Yesterday, deep in the Brazilian hinterland, 33 leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean called on President-elect Obama to end the embargo on Cuba.
Their unequivocal call to end a policy that the UN General Assembly has voted against 16 times, that has failed for 50 years to achieve its objective, and that amounts to a self-imposed barrier to entering into a 21st century relationship with the rest of the Hemisphere -- seems to me to be a strategic no-brainer for the incoming administration.
So what is the price of leadership in the Western Hemisphere? It's a trick question, really. In dollar terms, the cost of renovating Hemispheric relations is practically nil. Ending the embargo is the right thing to do, still leaves us plenty of carrots and sticks for negotiations with Cuba, and costs the Treasury nothing. In fact, given the explosion of trade with the Southern United States that would accompany the change in status, America would profit from the move.
What we gain, on the other hand, is priceless. Over the past two decades, the embargo has been more of a wall separating the U.S. from Latin America than it has been a siege of Cuba. The lack of trust rooted in the senseless persistence of the embargo combined with our Cold War support for right-wing governments, our misguided insistence on the "Washington Consensus" and now our unwillingness to recognize that our immigration problem is a symptom of the lack of economic opportunity in sending countries is the biggest barrier to progress in the region.
What is important to note, however, is that the "ask" from these Latin American nations is decisive, not incremental. President-elect Obama's campaign promises, calibrated to appeal to an demographic shift within Southern Florida that was incompletely understood until the election results arrived, those promises are not enough to get the nations of Latin America to embrace the United States once again.
In the second week of April, then-President Obama will have the opportunity to address the OAS Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. If he does not make his move before then, the president must take the opportunity to answer this call from his fellow heads of state.
This will be one of the greatest tests for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. She will have to put her family's record on Cuba policy aside, aggressively pursue the national interest and prepare the way for then-President Obama to claim a major foreign policy victory. She can be the architect, but Mr. Obama must be seen as the author. What we need is a clear signal from within Mr. Obama's inner circle that it is time for a decisive shift in policy, one that can capture the goodwill and imagination of the nations of the Western Hemisphere.
Mrs. Clinton's challenge will be to hear the signal and prioritize an easy win in the midst of all the foreign policy and economic crisis management.
This just published by the good folks at McClatchy:
Commentary: An Obama Policy for Cuba
Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Patrick C. Doherty
With his national security team in place, President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy principals will be immediately struck by how many complex and expensive challenges they will face. Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine and Russia, will all require enormous energy, all the tools in our foreign policy toolbox, and will all take years to resolve, if they can be resolved. None of these crises will allow President Obama to signal swiftly to the world the kind of changes he proposes in American foreign policy. In contrast, U.S.-Cuba policy is low-hanging fruit: though of marginal importance domestically, it could be changed immediately at little cost.
At present, that policy is a major black spot on America's international reputation. For the rest of the world, our failed, obsolete and 50-year old policy toward Cuba goes against everything that Obama campaigned for, and the recent 185-3 U.N. vote to condemn the centerpiece of that policy, the embargo Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the 16th such vote in as many years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ makes that clear. The entire world believes our policy is wrong.
And the world is right. The fact is that since Cuba stopped exporting revolution and started exporting doctors and nurses, it ceased being a national security concern for the United States. And yet we restrict travel to the island - unconstitutionally - and constrain Cuban-Americans in the amount of money they can send to their families on the island. Moreover, the economic embargo hurts the Cuban people more than the Cuban leadership, and our Helms-Burton legislation imposes Washington's will on foreign businesses who wish to trade with Cuba, creating ill will in business communities from Canada to Brazil.
Our Cuba policy is also an obstacle to striking a new relationship with the nations of Latin America. Any 21st-century policy toward Latin America will have to shift from the Cold War-era emphasis on right-wing governments and top-down economic adjustment to creating a hemispheric partnership to address many critical issues: the revival of militant leftism, the twin challenges of sustainability and inclusive economic growth, and the rising hemispheric influence of Russia and China. But until Washington ends the extraordinary sanctions that comprise the Cuba embargo, Latin America will remain at arms-length, and the problems in our backyard - Hugo Chavez, drugs, immigration, energy insecurity - will simply fester.
The November elections shattered the old political constraints on Cuba policy. It used to be that Cuba policy was controlled by the Cuban-American community in South Florida. It had been gospel that to win Florida's 27 electoral votes a candidate for president had to win the Cuban-American vote. What was once gospel is now history. President-elect Obama won Florida with only 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote.
Obama now needs his own policy, not a retread of past failure. We see three important elements of such a policy.
First, Obama should call on Congress to end the travel ban on all Americans for any purpose. This action not only restores Americans' constitutional rights, it also unleashes the greatest ambassadors of democracy and free markets, the American people.
Second, Obama should call on the Congress to repeal two aspects of the Helms-Burton act to restore the Constitution's separation of powers and to end the disruptive use of extra-territorial sanctions.
Finally, Obama must sign an executive order to meet the urgent needs of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban people who were affected by a record four hurricanes this season. The Cuban people are suffering and even the wives of jailed political dissidents, in an October teleconference with first lady Laura Bush and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, pleaded for the United States to lift the embargo for humanitarian reasons. This can be done. But since the Cuban government will not accept traditional disaster assistance, the new president must use his "notwithstanding" authority enshrined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to lift the embargo for 180 days and allow Cuba to purchase civilian items with cash or credit on the American market. Such an action will instill immediate good will among the Cuban people.
With these three objectives accomplished, Cuba policy will once again be back in the hands of the executive branch, which can begin a deliberate process of negotiations to normalize relations. While some will say such a policy amounts to "free concessions" to the Castro brothers, we look at it differently. Fidel and Raul Castro are at death's door. Change is coming. Everyone seems to realize it but the United States. A new, decisive policy toward Cuba, wrought by the new "change" president, will send a clear signal to the world that America is back. Moreover, such change will liberate U.S. relations with Latin America and open the door to dealing effectively with our own hemisphere's many challenges.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Lawrence B.Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He and Patrick C. Doherty chair and direct, respectively, the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20009; Web site: www.newamerica.net.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
Ã‚Â© 2008, New America Foundation
[The following was posted yesterday on The Washington Note]
I just heard that Matt Cooper commented on MSNBC Live that Secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson is the guy to lead on Cuba. I think Cooper nailed it--the outgoing governor of New Mexico it is a natural fit with an elegant dash of poetic justice rarely found in Washington.
Richardson, many will remember, was famous for his one-on-one negotiations with nasty international characters, including Saddam Hussein and John Garang of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and traveled to Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea to handle tough negotiations on behalf of American interests.
Even Republicans agree he's got the skills. Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon, who heads up Western Hemisphere affairs for Secretary Rice at the State Department had this to say in a Reuters interview about Gov. Richardson's role in freeing American hostages in Venezuela earlier this year: "Governor Richardson is a skilled negotiator with a lot of experience in this field and I am sure he has a lot to offer in terms of understanding possible resolutions of the hostage situation." That will come in handy as many believe our entire Latin America policy is being held hostage by our failed Cuba policy.
But the poetic justice is really that Gov. Richardson will be replacing Carlos Gutierrez as Commerce Secretary. As the highest-ranking Cuban American in the Bush administration, he's been the great defender of the embargo at home and around the world. He even lobbied European ministers, unsuccessfully, to stop the EU from ending their remaining sanctions against the island nation that now exports doctors, not revolution. Secretary Gutierrez also co-chairs the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a creation of the Bush administration that coincided with the administration's tightening of the Cuban-American travel restrictions that, in turn, heralded the end of the unified Cuban-American voting bloc in South Florida.
In fact it is thanks to the over-reach of Secretary Gutierrez that Gov. Richardson will be able to go to Havana knowing that domestic politics - not to mention U.S. national interests - are on his side: Obama won Florida with only 35% of the Cuban American vote and a poll released just today says that anyway, 55% of Cuban Americans in South Florida want an end to the embargo completely.
Gov. Richardson will certainly benefit from the mission, should he in fact be offered it. In Congress, he led the House Hispanic Caucus and worked hard to bring the Latino community into the Obama camp. So look for an early negotiated trade with Cuba around the "Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot" policy that allows Cubans and only Cubans who elude the Coast guard or Border Patrol and set foot on American soil get fast-tracked to citizenship. No other ethnic group gets that treatment, and it's a thorn in the side of the Latino community that both Richardson and Obama can reap a lot of capital from plucking.
Welcome back to Washington, Mr. Secretary.
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.]
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent visit to Venezuela and Cuba received some attention from the press, but little from the Bush administration and none from the Obama transition.
That is as it should be. With the announcement that the U.S. economy is definitely in recession, the backdrop of two wars and a provocative attack in India, the lame-duck Bush administration needs to focus its limited ability to shape events and focus on the top priorities.
For the transition team, President-elect Obama has consistently said the transition will focus on people then policy. But even after yesterday's national security team roll out in Chicago, it will be still quite some time before policy positions take real form. Indeed, with the sometimes-honored pledge to respect the one-president-at-a-time rule, we may not hear much policy until the Inaugural address.
But they are planning. And it is becoming clearer that Russia and Cuba offer two separate but increasingly intertwined opportunities for the Obama administration to really define itself.
In both cases, Washington's policy has been out of step with the rest of the international community and our hands are not as tied as they are in the cases of Iran or Iraq. That's a great situation in which the new team can make a clear and bold statement to the world that there is a new leader on the Potomac.
Russia's gambit is the Kremlin's version of the Cheney doctrine: a focus on using energy as geopolitical leverage, the re-establishment of a sphere of client states, and provocative but incremental moves to confirm their seriousness and intimidate neighbors. The rationale is simple: Moscow has little it can rely on as an attractive force, will be hammered by a shift to a global green economy and with Obama coming into office, time is running out to use the leverage they have.
Think of it as the Exxon-Mobil of the international community. Russia's entire economy is based on the the price of hydrocarbons and its leadership has decided that it is politically easier to dig in than to adapt. In addition, Russia's population is aging and shrinking, and by choosing to return to autocracy, its ability to innovate is inherently limited.
Cuba, as I've written before, is surviving on what I've called a "Yugoslav" strategy. Like Tito's successful playing off of East and West during the Cold War, Cuba is profiting from its strategic position in the Caribbean and its potential to be a thorn in the side of Washington. This time, however, the patrons are China, Venezuela, and Russia.
My colleague at New America, Steve Clemons, likes to tell a story of being in Beijing recently and asking what some of the leading minds at the leading foreign policy think tank were working on. Their reply: figuring out how to keep the U.S. distracted with little wars in the Middle East. Beijing and Moscow also realize that Cuba offers a similar kind of diplomatic obstacle, but one tailored to the Western Hemisphere.
That is, to the extent that the U.S.-Cuba relationship sits in its Cold War deep freeze, the U.S. relationship with Latin America will get atrophy further and provide more opportunities for trade and patronage deals for entrepreneurial powers, like Caracas, Beijing, and Moscow. As long as these nations keep Havana afloat in the global credit markets, providing it critical economic inputs and especially food, the U.S. strategy of isolation and regime change will continue to fail and there will be no chance to transform our relationship with the Western Hemisphere.
Ironically, both strategies, those of Cuba and Russia, are dependent upon the U.S. acting against our own interest. We need to build a new, sustainable relationship across the Western Hemisphere and we need to reduce our consumption of and vulnerability resulting from, oil.
President-elect Obama now has the chance to negate both gambits, by changing our strategy towards Cuba and by aggressively pursuing a decisive strategy to end not only America's, but the world's addiction to oil. The question in my mind is not whether Mr. Obama will do something on either of these issues. The question is whether he will go far enough to make a strategic difference.
Who will the Obama team ask to take the lead on forging a new relationship with Cuba? Both the 111th Congress and the team around the President-elect are facing a unique opportunity to end one of the last vestiges of the Cold War and get an easy victory under their belts early in the administration. The question will be who takes the lead.
Gates and Jones, coming from a military background will be the most likely and influential supporters of such an initiative. The broad feeling at the Pentagon is that Cuba is a) not a national security threat to the United States, unless it becomes a failed state, and b) represents an important opportunity to secure our long-term interests in the Western Hemisphere.
That said, neither the National Security Council nor the Defense Department will be taking point on the process of re-engaging Cuba. That will be left to the State Department at the end of the day. So the question of whether Secretary-designate Clinton will see Cuba as one of the "strategic opportunities" that she and President-elect Obama have identified is of major consequence.
But while the Department of State has to take the lead on diplomacy, the Secretary's hands will be tied when it comes to actually changing policy by the Helms-Burton Act, one of the few instances in American history in which the Congress has successfully curtailed the Constitution's separation of powers and constrained the President in the setting of foreign policy.
And that sets up a delicate dance between Congress and the Obama administration. Each branch of the incoming government will have to signal to the other just how far it wants to go on Cuba policy. Senator Kerry, the incoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will have an enormous say in the matter, as will his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Representative Howard Berman. Both are broadly supportive.
The necessity of that delicate policy dance between the two branches argues for one particular champion of a transformed Cuba policy, Vice President-elect Joe Biden. As president of the Senate, Mr. Biden will have an office in the Capitol from which the kind of close coordination and confidence-building will be essential to make sure that both Congress and the Executive move their pieces on the chess board at the right time.
Vice-President Elect Biden has to carve out a niche for himself as the first post-Cheney vice president. His speaking part today in Chicago at the unveiling of the national security team signals that role will be in foreign affairs. While he will certainly be advising the president-elect on many issues, Cuba will be one that his office is particularly well suited for.
And, ironically, outgoing Vice President Cheney happens to agree with the need to change Cuba policy. Two trusted sources tell me that the architect of the "unitary executive" thinks the embargo and especially Helms-Burton legislation is, to paraphrase, the "stupidest @#$%& policy" ever.
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