Last December, when President Obama announced he had reached an agreement with President Raúl Castro to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, you’d have thought it was a dark day for diplomacy given the reaction of some Senators on Capitol Hill.
“I think it stinks,” New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said of the breakthrough, “It’s a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve.” He later added that “18 months of secret negotiations produced a bad deal, a bad deal for the Cuban people.”
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Florida Senator Marco said “By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, the president and his administration have let the Cuban people down.” He also called President Obama “the worst negotiator that we’ve had as President since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country.”
Just a side note: It was thirty-eight years ago this week the U.S. and Cuba convened talks that led to the signing of provisional maritime boundary and fishing rights agreements. Although these pacts contributed to the peace that has prevailed in the Florida Strait ever since, we’re guessing Rubio never sent President Carter a card wishing him a happy anniversary.
Were they right? Are these really dark days for diplomacy? We can think of four things that happened this week that show they are not:
1) Although Rubio and Menendez fought the Obama Administration’s support for Cuba attending the 7th Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama next month, Cuban dissidents Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Guillermo Fariñas, and Berta Soler will be taking part in civil society events, the Miami Herald reported. Cuba is unhappy about them being there, but they will arrive alongside a contingent of civil society activists attending with Havana’s blessing. Perhaps all can watch Presidents Obama and Castro shake hands again.
2) Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, deputy director of Cuba’s foreign ministry, announced Thursday that a delegation of Cuban diplomats will be in Washington next week for human rights talks with a U.S. team led by Tom Malinowski, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. While next week’s meeting is to discuss a framework for “future human rights talks,” and both countries criticize each other for their respective human rights records, “observers say even the start of a dialogue is an indication of progress in the countries’ broader move to normalize relations,” the Associated Press reported.
3) Although not a product of U.S. diplomacy, negotiations between Cuba and the European Union are also continuing talks on human rights as part of an accelerated commitment to normalize relations between Brussels and Havana. John Caulfield, who served in Cuba as head of the U.S. Interests Section until last year, linked the parallel negotiations in human rights, telling the Associated Press, “The very fact, I think, that Cuba is in a formal process where they agreed to talk about human rights to the European Union and the United States makes it more difficult for them to do the heavy-handed stuff they’ve done in the past.”
4) This week, a delegation of U.S. diplomats sat down in Havana with Cuban counterparts to discuss increasing Internet connectivity and access to information for the Cuban people. In a symbol of just how much has changed in a relationship that was forged during the Cold War era of the Teletype machine, Conrad Tribble, a U.S. diplomat stationed in Havana, tweeted about the talks here.
Although Cuba, in much of our country’s political discourse, will get no credit for fulfilling its side of the diplomatic bargain struck last December, what transpired this week could not have happened without Cuba’s government holding up its end. Carlos Varela, the Cuban singer-songwriter, writes in “Muros y Puertas, “there are those who build walls there are those who open doors.” In this week’s diplomacy, the doors swung open in both directions.
In his essay, Rubio Truly Hates Diplomacy, Daniel Larison, a senior editor at The American Conservative, lit into Senator Rubio for his instant condemnation of President Obama’s new Cuba policy. Larison acknowledged that diplomacy was not guaranteed to succeed, but said “Rubio wants to deny the U.S. and Cuba the possibility that engagement offers in order to cling to a confrontational policy that has yielded nothing but bitterness and poverty.”
Rubio said President Obama’s diplomacy “let the Cuban people down.” But, Yoani Sanchez, who will be covering the Summit of the Americas in Panama as a journalist, begs to differ.
“The truth is that on December 17 — St. Lazarus Day — diplomacy, chance and even the venerated saint of miracles addressed the country’s wounds,” she wrote. “Nothing is resolved yet, and the whole process for the truce is precarious and slow, but on that December 17th the ceasefire arrived for millions of Cubans who had only known the trenches.”