Friday, June 29, 2007

Bush drops the swagger

A few comments about President Bush’s discussion of Cuba yesterday.

The President’s invocation of “freedom before stability” is new in the Cuban context, but it is a concept he has used to discuss the Middle East, especially since he read Natan Sharansky’s book. Some, like Havel, use that phrase to stress the importance of not negotiating with a communist regime, not implying that it is legitimate, and pressing for a change to a democratic system. Others use that phrase to counter calls for peaceful change in Cuba, arguing that if instability brings change, it’s an acceptable price to pay.

In the Middle East, “freedom before stability” is part of an Administration concept of promoting democracy that has produced everything from war in Iraq to lip service in Egypt. In Cuba, I don’t believe the President is signaling a more aggressive posture. If anything, the thoughts expressed yesterday move toward passivity.

It used to be that the Administration claimed that its policy would change Cuba. The Administration’s Cuba commission was given the task of bringing about “a peaceful, near-term end to the dictatorship.” In 2004, the State Department said flatly that “there will not be a succession” from one socialist government to another. In 2005, Secretary Rice said the commission’s purpose was to “accelerate the demise of Castro's tyranny.” The President himself said in May 2005, “We are not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom, we are working for the day of Cuban freedom.”

Now the swagger is gone. The President focuses on the moment when “the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away,” and then the United States will “call the world together to promote democracy as the alternative to the form of government they [the Cuban people] have been living with.”

That is not very intimidating, but it may be more realistic.

The Administration no longer claims that its policy will bring change to Cuba. It seems to be accepting that a socialist succession, which was not supposed to take place, has now been accomplished. It points to the day when Fidel Castro finally leaves office as the opportunity to press for change. And while unwavering in its support for Cuba’s dissidents, the Administration puts them in a narrower political perspective; they are a “very nascent and fragile democratic opposition that is beginning to arise,” Secretary Rice says. The Administration has even changed the way it uses the word “transition.”

One wonders how the Administration will deliver its message once Fidel Castro does leave office, if indeed Castro leaves office before Bush. Presumably, it would do more than issue statements from afar. Will someone of rank attend a funeral or inauguration or travel to Cuba at a later date to talk with Castro’s successors?


Dr Stephen Wilkinson said...

My reading of the Bush comments is rather less sanguine. I find the implication that Bush would prefer instability in Cuba to allowing a succession unnerving.
Also, I disagree that the comments signal a change in the administration's stance. The Commission's task is explicitly to prepare for the death of Castro and always was. Bush's remarks are exactly in keeping with the strategy to cultivate a bloc in the international community that will demand that Cuba moves towards a multi-party/free enterprise system immediately after Castro dies. The intention is clear: to exert pressure on countries in the 'free' world to join in the embargo, or threaten to join in it, UNLESS Cuba changes.
Of course, the Havana government will not bow to this, but the hope is that a sufficient number of the Cuban population will - in order to provide the US with a body to support in the island. The plan is thus to deliberately create instability that they hope to grow into a movement within Cuba for change.
If the plan succeeds and creates a split in Cuban society, the consequences for the Caribbean will be far reaching and possibly disastrous. Hence the reference to the debate that we are likely to see. European countries with stakes in the region such as the UK, France and Spain have an interest to keep Cuba stable, they will argue for that on the basis that the economy of the Caribbean is too fragile to tolerate a crisis in Cuba. This is what has essentially been behind Spain's recent attempt to mend bridges to Havana. If anything, therefore Bush's remarks are aimed at 'old' Europe, and suggest a commitment to a hard line. It should be remembered that included in the Commission report are threats to use Helms Burton Title III selectively against countries that do not join in the plan. It labels these as 'spoilers.'

Dr Stephen Wilkinson,
International Insitute for the Study of Cuba,
London Metropolitan University

El Gusano said...

I believe the Commission's role was to prevent a transition once Castro died, but Castro managed to transfer power while still alive. Since , for all intents and purposes , the transition has already occurred, they're looking for a "do-over". Tough I agree that the end-game has always been to get an int'l coalition pressuring Havana to change,Peter's point is well taken.
The first thing that the administartion said when news surfaced of castro's health problems was to tell everybody on both sides of the puddle to stay calm and "in their homes" with subsequent "exercises" and planning sessions on preventing a max exodus to maintain stability. This Bush statement does seem to me to be a clarification of sorts and or a slight re-write in the official script.

Dr Stephen Wilkinson said...

Let's get the terms clear and then we might be able to see the logic of the Commission/Bush plan (which is of course a plan written by the former owners of Cuba now resident in Florida and is actually aimed at getting them their properties back - rather than delivering 'freedom' to the Cuban people).
The Commission Report for a Free Cuba defines a 'transition' in Cuba as a move towards a US-style democracy and a free enterprise economy. This is what it claims the Cuban people secretly desire and it is clearly what the Bush amdinistration/Miami right want. The Commission report defines a switch in power to Raul Castro WITHOUT a change in the politics or economy as a 'succession.' It is this which has partially happened in Cuba since Fidel Castro fell ill - NOT a 'transition.'
True enough, things have not gone to plan because Fidel's illness has allowed for Raul to take charge without him dying and the Bush administration has had to accept this state of affairs. But Castro is not dead and therefore the current phase is a kind of 'phoney war.' In Cuba, no one really knows whether Fidel Castro is going to return to power or not. Thus the 'succession' is not complete. This is important to understand because it means that the Commission strategy is still viable and has been merely postponed.
Until Fidel is off the scene permanently the scenario envisaged by the Commission plan cannot take place. What is necessary for the plan is for there to be an official vacancy in the Presidency in Cuba. The demand can only then be made for the Cuban population to have the chance to vote directly for their next president in a contested election.
This will enable the US to pressure its allies to join the call. To up the ante there will be an organised demand for elections from oppositionists within Cuba and of course, in Florida.
(If this had happened six months ago it would have been inconceivable that, for example, Tony Blair would not have joined the US in calling for elections in Cuba to decide the successor to Fidel Castro.)
Naturally, the Cuban government is not going to acceed to this demand, but that does not matter since the exercise is actually aimed at the allies. The Miami right/former owners of Cuba are not stupid. They know that they are never going to get back into Cuba on their terms unless it can make the island a pariah state and detach it completely from the Europeans and Canada.
The idea is therefore to get the rest of the 'free' world into a position where they will find it difficult to resist arguments to join in the embargo. By making them demand an election Cuba post-Castro, they will be manouevred into de-legitimizing the government that succeeds him. When Raul Castro is sworn in as President - without being directly elected, the US will suggest that its allies join the embargo on the basis that he is not the legitimate head of state.
This will be quickly followed by a process of internal destabilisation. The Cuban authorities will react with the arrest and imprisonment of opponents and will therefore be demonised further.
By putting Raul under intense pressure in this way it is hoped that a situation might arise where a split in Cuba society can be engineered. With Raul cast as the illegitmate 'stalinist' dictator successor to his brother, Cuba will become another place where force can be justified on the basis of 'liberatinng' a hostage population.
This is what Bush is referring to when he suggests that 'freedom' is preferable to 'stability.'

Anonymous said...

Not a single word about Chavez. Too much rationality. Think with these people's minds only way you can understand reality.

Anonymous said...

There never has been a free and fair election in Cuba, never. The U.S. government, U.S. business interests, and U.S. mafia have always been the"invisible" hand behind the rulers of Cuba and the Cuban military. What is so different in he United States today that will permit a free and fair election?