What the FARC is going on in Cuba?

August 31, 2012

What the FARC is going on in Cuba?  And what does it mean for President Obama and the crowd of hardliners in Congress we call the Cold War warriors?

We figured something was up last Sunday, when former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe accused current president Juan Manuel Santos of holding secret peace talks with FARC rebels in Cuba, according to Colombia Reports. “This is incomprehensible,” said Uribe during a speech in the northern Colombian city of Sincelejo, “security deteriorating while the government is negotiating with the FARC terrorist group in Cuba.”

President Santos, who had initially dismissed the allegations as “pure rumors,” confirmed on Monday that the Colombian government has not only been negotiating with the FARC in Havana but that the two parties had agreed to restart formal peace talks, which had collapsed in 2002.

According to foreign sources, here and here, the deal was broken on Cuban soil with help from Venezuelan, Cuban, and Norwegian officials, and the talks are scheduled to commence in Oslo on October 5th. Santos also extended an invitation to the National Liberation Army (ELN) to participate.

Reuters reported that “U.S. President Barack Obama is aware of the process and is in agreement.”

We can’t know now what this breakthrough means for Colombia, although we surely hope it leads to peace.  What we do know is this: Cuba’s contribution to the Colombia deal undercuts a key rationale for U.S. sanctions against the island – with implications both for the anti-Cuba hardliners in Congress and the president himself. The irony is that it was Uribe, a staunch Cold warrior, who helped bring the talks to public attention.

Cuba has long been accused by the U.S. of harboring FARC members. These allegations are one of the State Department’s main justifications for designating Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The fact that Cuba has been providing neutral ground for a peace agreement between the two parties, however, creates serious problems for the State Department’s rationale for listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.

It’s also a blow to the Cold War warriors who use Cuba’s presence on the list to fuel their rhetoric and to oppose any relaxation of U.S. policy. When the Republican Party adopted its foreign policy platform in Tampa, it called Cuba’s government “a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism (and) a state-sponsor of terrorism.”

The Colombia breakthrough also has implications for President Obama.

When his administration argues in public that having the FARC in Havana is a cause of keeping Cuba on the terror list, even as Mr. Obama approves in private a peace process brokered in Cuba to have the FARC and Colombia sit together to make peace, it damages our nation’s credibility – not just in Latin America but everywhere the U.S. encounters resistance to our policies against terrorism.  It’s a contradiction crying out to be addressed.

And it’s also a terrible position for the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize who was, after all, honored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Early in his administration, President Obama should have taken Cuba off the list as he has been advised so often.  He should not have relisted Cuba every year since.

As naïve as it may be to suggest he act in this election year to remove them, he should consider this:  If the Colombian government has the courage to sit across the table to negotiate peace with the insurgency in its civil war, his administration should at least have the nerve to tell the Cold War warriors in Congress that the facts have changed and he’s removing Cuba from the terror list.

We’re reasonably certain that the hardliners are the only ones who will really care, and their offense will be drowned out by the applause of those who will appreciate a show of guts and the recognition of reality.

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At LASA: Scholars Protest Cuba Visa Denials; Romney’s Regime Change Redux; Ricardo In, Restrepo Departs

May 25, 2012

Scholars who lead the Cuba Section of the Latin America Studies Association (LASA) met Thursday evening and debated moving future conferences of the organization outside the U.S. after their ranks were depleted by Obama administration denials of visas for nearly a dozen Cuban academics.

Approximately 5,000 regional experts from nations across the globe arrived in San Francisco this week for the annual meeting of LASA.

The Obama administration has refused to discuss in public its reasons for denying entry for some of Cuba’s most vibrant and candid intellectuals, as they were described in Politico by Sarah Stephens and Phil Brenner, or what threat they constituted to the interests of the United States.

As an editorial in the Washington Post said this week:

The reasons for the rejections are mysterious and mystifying. Of the 11, many are well known and internationally respected academics with long-standing ties to top American scholars. One is a former ambassador to the European Union.

Does the United States feel threatened by Milagros Martinez, vice rector of the University of Havana, who has relentlessly pushed scholarly exchanges with American universities? By Soraya Castro Marino, a serious commentator on U.S.- Cuban relations? By Rafael Hernandez, a scholar and editor who has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities?

LASA scholars, however, said the injury extended further, to their academic freedoms and their rights to hear the Cuban intellectuals speak about developments on the island, U.S. policy, and a variety of subjects ranging migration to race relations in Cuba.

The organization could have been celebrating decades of academic relations with Cuba, whose purpose one academic described as allowing “Cubans to come to academic conferences and speak for themselves and about their own reality.”

That celebration was cancelled.  Instead, the Cuba section paid a silent tribute to the scholars by setting up ten empty chairs adorned only with the names of those who received letters from the United States calling their entry into the country detrimental to U.S. interests.

The visa denials were a throwback to Bush administration policies which regularly prevented Cuban scholars from attending LASA meetings in the U.S.  After it denied visas to all 75 Cubans whom LASA had invited in 2003, the organization vowed not to return to the U.S. until visa policies changed.  With the recent actions by the Obama administration, the Cuba section will ask LASA to hold its annual meetings outside U.S. borders beginning in 2014 until our nation supports the right of Cuban scholars to travel and express themselves freely.

A decision by LASA to stop coming to  the U.S. will hurt our nation’s economy and the vibrancy of our discussions about the entire region. But silence against the infringement of these basic freedoms would constitute acquiescence to a painfully stupid and counterproductive policy.

This week in Cuba news…

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