Posts in Embargo
Early in March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba to tell Raul Castro that he could not invite him to the VI Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias due to a lack of hemispheric consensus. Once back in Bogota, Mr. Santos said that Colombia had "put out a fire" and pledged to discuss Cuba's participation in the inter-American system at the summit in order to prevent this issue from flaring up again before the next presidential conference scheduled for 2015 in Panama.
The Colombian decision triggered reactions from both Cuba and the US. It's hard to say whose discourse was more anachronistic. The statements made by Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez read as an impassioned harangue to the revolutionary Tricontinental of 1966. Hillary Clinton's responses to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen before the House Foreign Affairs Committee appeared to be addressing a rest home for Cuban-Americans who landed in Miami in 1962. Instead of adopting a conflict resolution approach, Cuba and the US traveled back to the Cold War, to a multilateral inter-American system that no longer exists. With one swipe, they erased five decades of changes in the hemispheric balance of power and the adoption of standards such as ideological pluralism, non-intervention and democratic governance.
How do you know that an Italian newspaper report that Hezbollah is looking to establish a presence in Cuba is bogus? When Rep. Michelle Bachmann picks up the story and runs away with it.
"There’s reports that have come out that Cuba has been working with another terrorist organization called Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is potentially looking at wanting to be part of missile sites in Iran and, of course, when you’re 90 miles offshore from Florida, you don’t want to entertain the prospect of hosting bases or sites where Hezbollah could have training camps or perhaps have missile sites or weapons sites in Cuba. This would be foolish.”
Actually, there has been just one report, in an Italian newspaper, which then got picked up and spread around by a number of conservative U.S. blogs. I am in no position to evaluate the intelligence collected by that newspaper (and it doesn't offer sources), but, as the Wall Street Journal's blog Washington Wire points out, Cuba's presence on the U.S. terrorism list isn't due to any Hezbollah link - it's largely become a political bargaining chip. And if you doubt that, just ask Bill Richardson.
While Bachmann frets over that one, a group of her colleagues fire off a threatening letter to Spain's Repsol, warning the company to dump its Cuban deep water exploration plans, you know, if you know what's good for you. The signers warn that "grave civil and criminal" penalties come with violations of the "comprehensive" Cuba embargo. But even the embargo isn't so comprehensive as to stop a foreign company from drilling in Cuban waters, so long as there aren't U.S. parts, people or expertise involved. Which, of course, is exactly what scares so many in the industry about the impending exploration in Cuba.
Not this group, though. Nowhere in the letter does the group express any concerns around what impact drilling could have on the environment, particularly in the event of a spill. But it could certainly "harm [Repsol's] commercial interests with the United States," and it might "run afoul of pending legislation." I think that was a mistake. In fact, I'm sure had Ros-Lehtinen and Sires, the leaders of the letter effort, invited her to join them on their letter, Michelle Bachmann could have come up with one heck of a nightmare scenario that would have capped the letter off quite nicely.
Oh, I jest. Serious industry experts warn us to be prepared to prevent or respond to any disaster before drilling begins. According to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich, the issue has gotten - as it should - attention at "very high levels of the government."
The events in Tahrir Plaza have led some Cuba watchers to wonder if a similar civil society rebellion calling for democracy might erupt against the government of Raul Castro.
Since democracy has many meanings, it is preferable to speak in terms of human rights, defined as an interdependent and indivisible set of universal legal norms rather than a menu from which to pick and choose. Civil and political rights are as important as economic, social and cultural rights.
Nobody knows whether Egypt will improve its record in this regard. The only thing that has happened so far is a transfer of government from the former dictator to a praetorian guard. Mubarak was the devil we knew, but the main opposition party to his government, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not the benign savior. Its goal of establishing a caliphate would extend oppression against those who profess other religions, non-fundamentalist women, and homosexuals, just to mention three examples.
In Cuba, all independent and nonpartisan civil society organizations, such as the Catholic Church and other religious communities have emphatically declared their preference for gradual and peaceful changes. In addition, most of the political opposition, both on the island and in exile, has been explicit in its principled opposition to any violent path.
The other day, I participated in a conference call with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman. I was eager to see what he would have to say, ever since the House Agriculture Committee passed legislation to end the Cuba travel ban and ease agriculture trade restrictions back in June. Many Cuba pundits have wondered what Mr. Berman, who has jurisdiction over the travel ban piece of the bill, might do next.
Berman cleared that up in no short order, and candidly expressed his determination to round up the votes he needs to pass the bill, make it available for subsequent floor consideration, embolden the Senate to act, and to provide political cover and encouragement to the Obama administration to use its executive authority to loosen restrictions on travel until the Congress is able to finish the job. This late in the Congressional session, Berman seems to have decided, rightly I think, to use both private and public persuasion to get the votes he needs.
I've long been in Berman's camp when it comes to why the travel ban should end - as he said on the call, "as a matter of principle, this is about Americans' right to travel."