Does including Cuba on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsoring nations serve the United States' national interest?
Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Arturo Lopez-Levy
According to a New York Times story , in his recent visit to Havana, former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson told Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations, that by releasing Alan Gross, Cuba could begin a process of being removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list. Since both Richardson and the State Department have repeatedly declared that they have been working together on this issue, this is practically a confession that Cuba’s inclusion on the state sponsors of terrorism list is a sham.
The list of terrorist sponsoring nations should be a bargaining tool for dealing with, well, countries that engage in or sponsor terrorism. The misuse of an otherwise effective foreign policy tool must give pause to responsible members of Congress and the Washington intelligence community. First, it focuses efforts and resources in the wrong direction, taking eyes and dollars from where the real threats are. Second, it sends the wrong message to other countries, diminishing the impact of a warning to countries such as Iran and Syria and the groups they sponsor such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Third, it weakens the capacity of US allies like Israel , who are real targets of terrorist threats, to make a case for the isolation or monitoring of countries such as Iran whose presence on the list is justified.
Despite the tensions associated with the upcoming 2012 election campaign in the US, a dialogue between Washington and Havana, as proposed by the Cuban Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Rodriguez, is also in the interest of the Obama Administration, which has nothing to gain from more conflicts in its relationship with Cuba. President Barack Obama's positions favoring dialogue without preconditions, increasing people to people contacts, and reaching mutually beneficial agreements on bilateral issues were never predicated on sympathy for Fidel or Raul Castro, but rather on the conviction that diplomacy and contacts between societies are the best ways to promote US national interests.
By that standard, the balance of the first three years of the Obama administration's relationship with Cuba is positive. The increase in cultural, family, humanitarian and religious travel to Cuba accelerates current reforms in Cuba, improves the image of the US in the hemisphere, and strengthens domestic political trends favoring an engagement policy that is less dependent on the Miami right and more consistent with democratic values and US strategic and economic interests.
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 High Holidays are the expression of the supreme Jewish belief in reconciliation and every individual’s capacity to recognize his or her mistakes and change for the better. The Cuban government should view Alan Gross’ recent statement as expressing repentance for his unconscious participation in American government sponsored regime change policies that violated Cuban sovereignty. Mr. Gross, an American Jew from Maryland, interested in civil society development was arrested in Dec. 3, 2009 by the Cuban authorities. He had gone to Cuba five times as a subcontractor of Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), a private company serving contracts awarded by the Bush Administration under the Cuba program of USAID.
The extensive coverage the media has given to an very small number of vocal Cuban-Americans who opposed the celebration of a concert held in Miami by Cuban artist Pablo Milanés stands in stark contrast to the sentiment of the majority of the exile community, which has gone largely unreported. For years, we have seen how the media has sensationalized protests by these (most likely the same) small number of exiles who, blinded by their hatred for the Cuban regime, have worked tirelessly to maintain the status quo in both Washington and Havana.
These Cuban-Americans have every right to feel hurt and even hatred as many suffered greatly at the hand of the Cuban government several decades ago. They came to this country in search of freedom and the right to voice their beliefs and we should respect and protect their right to do so. The media has done more than its share to defend these protestors and their rights. But this small minority of Cuban-Americans does not represent the entire exile community. Unfortunately, headlines such as “Exile groups oppose Cuba musician Pablo Milanes’ Aug. 27 concert in Miami,” do little to report the true diversity of the community and sensationalize the small but vocal minority whose main purpose is to make headlines. More damaging however than the sensationalist headlines and all the attention that is given by the media to defenders of the status quo, is the lack of attention given to the majority of the exile community that has long advocated for and supported greater contact between Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits.
Five years after Fidel Castro’s separation from power, it is essential to examine the role that the former revolutionary leader has played in the current Cuban political system from his convalescence and retirement, and the consequences of this evolution.
The fundamental role of Fidel Castro in the Cuban political system today is two-fold: 1) In terms of government, Fidel Castro is the great counselor, to be consulted on strategic decisions or with respect to the appointment or removal of central leaders, as was the case in the termination of the political careers of his former associates Felipe Perez and Carlos Lage and in the constitution of the new Central Committee at the Sixth Congress, 2) In terms of ideology and international projection, particularly in Latin America, he is a Patriarch of the radical left, advising the new leaders, especially Hugo Chavez, and reflecting on some of the past mistakes made by this political sector (in his Reflections and interviews he has criticized discrimination against homosexuals, hostility toward the market, and Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism that has been repeated in many of the anti-Israeli condemnations by the radical Latin American left).
There's reasonably good news on the horizon for Cubans hoping to legally buy and sell homes. In a report on the subject, BBC profiled a divorced couple - we've all heard similar stories - forced to live in the same home together for lack of an alternative. But Granma reports that regulations should be out by the end of the year that will not only allow Cubans to buy and sell their homes, but that the transfer will be allowed to be recorded by a licensed notary, presumably cutting out the dreaded (and often opportunistic) government bureaucrats. And that should be music to many Cubans' ears.
Speaking of music, U2's Bono mentioned former Cuban political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet (he was one of the last prisoners released as part of an agreement with Cuba's Catholic Church) at a recent concert in Miami, following a meeting he had with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Cuban American filmmaker Joe Cardona appreciated the mention and penned an op-ed offering something for everyone to agree and disagree on in The Miami Herald, on Cuban exiles, dissidents and U.S. policy:
"For the better part of my life, Cubans’ struggle against tyranny on and off the island has been unfairly undermined and dismissed by the international community as an appendage of the Cold War battle between Washington and Havana.
Given this association, it has been a struggle to get pop culture icons to back the fight for liberty in Cuba. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to hear that Bono mentioned Cuban opposition leader Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet at the U2 concert recently at Sun Life Stadium."
What would Ronald Reagan’s policy towards Cuba be today? Nobody can say for sure. It is certain that he would oppose and denounce communism, but would he support the travel ban and oppose educational, cultural and academic exchanges with Havana as Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen do? In today’s post-Cold War environment, it is worthwhile to note that several members of Reagan’s team and many of the intellectuals who inspired his government such as Milton Friedman, Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State George Schultz have supported a change in Washington’s policy.
Twenty eight years ago, in March of 1983, President Reagan gave a historic speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando and called the Soviet Union, the "evil empire". Reagan’s words about communism did not allow for nuances. It was “us against them”. Reagan’s clarity sent a meaningful message to average citizens of the democratic world and the many oppressed behind the iron curtain.
But Reagan’s speech to the Evangelicals in Florida should not be selectively cut from the whole of his general foreign policy approach to communism. Unfortunately, in the issue of foreign policy towards Cuba, supporters of the embargo use Reagan’s phrases to promote a “magical realism” version of what a moral policy towards communism should be.
With a thirty year career in the Foreign Service, including having served as the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and having just completed a 'hardship' post as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (which doesn't carry the title of Ambassador), Jonathan Farrar might reasonably have expected to now take an ambassador posting, even if the one he got was to another politically-charged post, in Managua,Nicargua.
Unfortunately for Farrar, Newly-minted Cuban American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee seems pretty likely to hold up his nomination, despite having never met with Farrar to discuss his grievances before last week's nomination hearing. (You can view Rubio's criticism of Farrar and Farrar's response here.)
After a nearly three month-long leave, I've got lots of Cuba news catching up to do. Much has happened. And much has stayed the same.
In Cuba, following the Sixth Party Congress in April, we're beginning to see some changes, rolled out one-by-one, with little fanfare (as Phil Peters pointed out was how countless needed reforms would come about). For instance, the government is offering private entrepreneurs several tax breaks designed to help spur their growth - offering a payroll tax holiday for 2011 for businesses with fewer than five employees, and finally allowing private restaurants (known as paladars) to serve up to fifty customers at a time - up from 20, which was up from 12. It's easy to see these and other recent reforms as overdue, and as playing too much at the margins.
But, however slowly it moves ahead, this is a government that has committed itself to a long range reform process. It's all here - in the very public, fully discussed and debated, 313 lineamentos or guidelines for reforms. Oh, and let's not forget Raul Castro's embrace of term limits, which, if he honors it, will have tremendous implications for Cuban political leadership and reform in the next several years.
But it's this distinction, between the journey and the end, that President Obama failed to acknowledge in his recent interview with Univision's Jose Diaz-Balart (yes, brother to Lincoln and Mario, and nephew of Fidel Castro's first wife, Mirta).