03/15/13 - Cuba-L Direct (Albuquerque) - Did Obama forget about his "fresh start" with Latin America?
By Saul Landau
President Obama sounded triumphant notes in his State of the Union address.
But he didn't mention his lack of success in changing policy where it did
not work. One such place to look at is Cuba where the fog of unreality has
engulfed U.S. policy for more than half a century. In the policy offices in
Washington and on Capital Hill, few seem to notice that attempts to subvert
Cuba's government have not worked. Indeed, return to the Bay of Pigs fiasco
of April 1961, the ensuing Missile Crisis that resulted from Cuba's leaders
accepting Soviet nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. invasion threat, and to
the failed 50-plus years of economic embargo and attempts to isolate Cuba
Each year, Congress allocates money to create mischief on our neighboring
island, as if supporting 'dissidents' and setting up secret satellite phone
and internet groups will somehow bring unhappy Cuban masses onto the
streets of their cities to overthrow their government.
The U.S. policy is now almost 54 years old. "Give it time," shout the
hardliners, like Cuban American Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob
Menendez (D NJ), and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. These fanatic
anti-Castroites and their lobby have bamboozled the country long enough.
It's time Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry become realists and lift
the haze of stupidity that has clouded Washington's policy brain.
Think of life in Cuba as lived by people in the United States: Cubans go to
work and school in the morning, they ride buses, eat lunch, return to their
homes, but without having to worry about getting foreclosed or evicted, and
more than 90% of them voted their endorsement for the government in their
Parliamentary election two weeks ago.
In the light of a government that has endured for 54 years, made
significant investments in its people's health and education and that
functions in as routine a fashion as any government in the Hemisphere, why
would Washington policy makers continue to fabricate illusions as the basis
for U.S. political strategy, in thinking that continued plotting can
overthrow a government that provides to its people free medical care, food
subsidies, free education from nursery to PhD and many other social
You don't see homeless people in Cuba or barefoot kids playing hooky from
school. Why would policy makers continue to behave as if they could knock
off a government that provides its people with benefits American don't
enjoy? Non-realism rules on Cuba policy as it has from 1959 on.
Over the decades, Latin American and Caribbean countries, pressured by
Washington in the early 1960s to break relations with Cuba, have
reestablished normal ties, and CELAC (Community of Latin American and
Caribbean States) has just chosen President Raul Castro to head that
regional organization. Created in Caracas in 2011, CELAC arose as an
alternative to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States. Neither
the United States nor Canada belong, but several Latin American heads of
state now praise the Castros and strongly support Cuban independence from
Washington. The presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia,
Argentina and Nicaragua regularly meet with their Cuban counterpart, and
discuss Caribbean and Latin American issues. Obama's 2009 Trinidad meeting
with Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, at which he talked of his
openness and promised "a fresh start," now brings dismissive comments from
those who attended.
He endured heavy Latin American criticism for past U.S. behavior in the
region, charges ranging from gross economic exploitation to the consistent
backing of military dictatorships in the late 1960s and into the 1970s and
80s. Obama's fresh U.S. start with Latin America, has thus far led to
little that could be called "fresh," especially with respect to Cuba
policy. Indeed, USAID funds subversion in Cuba, which led to the arrest of
Alan Gross, who worked for a company that contracted with AID to set up an
internet group of 'dissidents' under the guise of providing internet
connectivity to the Cuban Jewish community. Gross got caught with expensive
and sophisticated equipment and his laptop hard drive in which he had
copies of his "trip reports" to Cuba that detailed his subversive
dalliances. Cuban state security had infiltrated the dissident groups and a
Cuban court convicted the American of having committed crimes against the
Cuban state. He received a 15 year sentence.
Obama could easily get Gross released by pardoning the Cuban 5,
intelligence agents who infiltrated violent Miami-based exile groups who
had begun bombing targets in Havana, and were arrested by the FBI and found
guilty of conspiring to commit espionage. Such an act would also open the
door to larger negotiations and a restoration of relations.
So when will Obama hear the news? When will he bring "fresh" realism to
U.S.-Cuba policy, abandon the half-century U.S. quest to oust Cuba's
government, and restore diplomatic and trade relations with the island? The
rest of the world has let go of the Cold War. But it wasn't really the Cold
War or Soviet involvement on the island that first hit Washington's gut.
Cuba's disobedience, its lack of reverence for U.S. supremacy in the
region, its dismissal of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary,
and Castro's expropriation of U.S. corporate property made Havana a target,
whose insolence continues to bother the Washington elite.
But they've co-existed with inconveniences before.
Saul Landau's FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are on DVD
from cinemalibrestudio.com He is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow.
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