Bait and Switch?
Countries and groups with a long history of conflict have dramatically different narratives about their shared history.
Each has a sense of aggrievement, of a history of facing unprovoked aggression by the other, of betrayal, and of rejection of its own good faith efforts to improve the relationship.
Think Israelis and Palestinians for seemingly irresolvable obstacles; think Northern Ireland for overcoming the burdens of the past; think Washington and Havana for self-righteously talking past each other.
I am just home from Cuba where I found in conversations with officials, personal friends, diplomats and long-time foreign observers a mix of optimism and skepticism about whether we are finally at a transformative moment or face one more disappointment.
The dramatic evolution of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the government is universally welcomed. Their mutual respect and recognition of each others legitimacy in the national polity carries risks for both, but creates essential space for resolving critical social and economic problems.
A journalist believes that a domestic not international agenda is driving the process. Clearing the table of the distraction of controversial secondary issues is the primary goal.
(For Raul Castro, the Church and the widespread frustration with daily life that it authentically channels, may also be a useful lever to overcome resistance to necessary changes from the more conservative sector of the Communist Party.)
Another source thinks a central purpose is restoring Cuba's relationship with the European Union in order to regain access to investment and development assistance.
Perhaps chauvinistically I feel the release of the Black Spring prisoners is further evidence of Cuba's serious desire for a reasonable bilateral relationship with the US.
The absence of a substantive US response so far is thus troubling. A cynical interpretation that Washington is again moving the goalposts is not yet appropriate. Clearly doubters in the US have to be overcome or the political decision made to ignore them. It will help as it becomes clearer that prisoners have the option to remain in Cuba as well as to leave with their families.
However, as time passes, Cubans and the international community will wonder if this is another bait and switch scenario. As with past US demands for changes in Cuba's role in Central America, Africa and with the Soviet Union, will the important act of releasing prisoners that has been a prerequisite for seven years be characterized now as "not enough" and Washington do nothing comparable?
As I wrote in thehavananote on the eve of my trip, the President has many options: releasing Cuban prisoners, removing Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, endorsing legislation to restore freedom of travel and allowing unlimited visits for non-tourist people-to-people purposes without further delay.
How much longer must the American and Cuban people wait?
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Links and resources
USAID's solicitation of proposals "To Expand Cuban Civic Participation and Leadership in Social Relationships and Independent Civil Society Groups" was harshly analyzed in the Havana Times, an independent blog which also publishes strong critiques of limits on freedom in Cuba.
Sending the wrong signal, OFAC announces:
a penalty "settlement' with the United Nations Federal Credit Union, which agreed to pay $500,000 to settle charges that the UNFCU "dealt in property in which Cuba or a Cuban national had an interest' ?