As U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the administration of President George W. Bush, Carlos Gutierrez supported policies to overthrow Cuba’s government and replace its political and economic systems with a framework forged in Washington.
A day after the speeches by President Obama and Castro on their decision to restore bilateral relations, Gutierrez told Time Magazine that the agreement was “lopsided,” and he warned the U.S. business community, “This could backfire in a really big way.”
After some hints and feints earlier this year, Gutierrez has fully and publicly made the transition from anti-Castro caterpillar to pro-engagement butterfly, in what the Miami New Times is calling “a startling turnaround for a Cuban American,” but which others describe as a betrayal.
Mr. Gutierrez published an essay in the New York Times this week, “A Republican Case for Obama’s Cuba Policy,” which follows the arc of his life from 1960 when his family left Cuba and with it all their possessions, to this moment when he can look back after having “achieved personal and professional success beyond anything I could have imagined.”
In December 2014, he found himself, as a Republican and Cuban American, thinking Obama was out-negotiated by a Cuban government determined to extend the revolution. Now, Secretary Gutierrez sees genuine progress in the plans to open new embassies and the bilateral talks on a host of issues, including the status of U.S. fugitives in Cuba.
He writes, “I never expected negotiations to get this far.”
Secretary Gutierrez now believes it is in the best interests of the Cuban people for President Obama’s new policies to succeed. In his op-ed, he urges support for the reforms that seek to help Cuba’s growing class of small-business owners and employees “obtain the tools, supplies, building materials and training in accounting, logistics and other areas” that they need “to chart their own course in life.”
Then, significantly, he turns to his “fellow Cuban-Americans [who] insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to democracy,” and asks “if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”
We think the Secretary’s turnabout and his direct challenge to the hardliners is a pretty big deal. His critics seem to think so, too.
Guillermo I. Martinez claimed the Secretary’s column “makes no sense,” and expressed his feelings of betrayal in writing, “I cannot imagine him saying that when he was working for a Republican president or when he was working for an American company.”
Taking the theme of defection to the next level, Capitol Hill Cubans published this piece saying that “The Obama Administration (and Castro’s D.C. lobbyists) weren’t the only ones thrilled by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez’s endorsement of the Obama Administration’s (give-everything-for-nothing) Cuba policy,” alleging that the piece had run in Granma, the state newspaper, because “Castro’s censors clearly found nothing objectionable in Gutierrez’s editorial.”
If this language of reproach is familiar, you might be thinking of the reaction to Alfonso Fanjul, the Cuban American sugar magnate, when he told the Washington Post he was open to investing in Cuba. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen responded by saying “it’s pathetic that a Cuban-American tycoon feels inspired to trample on the backs of those activists in order to give the communist thugs more money with which to repress.”
Or you might be reminded of Senator Marco Rubio’s refrain of betrayal after the White House commended Pope Francis for his instrumental role in the U.S.-Cuba negotiations. Rubio told a packed press conference he’d take it upon himself to “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy” in Cuba, adding, “the people of Cuba deserve to have the same chances at Democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he’s from.”
It was only a few days back, when Engage Cuba celebrated its broad coalition – studded with distinguished foreign policy experts, industry leaders, and Cuban American moderates – favoring repeal of the embargo and normalized relations, that Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, the Cuban dissident and adjunct professor at Brown University, declared war. Literally:
“For pro-democracy activists both on and off the island, the war is no longer against the dynastic and despotic regime of Revolution Plaza, but against the indifferent and indecent establishment of the White House and State Department.”
What makes the brash become so rash when leaders have a change of heart? Social science tells us they are trying to discourage other leaders from changing their minds to stop members of their community from following suit.
Cass Sunstein, a constitutional scholar and public intellectual, has described how the information silos many of us live in make us resistant to changing our minds. He labels as the “the echo chamber effect,” the influence that MSNBC wields on the left and that Fox News exerts on the right. In those communities, groups tend reach the same judgments based on the same arguments, while a desire to get along with the larger group suppresses individuals who might otherwise think differently.
Even though people will dismiss accurate information because it would falsify their convictions (think climate change is real or the embargo hasn’t worked), Sunstein argues that “they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss.”
That’s why the President and the Pope loom so large. It is also why, when a sugar baron or a former Commerce Secretary changes his mind, the hardliners act as if they are losing theirs. Read the rest of this entry »