secret CIA intelligence report, a high level informant overheard Posada declaring, "We are going to hit a Cuban airliner and Orlando has the details" only days before the plane exploded after take off from Barbados. Confessions by the two Venezuelans who brought the bomb on board--plastic explosives stuffed into a large tube of Colgate toothpaste--and who worked for Posada, noted that their first calls after the airliner plunged into the ocean were to Posada's office. "The bus has gone off the cliff and the dogs are dead," they reported.
Both Posada and Bosch were arrested in Caracas. Posada was held in Venezuela for nine years for the aircraft bombing but escaped from prison in 1985. (He then went to El Salvador to work on the Reagan administration's illicit contra resupply operation.) In the spring and summer of 1997, he orchestrated a bombing campaign against Havana hotels and discotheques that resulted in the death of an Italian businessman; "That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time," Posada noted in an interview with the New York Times a year later in which he publicly took responsibility for the attacks. "I sleep like a baby."
Three years later, at age 73, he was caught in Panama with 34 pounds of C-4 explosives, which he planned to use to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro was scheduled to speak.
After serving only four years of a prison sentence, Posada and three co-conspirators were inexplicably pardoned and freed; still wanted in Caracas for the bombing of flight 455, Posada became a fugitive once again. But in March 2005, he illegally entered the United States and surfaced in Miami, sufficiently comfortable in the cradle of the anti-Castro exile community to announce his presence to the media and actually seek political asylum. If Orlando Bosch could live freely in Miami, why couldn't Luis Posada?
For two months, the Bush administration basically pretended that he was not there. But this is the post 9/11 world. Massive and embarrassing publicity finally forced Bush's hand. On May 17, 2005, DHS agents detained Posada on illegal entry charges, and then indicted for lying to immigration authorities on how he came to the United States.
Yes, you read that correctly: one of the world's most infamous terrorists charged as an illegal immigrant. Using the counter-terrorism provisions of the Patriot Act, the administration could have certified Posada as a terrorist danger and detained him indefinitely. But apparently the Justice Department viewed his brand of political violence is different than those other terrorism suspects with Middle Eastern names.
The Administration could have also accepted Venezuela's formal petition for Posada's extradition. After all, Posada is a naturalized Venezuelan citizen; the crime was planned in Caracas, and he is a fugitive from justice from Venezuela. But Bush has his priorities: it is more important to mollify rightwing Republican Cuban-American voters in Florida who would view Posada's extradition as a betrayal and as a victory for Chavez and Castro, than to turn over a terrorist to the country that has a legitimate claim to hold him accountable for the first act of airborne terror in the hemisphere, a devastating crime.
The charade of detaining Posada on immigration violations has not been lost on the U.S. courts. Indeed, last May a Federal Judge dismissed the entire illegal entry case against Posada, citing prosecutorial misconduct and incompetence. Without even a slap on the wrist, he returned to Miami a free man, limited only in his movements by the ironic DHS decision to place him on a government "no fly" list.
To date, Bush has made a mockery of his motto that no nation should harbor terrorists and all nations should take steps to bring those who commit acts of terrorism to justice. If his administration will not certify and detain Posada for the international criminal he is, if his administration will not extradite Posada to Venezuela because Bush doesn't like Chavez, the administration still has one option to redeem itself: the Justice Department can indict Posada for the hotel bombings in Havana ten years ago for which he has publicly claimed credit.
The known body of evidence in this case is strong: the FBI has an informant who witnessed Posada's meetings in Guatemala where the bombings were organized, and saw a bag of 23 tubes of plastic explosives in the offices Posada used. Couriers have told how they were recruited by Posada associates to transport the explosives in Prell shampoo bottles and in their shoes. Federal authorities are also in possession of an August 1997 fax, in Posada's own handwriting and signed "Solo"--one of his nom de guerres--stating that "if there is no publicity, the job is useless" and arranging for funds to be "sent by Western Union from New Jersey." Additional evidence was gathered during a rare FBI trip to Havana late last year and presumably turned over to a federal grand jury which as been impaneled in Newark to hear this case.
With a new attorney general designate soon to face confirmation hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to voice its concerns about the way the Justice Department has allowed a known terrorist to go free. Retired judge Michael Mukasey, who is known for being tough on terrorism, should be given every opportunity to disassociate himself from the political contamination of this case and to commit the Justice Department to finally holding Posada accountable for his acts of international violence.
Prosecuting Posada matters. It would put our country on the side of justice for a crime that took place in Cuba that was inspired politically to hurt the Castro regime. This, in turn, would send a signal to Cuba and the world that Washington is serious about deterring acts by terrorists using U.S. soil as their base of operations. It would end a dramatic and hypocritical inconsistency in our policy toward terrorism. Moreover, the families of Posada's many victims deserve their day in court.
And, who knows. If we take the man known as Latin America's Osama bin Laden off our own streets, someone might just help us take America's bin Laden off theirs.
-- Peter Kornbluh & Sarah Stephens
Sooner or later, US policymakers will have to dismantle this last relic of the Cold War, our flawed and futile isolation from Cuba, and think and act anew.Ã‚Â The following reflection, by a young bartender living in Washington, is a reminder of how personally destructive the old policy is and how modern presidential campaigns are more than TV ads but also the sum of personal encounters that can take place in unexpected ways.
My girlfriend is Cuban-American, and much of her family remains on the island, so what happens on U.S. policy toward Cuba, especially whether Cubans here can travel there to visit their families, is quite more than an abstraction to me.
She and many like her feel cut off from the lives of blood relatives and it is an enduring ache for them all. I watch her suffer on a daily basis. I lived with her family for six months while studying in Havana, care for them deeply and I feel cut off from them as well.
Cuba, surprisingly, has poked its head into the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, and a little piece of the campaign poked its head into Washington the other day at the restaurant on Capitol Hill where I happened to be tending bar.
Senator Obama dropped in and had dinner with a group of key supporters from New England that had come down to see him. Drying glasses and pouring drinks from a discrete distance, I still could hear his remarks to the group and was heartened by what I heard.
Among other things, he once again mentioned how Latin America has been neglected and it will not continue to be neglected if he is elected president. He said he has an upcoming article in NY Times Magazine that will continue his work to outline his foreign policy for the campaign.
Obama, bucking conventional wisdom, had earlier traveled to Miami, the heart of support for tight sanctions on Cuba, to argue for loosened restrictions on families with relatives in Cuba, a position which earned him a special place in our hearts at home.
He concluded his remarks this night by saying that he is very positive about the campaign and they are focusing on winning Iowa, where his internal polls show that he and Hillary are tied.
Anyways; at the end of the dinner I waited among the 17 supporters who, I am sure, paid a lot of money to fly down from Boston and attend this special dinner.
Entonces [and then], I scribbled on a napkin, "As an American with close ties to family in Cuba I am very excited about your support for family travel. I urge you to take it to the next step and vow to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba. The Cuban American community supports you!"
As he left he shook my hand and I asked him if I could give him the note. He said "please." As I handed him the note I told him that what he has done in regards to Cuba is great and that he should take it farther and propose ending the embargo. As he walked away he read my note and thanked me for my support.
It was pretty neat. I am not saying that he is going to base his foreign policy on advice from a random bartender, but he is a people person and maybe it will make him think a little bit. I signed the note with my first name only, and maybe if he reads this post he will remember me, and my reasons for caring, and learn my last name.
Last weekend, when the Latin American Studies Association met in Montreal, I suppose some member of the Bush administration was celebrating somewhere, one of the emptiest political victories this crowd has ever tried to ring up.
However small, this incident reminds us of the declining state of our diplomacy, our loss of influence in the Americas, and a loss of intellectual imagination that afflicts both sides of the political divide here in the United States.
Here's the back story.
The Latin American Studies Association, or "LASA," is the largest professional association for individuals and institutions involved in the study of Latin America. A quarter of its members live outside the United States. Its scholars study everything from democracy and civil society in Mexico, to Chile's use of memorials to heal its society after Pinochet, to the region's increasing rejection of the free market policies that Washington has championed.
Through much of its history, LASA has had its massive conferences here in the United States. Our government welcomed this; not only do conventions attracting thousands of participants spend good money, but academic exchanges are properly understood as expressions and instruments of diplomacy. Good scholars and research help us unlock the mysteries and menaces we see from afar. This has been received wisdom, until recently.
Since 2003, the Bush administration has been systematically excluding scholars from Cuba and preventing them from attending the LASA conferences. In 2003, only about half of the Cuban academics who sought to attend the Dallas conference actually received visas. The following year, none were allowed to go, and this pattern of exclusion has persisted.
LASA finally decided that if the Cubans couldn't attend the conference in the United States that they would stop meeting here. So, it pulled out of an agreement with the City of Boston and moved its thousands of participants and eleven-hundred workshops to Montreal.
When the American Association of University Teachers asked the State Department why it wouldn't allow the Cubans to attend, they were told that Cuban participation "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States."
So there you have it. It's detrimental to our interests for Cuban scholars to attend a meeting of the most important Latin American studies institution if it occurs on U.S. soil. Who are they kidding?
And what abject hypocrisy!
Look at what the U.S. State Department said, in its 2006 Human Rights report, about the status of academic freedom in Cuba:
The government restricted academic freedom and continued to emphasize the importance of reinforcing revolutionary ideology and discipline. Academics were prohibited from meeting with some diplomats without prior government approval.
I guess it's okay if we do it, huh?
But hypocrisy alone isn't the issue. The Bush folks have the world wrong. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talk to governments with whom they disagree. They scorn intellectuals, academics, and research. They imagine a region that can be divided between supporters of Castro and ChÃƒÂ¡vez and supporters of the U.S. and President Bush. And they can be strikingly disengaged from the declining currency of American power and the waning support for our policies and ideas.
The LASA conference was titled "After the Washington Consensus," and what better emblem of our disengagement than to see such a vibrant academic exchange taking place in Canada, because our policy of excluding Cubans forced LASA to meet elsewhere.
And so a conversation -- no, a thousand conversations -- that should have occurred inside the United States was instead exiled to Canada. Boy did that serve Fidel Castro and the Cubans right! (I hope the author of the visa policy got the laugh he wanted.)
The day after I got home from Canada, the Financial Times ran a scolding column by Nancy Soderberg, our former U.N. Ambassador and a Clinton-era security advisor, and it was a reminder to me that the Bush administration has no monopoly on this kind of foolishness.
The column was addressed to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina's first lady, and the leading candidate to succeed her husband as their nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s president after the balloting that will occur on October 28th. Among Ms. Soderberg's demands were that Argentina reject Hugo ChÃƒÂ¡vez and pay more respect to the kinds of economic policies that are denounced by opponents of neo-liberalism and the Washington consensus.
It might have been nice to let the Argentine people vote first. But assuming the front-running Senator Fernandez does win the election, Ms. Soderberg's advice, premature and presumptuous, was still wrong, for two compelling reasons.
It's simple and straightforward to divide the region into "responsible" and "irresponsible" camps, between Hugo ChÃƒÂ¡vez and Fidel Castro adherents and haters. But Latin America, like life and reality, is far more complicated than that.
The countries of the region negotiate separate trade arrangements with each other, they have agreements and arguments with each other, and they pursue their own national interests completely outside the false framework (you're either for us or against us) that President Bush has constructed and which Ms. Soderberg adopted as her own. Argentina will undoubtedly follow its own course, and it should.
Second, who in the region does she think is actually listening to us? US policymakers can shout themselves hoarse telling governments what to do and telling publics who to elect, and we have seen how fruitless this advice can be.
Regional governments, especially those with active lefts, cannot afford to be viewed as "lackeys" of Washington, and citizens are largely indifferent to admonitions from the outside, as voters have proved in the last several years in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Nicaragua, when they took opposite tacks from those advocated by President ChÃƒÂ¡vez or the US Department of State. In other words, they are acting like democracies, something we should applaud and not discourage.
It was discouraging to see a prominent Democratic security expert parroting the administration's view of the region. Small wonder that admirers of the United States like former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark openly talk, as he did at the LASA meeting in Montreal, about our country's declining credentials in the hemisphere.
LASA got the message. They're apparently expecting no big changes in our government's policy of rejecting Cuban scholars for visas no matter who gets elected President. Their next meeting, scheduled for June 2009, will take place in Rio de Janeiro. Good for Brazil, but detrimental to American interests, I think.