Peace and the Parallel Universe

Blessed are the peacemakers, it says in Matthew 5:9 – and the peacemakers seem to converging in Havana.

One week from today, the leaders of Roman Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba to try and advance the healing process between Eastern and Western Christianity, churches which have been in schism since 1054.

In coming to Cuba to seek peace, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I are not alone.

For two years, a tightly held negotiation between the United States and Cuba ended six decades of hostilities between our two countries. The diplomatic effort to normalize relations continues to roll forward in both capitals.

Since 2014, Cuba and the European Union have been negotiating a new Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement to replace the tired, confrontational framework that has existed for nearly twenty years.  The talks, which are alternating between Brussels and Havana, will resume in Cuba later this year.

Most of all, talks to end the fifty-year civil war between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerrilla movement, a conflict that has claimed more than a quarter-million dead, are “Heading toward the Finish Line in Cuba,” according to Ginny Bouvier‘s most recent post.

While the Colombian and FARC peace delegations deserve the lion’s share of the credit – they’ve been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – Cuba’s role in hosting the negotiations continues to win praise.

As President Obama said at a White House ceremony with Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos at his side, “I want to think all of the parties for their efforts, including the government of Cuba for hosting the talks.  We all know that it’s easier to start wars than to end them.”

President Santos replied in part by saying, “I also believe that I speak for all the people in Latin America and the Caribbean, all the people who live south of the Rio Grande, when I say to you, thank you.  Thank you, Mr. President, for your audacity in reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

The President was audacious, indeed, for ushering in a period of diplomacy that has produced resumed relations, reopened embassies, prisoner releases, policy reforms and more.  In a world beset by tragic struggles and disorder, it’s hard not to enjoy the emergence of Cuba, once the epicenter of the Cold War conflict, as a 21st Century staging point for reconciliation.

Somehow, the editorial writers at the Washington Post have figured out a way not to feel the love.

The Post didn’t allow a day to go by before it unloaded on President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.  On December 17th, 2014 they called his diplomatic breakthrough “an undeserved bailout” of the Castro regime.  They also called the administration “naïve” for believing it would help transform U.S. relations with Latin America.

After just six months, the Post denounced the deal as “one-sided,” and actually took pleasure in the fact that Congress was stopping the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. In September, it accused Pope Francis of appeasement for his role in bringing America and Cuba together.  In October, they slammed the overhaul of U.S. policy again for being “one-sided.” And on Sunday, they roared again.

Their editorial, Failure in Cuba, topped by a dated photograph of President Raúl Castro sitting with Fidel Castro taken in 2011, declares that President Obama’s opening to Cuba “seems to be failing to live up to its declared goals.”  After concluding that nothing positive has materialized, “the president’s only response,” they say, “has been more unilateral concessions.”

In the Post’s parallel universe, in one year’s time, nothing has been accomplished. Cuba has not unilaterally dismantled its system in the last year, just as it didn’t for more than fifty years under the old policy.  But that’s the wrong metric.

In his well-argued piece, Inconsistent Impatience on Cuba, Paul Pillar pillages the Post for its way-stale argument giving the administration a single year to reverse decades of failed policy in Cuba.

“Evidently half a century,” Pillar writes, “through ten different U.S. administrations, is deemed insufficient time to judge whether the policy of isolation can ever achieve any useful results. But the editorial criticizes President Obama’s opening for not bringing about a ‘sea change in Cuba’ during the brief time it has been in effect.”

Short of a sea-change, as a critic of U.S. policy, Carlos Lopez wrote this week, “Opening telecommunications, increasing tourism, and embracing foreign culture into the island are all signs that Obama’s policy of engagement has resulted in a Cuba with less restrictions and barriers.”

Engage Cuba made a similar point this week.  “Before December 17, 2014…there were zero Wi-Fi hotspots outside of hotels and zero in the homes of Cubans. At the end of 2015, there were 65 Wi-Fi hotspots, and the Cuban government has announced it will add 80 more during 2016.

These Wi-Fi hotspots, a priority for President Obama’s new policy, are gateways for Cubans to expand their borders.  “We are seeing a whole new quality of public space,” Miguel Antonio Padrón Lotti, a Cuban professor of urban planning, told The Guardian.  “Cubans have always socialized on the streets, but now we can interact with the wider world at the same time.”

It’s not just hotspots, but also progress propelled by painstaking diplomacy – on commerce, criminal justice and fugitives, migration and fraud – with more left to be done.

Rather than rolling the policy back, as several prominent candidates for the U.S. presidency would have us do, or stand and wait until a new Congress is elected capable of dealing with Cuba policy legislation (talk about a parallel universe), we enjoy the elan of President Francois Hollande, who called this week on President Obama to “go all the way (how French),” and end the embargo himself.

Now, the President’s authority probably doesn’t really extend that far.  In fact, Congress and the Supreme Court have taken steps in recent days to call into doubt the powers of his office that he has used to reform Cuba policy since 2009.

But, as Bill LeoGrande explained in Foreign Policy this week, there’s much that he can do with the power he’s got within the time left in his term to use it.  LeoGrande proposed presidential actions to lift bans on U.S. investments, allow a range of Cuban imports into the U.S., free individuals to make people-to-people trips to Cuba, and make significant changes in the regulatory regime and its enforcement so that U.S. banks embrace the idea of commerce with Cuba, rather than thwarting it in fear of being fined.

The choice seems pretty clear; rather than returning the policy to the Post’s parallel universe, take the more promising path with the Pope, the Patriarch, President Santos and the FARC toward progress and peace.

Our Recommendations

Cuba says it will launch broadband home Internet projectMichael Weissenstein, Miami Herald

On Sunday January 31, Cuba’s government announced that it would launch broadband Internet service in two Havana neighborhoods. ETECSA, the state telecommunications company intends to use fiber optic connections from Chinese telecom operator, Huawei, to provide Internet service to homes in the historic Old Havana neighborhood. This development comes a year after Cuba set up dozens of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and will serve as a pilot program for future wireless telecom projects.

Obama Needs to Stop Playing Small Ball With Cuba or a Republican in the White House, backed by a fearful, anti-Cuba Congress, could undo — in an instant — all his good work,William M. LeoGrande, Foreign Policy

Given reluctance by Congress to take up legislation to repeal the embargo, the Obama administration’s actions in Cuba have relied on the use of executive authority.  Should a Republican win the White House in 2016, Professor LeoGrande warns that President Obama’s unilateral executive actions can easily be revoked.  In the year remaining, however, he lists a series of actions the administration could take to make Cuba policy reform progress harder to roll back.

Inconsistent Impatience on CubaPaul Pillar, National interest

Paul Pillar responds to a Washington Post editorial that labels President Obama’s Cuba opening as a “failure” that is “not leading to positive change.” Pillar compares this criticism to similar backlash against the administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran. He suggests that critics of Obama’s diplomatic initiatives fail to assess – or even propose – alternative policies, have unrealistic, anachronistic, and inconsistent expectations for potential changes, and tend to be “impatient” in their views of diplomacy.

NASA explores cooperation with Cuba on science projectsFox News Latino

NASA researcher Brent Holben’s recent trip to Cuba underscores potential research collaboration between the US and Cuba. Holben urged Cuba to join the recently created Caribbean Aerosol Network, a component of Aeronet, which is a network of robotic instruments basically used to study aerosols, tiny particles suspended in the air whose high concentration has a negative impact on human health.

U.S. and Cuban researchers begin neuroscience collaborations, Becky Hamm, Science

U.S. and Cuban scientists have identified areas of neuroscience for research collaboration. The areas include magnetic resonance imaging technology, neuroinformatics, neurodevelopment, and a plan to establish an international nonhuman primate research center in Cuba. Mark Rasenick, a professor of physiology and psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a fellow of both AAAS and the Cuban Academy, noted the positives of this academic relationship with Cuba but added, “We still have a number of impediments to research, and in order to fix them, we need to end the embargo.”

Port of Miami preparing for daily ferry service to CubaDouglas Hanks, Miami Herald

The Miami Herald recently uncovered documents showing that Port of Miami has been in negotiations to open ferry service to Havana for a year. However, delays from the Cuban side have stalled progress, as Cuba prioritizes other construction projects.

Constitutional Reform in Cuba: Why, how, and with whom?Eileen Sosin Martínez, Progreso Semanal

Progreso Semanal offers an updated look into proposed constitutional changes in Cuba. On February 24, 2013, President Raul Castro announced that he was introducing changes to the constitution. The first proposal outlined was the need to introduce term limits on politicians. At most, they would be able to serve two five-year terms in office. Three years later, we still do not have many additional details on the reforms. Professor and investigator at the Center for the Study of Public Administration, Julio Antonio Fernandez, imagines that we will see a clearer proposal at the upcoming April 2016 Party Congress, following the same logic of reform put forth in 1992.

Cuba, through rose-colored glasses, Yoani Sánchez, Miami Herald

Sánchez describes the stark contrast between the prosperous and thriving Cuba envisioned by the Cuban government, journalists, and media, and the reality in which sickness, censorship, and poverty affect citizens on a daily basis.

Cuba for sale: “Havana is now the big cake – and everyone is trying to get a slice,

Oliver Wainwright, Guardian

Tourism from the U.S. to Cuba has surged by 40% since president Obama announced a thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to the IMF, an end to the U.S. economic embargo on the island could see the number of American tourists to Cuba skyrocket to 10 million per year.

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