U.S Cuba Policy Rejected By All

The outcome of the recent Summit of the Americas was a total embarrassment for the United States – and not just because of the misconduct of the Secret Service detail. Our Cuba policy was roundly condemned by virtually all other governments and it was made clear that if we stick to barring Cuban attendance, there would be no more Summits, for the other governments would not participate.

And why the U.S. refusal to sit with Cuba? Because, we say, it is not a democracy. No, but it is moving in the right direction. At the urging of the Catholic Church, Cuba has freed most of its political prisoners, and also has opened up to the private cultivation of land and to more and more small private enterprises. Surely we could encourage movement in that direction more effectively by engaging and resuming dialogue, rather than by sitting on the sidelines and in effect saying that only when they have a perfect democracy will we talk to them.

Further, the Cubans note that our conditions for dialogue continue to change. For years, we assured them that if they would but give up their ties of dependency on our principal adversary, the Soviet Union, and stop their efforts to overthrow other governments in this hemisphere, then we could begin to engage and enter into a constructive dialogue. By the early-1990s, the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, and Cuba had officially renounced any intentions overthrowing other hemispheric governments. Rather, they said, it was their intention to live in peace with all. And so have they done.

In other words, our conditions had been met. And so did we then improve relations and begin that constructive dialogue? No, quite the contrary. The U.S. then took new measures against Cuba in the form of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and with even greater hostility in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act. The purpose of the latter was clear as Senator Helms vowed that with its passage we could now say “adios, Fidel.”

Well, not quite.

Worst of all, of course, was the administration of George W. Bush, whose objective, quite openly, was to bring about the end of the Castro government. But he did not succeed either. Raul Castro replaced Fidel, yes, but the Revolution remained intact.

Meanwhile, all other governments of the hemisphere did began to engage with Cuba, until it has today reached the point at which only the United States does not have diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Ironically, we are now the ones who are, at least in this sense, isolated- and we will remain isolated so long as we hold to this outdated and utterly sterile policy of refusing to move toward a more normal relationship with Cuba. As some have put it, “It is a self-inflicted wound.”

As indicated at the Summit, the time has long passed for the United States to move toward constructive dialogue and engagement with the Cuban people. Our policy of regime change has not worked, and, instead, is utterly counterproductive.  If we keep it up much longer, the United States may find itself in Cuba’s place as the one country isolated from the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

By Wayne Smith.

Romney’s Skewed White Paper on Cuba

On January 25, the Romney campaign issued a White Paper on Cuba and Latin America stressing that, unlike the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement toward Cuba, Romney’s would be one of no appeasement and no accommodation; rather, it would be one of unwavering support for the pro-democracy forces on the island. The paper goes on to list a series of policies the Romney administration would immediately put forward to advance its goals. Most are either off-the-wall or have already been tried, unsuccessfully.

First, Romney would reinstate the 2004 controls on Cuban-American travel and remittances, which the paper suggests, were lifted as part of the Obama administration’s appeasement policy. The authors have that one all wrong. The restrictions were lifted not really to appease the Cuban government, but more as a gesture to the Cuban-American community, the majority of whom want to see their families and to be able to send them more money. We’ll see how they react to being told that if Romney is elected, they’d have to go back to the days of George W. Bush when there were strict limits on how often they could travel and how much money they could send to their families.

And, it should be noted, those harsher controls on travel and remittances did not force the Cuban government to change its policies or accommodate us in any way. A hard line on our side simply resulted in one on theirs.

Second, Romney will adhere strictly to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, including implementation of Title III. But Helms-Burton has been on the books now for some 15 years and has had little effect; it wouldn’t be any more effective under Romney than under, say, George W. Bush. Title III, which gives Cuban-Americans the right to sue the citizens of third countries in U.S. courts over use of their old properties in Cuba, has never been implemented, not even by the George W. Bush administration, and never will be. It’s so utterly extraterritorial in nature that it isn’t implementable. We would all look forward to seeing the Romney team give it a try.

Romney would of course demand the release of Alan Gross, as has the Obama administration. But simply demanding is not likely to have any more effect under a different administration. It will take something more imaginative than that. One can only hope the Obama administration will show itself capable of such imagination.

Romney would also seek ways, including criminal indictment, of holding the Castros accountable for the shoot-down of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996, leading to the death of four Americans. This is so much pie in the sky – it will play well in Miami, but isn’t likely to achieve anything.

Romney would increase funding for “democracy promotion programs” inside Cuba. These would publish pamphlets and take positions against the government. The problem here is that if that they –what few there are –are funded by the United States, they are seen to be the instruments of a hostile power, which diminishes any impact they might have.

Romney would also aim to “break the information blockade” by ordering “the effective use” of Radio and TV Marti. TV Marti is effectively blocked on the island. Radio Marti has been on the air for years but has little listenership, not for technical reasons, but because, as one Cuban put it: “the programs all seem to be made ‘for and by’ a Miami audience.” That doesn’t seem likely to change, even with technological advancements and new equipment.

And then there is Romney’s plan to publicly name oppressors, i.e. police officers and other officials who mistreat or in some way oppress the Cuban people. Given the “enemy” source, this is likely to have minimal impact.

By Wayne S. Smith.

U.S., One of Two in Favor of the UN General Assembly Embargo Against Cuba

Today, the United States was again handed its annual total and embarrassing defeat in the UN General Assembly on the issue of its embargo against Cuba. The vote was 186 to condemn the embargo, two votes in its favor, the United States and Israel, and three abstentions. And the fact is that Israel is one of Cuba’s most active trading partners, i.e., it votes with us, but disagrees with and disregards our policy. On the issue of the Cuban embargo, then, the United States is totally isolated.

By Wayne Smith.


New U.S. – Cuban Debacle

We will all be deeply disappointed by the outcome of Governor Richardson’s recent trip to Cuba.  Not only did he not return with Alan Gross, the American prisoner, he came back with the Cubans accusing him of “blackmail” and “slander” and insisting that he had not been invited down to negotiate Gross’s release – despite his insistence that he had been.  For his part, Richardson, who has in the past had good relations with the Cubans, now says he will never go to Cuba again “as a friend.”

We seem to have fallen into a deep hole.  What could have gone so wrong?  There is clear evidence that Richardson had been invited – for whatever purpose – by the Cubans.  They apparently were offended by his reference to Gross after his arrival in Cuba as a “hostage.”  According to Josefina Vidal, the head of the North American Affairs in MINREX, it was because of that they refused to allow Richardson even to see Gross.  But that cannot have been all there was to it.  There had to be other factors behind so bitter a disagreement.

Could President Obama’s statements – or attitude – have had something to do with it?  While Richardson was still in Cuba, Obama commented to a group of Hispanic reporters that Cuba had not been “sufficiently aggressive in changing its economic policies” or in giving Cubans the right to speak freely.  There were almost no authoritarian communist countries left in the world, he said, but “here you have this small island that is a throwback to the 60s.”

“A throwback to the 60s!”  One can imagine the Cubans rankling at those words!

And in calling on the Cubans to free Alan Gross, Obama said the latter’s conviction “was not based on evidence or rule of law.”

But this clearly was not true.  Gross was in Cuba without proper documents and was illegally distributing communications equipment for USAID, and doing so under a provision of the Helms-Burton Act that called for “bringing down the Cuban government.”  He may not have understood the full implications of his activities, but he must have known them to be illegal.

The timing of the President’s statements raise doubts that they were the cause of the fierce Cuban reaction to the Richardson visit.  The trip may already have gone south before they were made.  That aside, the attitude behind them will remain – in an already poisoned atmosphere.  We seemed to have been moving in a somewhat more reasonable direction.  Tragically, the results so far have been just the opposite – with fault on both sides.

The damage, however, can be repaired.  At some point, Gross must be released.  It makes no sense to hold him indefinitely.  He is in poor health and nothing could be worse for the Cubans than that he pass from this world in their custody.

Assistants to Richardson had suggested the U.S. might be prepared to remove Cuba from the terrorist list.  It should do so.  There is not a shred of evidence that would place Cuba on the list.  Removing it would put the U.S. in a new, more sensible, light.

It was also suggested that the U.S. might allow Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, to return to Cuba when he is released from prison in the weeks ahead rather than having to remain in the U.S. for three years “under observation.”  There is no rational reason to keep Gonzalez in the U.S.  He has already been in prison here for thirteen years without seeing his family.  The U.S. would be applauded around the world for letting him return to them.

These gestures would start us in a more constructive direction – and surely it is time to start.  Are not fifty years of hostility enough?

By Wayne Smith.

Cuba: The Gross Case and the Inanity of U.S. Policy

Taken from CIP’s website, written by Wayne S. Smith, director of CIP’s Cuba program.

Alan Gross, an American citizen and subcontractor of USAID who has been held in Cuban prisons for over a year, is now being tried for distributing communications equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba.  The U.S. government insists he did nothing criminal.  But that may well depend on what one means by criminal.  Gross had traveled to Cuba several times on tourist visas to do his distributing—in itself a violation of Cuban law.  And he did not have any kind of license to distribute anything, let alone sophisticated communications equipment.

But as Arturo Lopez-Levy, now a lecturer at the University of Denver but formerly a member of the Jewish community in Havana and the Secretary of B’nai B’rith there, noted at a CIP conference on January 25, if Alan Gross went to Cuba to distribute communications equipment in the Jewish community, he never sought the permission of the leaders of that community, which would have been standard procedure.  And no wonder he did not, for they have made it clear that they do not like and will not cooperate with these programs begun under the Helms-Burton act whose goal, as stated by the Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega under the Bush Administration, was to seed “chaos” and “instability” to provoke regime change in Cuba. Continue reading

Wayne Smith’s Editorial in the Sun Sentinel 02/22/11

Case Against Luis Posada Carriles Takes Welcome Turn
by Wayne Smith, senior fellow and director of CIP’s Cuba Program

Astonishing! And just when many of us were convinced that the trial of Luis Posada Carriles was simply a farce. After all, wasn’t the U.S. government just trying this arch terrorist for perjury, for lying about the way he entered the United States (illegally of course), leaving aside his myriad terrorist activities? Continue reading

At last, U.S.-Cuban Relations Begin to Improve

The year 2010 had registered virtually no improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations. There had been rumors and suggestions for some time that the Obama administration might ease restrictions on, at least, academic and so-called “people-to-people” travel to Cuba. Delays were first attributed to the need to  wait until after the November elections – and then, given the disappointing outcome of the elections, there was concern that the administration might not act at all and that 2011 would be as disappointing as 2010.

But then, on the afternoon of January 14, 2011, came the surprise announcement from the White House that restrictions on certain kinds of travel would indeed be eased, that flights to Cuba could go out of additional airfields, not just out of Miami, and that Americans could now send limited remittances to Cuban citizens, provided the latter were not senior members of the Cuban government or Communist Party. Continue reading