On Next Week’s Vote (the U.N.) and Last Week’s Vote (the U.S.)

November 9, 2012

On November 13th, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on a resolution titled the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

The General Assembly has voted against U.S. policy for twenty straight years.  In 2011, the resolution passed by 186 in favor versus 2 against (Israel and the U.S.), with 3 abstentions (Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau).

We can guarantee you two things about next week’s vote:  The resolution will pass in a landslide, and it will attract little notice in the U.S., which is a disgrace.

U.S. sanctions against Cuba are among the most restrictive our government imposes against any nation. With few exceptions (limited legal travel, some agriculture sales, and highly regulated medical trade) U.S. citizens and corporations are prevented by the embargo from buying or selling into the Cuban market.

The embargo is unilateral.  No one willingly joins the U.S. in enforcing it.  But our sanctions exert pressure on countries that trade with Cuba, foreign companies that do business in Cuba, the international financial system, and humanitarian agencies to try and stop the flow of money, commerce, aid, technology, spare parts, and the like to Cuba.  In doing so, we are trying to run the foreign policies of every state in the world community and they resent it. That’s the point of the U.N. vote; they get to say so.

Next Tuesday, here’s just a brief list of who will line up to vote their scorn of U.S. policy: Australia, Brazil, China, the entire European Union, all the governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, India, Japan, Russia, and South Africa, even the Vatican.

Here, we must point out:  when Pope Benedict the XVI visited Cuba this year, he didn’t have to apply to the U.S. Treasury Department for a license to travel before he went.  Perhaps the Holy See regards U.S. sanctions as a moral issue.

It’s that, and more.  U.S. policy is cruel to Cubans.  It imposes arbitrary limits on our freedom to travel.  It hurts U.S. industries that could do business on the island.  It thwarts direct U.S. engagement with Cuba’s government on security and environmental issues.  And, it’s failed to achieve what the Cold Warriors who designed it intended; namely, to replace Cuba’s political and economic system with parts designed in Washington and installed in Havana.

Finally, the embargo hurts us in Latin America and the world.  So, after twenty years of getting a black eye at the U.N., isn’t it time to blink?  Or think?

Carlos Iglesias, a U.S. Navy Commander and a candidate for a Master’s Degree at the Army War College, believes that the time has arrived.  His thesis, submitted last month, said this about the “longstanding blowback” against the policy globally and concludes it isn’t worth the cost:

“…decades-long sanctions against the island have netted few if any national objectives, all the while depleting substantial national soft power. The cost-benefit analysis to U.S. national foreign policy will remain exceedingly unfavorable, if not outright counter-productive.”

We’re hopeful President Obama understands this intellectually.  Now, he can take command politically.  He’s been reelected to a second term.  He won Florida, and scored an unprecedented victory winning a majority of the Cuban-American vote.  There is no longer any justification for him to remain tethered to this failed policy.

He’s still stuck with much the same Congress, a lagging indicator, so often steps behind public opinion.  But after his victory, the president is free – not to be a laggard but a leader.  He can use his executive authority to start dismantling sanctions first imposed on Cuba before he was born and, by doing so, get our national interest and the international community into alignment.

That’s the right thing to do.

Who knows?  Maybe Rep. Paul Ryan will return to his original pro-travel, pro-trade position that he adopted at the start of his career in Congress, since the campaign is behind him, too.

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The Trust Gap and the Terror List

August 3, 2012

This is a cautionary tale about the trust gap between Cuba and the United States.

Last March, Cuban dissidents camped out in a church in Havana days before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and demanded that he met with them to discuss violations of human rights in Cuba.  Once the Pope made it clear that he would not change his schedule, he was denounced by political figures in the United States for indifference to their cause, human rights.

A few months later, the head of Radio and TV Martí, a U.S. government agency, took to the airwaves to deliver personally a stinging attack on Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, whom he called “a lackey” who colluded with the Castro regime.  A copy of the vitriolic editorial was quickly removed from the Marti’s website once the Washington Post publicized it.  Despite Congressional criticism, the U.S. government never apologized or explained the verbal assault against the chief of the Cuban Catholic Church who had helped negotiate the release of political prisoners and arranged for the Pope’s trip.

Was the director of Radio/TV Martí on or off the reservation when he called Cardinal Ortega a lackey?  Why are we paying a government employee to attack the Church when U.S. policy supports the role it is playing Cuba?

Read on.  This week, the Associated Press reports on an editorial and video produced by Cuba’s government about four Mexicans who were detained during the Pope’s visit in March. It says they were “paid, trained and instructed” to stir up unrest during the Pope’s visit by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.  This outfit, according to Tracey Eaton’s blog, Along the Malecón, has been on the payroll of the National Endowment of Democracy (or “NED”), meaning it receives U.S. taxpayer money.

But wait; it gets worse.  Aron Modig, the Swedish politician who was riding with the late Oswaldo Payá when he was killed in a road wreck last week, met with representatives of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, before coming to Cuba, which are funded by the aforementioned National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.  NED’s president quickly published an opinion column in the Washington Post suggesting the Cuban government was complicit in Payá’s death.

Modig was in Cuba distributing funds to dissidents when the accident took place.  Cuba, according to Anya Landau French, is the only country where Modig’s political party undertakes such activities.  USAID also subsidizes the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, and is responsible for the “regime change” programs that landed its contractor, Alan Gross, in prison.

These things happen in the background, largely invisible until tragedies like the death of Payá or the arrest of an American rise in the headlines.  The U.S. government conducts programs to instigate dissent in Cuba in a semi-covert fashion; conscientious reporters like Tracey Eaton bang their heads against the wall trying to disgorge budgets and other documents using Freedom of Information Act requests (all too often denied); and citizens like us are left guessing when events, often troubling in their appearance, suddenly come to the fore without any context at all.  There is no transparency and no accountability; especially, when neither the Congress, which funds these programs nor the Obama administration, which directs them, has any interest in answering questions like: Is the U.S. really subsidizing protests against the Pope in Cuba using hired agents from Mexico?

In the end, the biggest casualty is trust, leaving it immensely difficult for the U.S. and Cuban governments to engage with each other on issues that matter and should concern us all.  But, of course, that is exactly where the staunchest opponents of engagement want the two governments to be.  They are, in turn, the authors and funders of the covert activities that take place in Cuba without the consent of the governed here in the U.S.

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