Friday, August 17, 2007

The nightmare scenario

Here are a few comments on a University of Miami essay by Professor Jaime Suchlicki and Jason Poblete, “When Should the U.S. Change Policy Toward Cuba.”

The authors begin by discussing the confusion involved in the terms “transition” and “succession.” I thought the Administration defined the terms pretty well: “transition” meant a change in political system, “succession” a change in leadership with the system unchanged. Then the Administration confused the issue completely, giving us one more reason not to rely on our own government for analysis of what’s going on in Cuba. In my book, what has occurred is pretty clear: Cuba’s leadership has changed, the system hasn’t.

The authors’ real point, however, is to stand up for the all-or-nothing U.S. policy in the Helms-Burton law, which provides that only a complete change in Cuba’s political system, not partial reform, can trigger any easing of U.S. sanctions. They underscore that the law provides that “a transition government cannot include either Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.” Actually, the law goes them one better; it says that a “democratically elected government” cannot include Fidel or Raul, which is worth chewing over for a minute.

Set aside your supposition about Raul Castro’s chances in a free election in Cuba – would he get 12 percent? 51 percent? 70 percent? – and contemplate that this law says that if Cuba were to free political prisoners; allow a free press, political parties, and labor unions to operate; dissolve state security; and hold elections under international observation; then the result would not be a “democratically elected” government if it were to include Raul Castro. In other words, it defines not only the processes that Cubans must follow to achieve democracy, it also sets conditions on the result. Its message to Cubans is simple: Hold an election and satisfy all our conditions, but if you elect Raul we won’t accept the result as democratic. Helms-Burton, in this sense, is purely anti-democratic. But this is the provision of the law that these authors hold up virtually as sacred writ in an essay devoted to democracy in Cuba and the constancy of democratic principles in U.S. foreign policy. Go figure.

Regarding those principles, the authors try mightily to cram the current U.S. approach toward Cuba into the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy, implying that any deviation amounts to “supporting regimes and dictators that violate human rights.” They reach back to the Ford Administration, ignoring that Ford offered to normalize relations without demanding that Cuba change its political system. They ignore that Presidents of both parties have long promoted American contact with citizens and officials in communist countries as a means of promoting U.S. influence, all the while maintaining our moral disapproval of the communist system. They ignore the 1992 Cuba Democracy Act, a law embraced by the late Jorge Mas Canosa, which offered to ease U.S. sanctions in response to political or economic openings in Cuba – the precise opposite of the Helms-Burton approach.

There’s more. They set up an old straw man, claiming that proponents of engagement with Cuba believe that engagement will produce regime change. (Some do, I’ll admit, but they are wrong. There are many benefits to engagement, but if you want regime change the only honest path is to make an unjustifiable call for military action.) They make the tired and customary insinuation about the motives of proponents of engagement. They argue that the tourism industry “is the one area of the economy on which the government, besides oil exploration, on which [sic] the future economic survival of the island depends.” Nonsense. They suggest negotiations with Cuba, which now makes us all dialogueros, I guess. Jason and Jaime, welcome to the club.

Beneath it all, my hunch is that the authors are beginning to grapple with a scenario that may soon confront us.

No one knows whether, when, or how much Raul Castro would liberalize Cuba’s economy. But what if he does, even in small ways, as Suchlicki himself expects? What if an opening produces positive economic results? What if those results earn him some political approval from Cubans who are sick of orthodoxy and eager to have opportunities to provide for themselves and their families?

What if Americans would react by saying that a degree of liberalization, even if limited, is a positive development? How would we react to a scenario where Cuban policies are changing and Cubans of all political persuasions are debating what should come next? The next question would be to ask, pragmatically, what to do? Are there any tools in U.S. policy that would encourage a greater opening?

At that point, we would crash right into the big question posed by Suchlicki and Poblete. And the answer, they remind us, is dictated in our law: We would do absolutely nothing until Cuba’s political system is transformed and Raul Castro is gone.

We would greet a scenario of new possibilities as spectators with our feet in concrete. We would make the perfect the enemy of the good, which is not a typical American approach.

In that scenario, Americans might then look for different options. The system of laws enacted in response to Fidel Castro might lose their sacrosanct quality. The Calle Ocho argument that anyone who seeks a different approach toward Cuba is abandoning democratic values and supporting dictatorship, might seem a little ridiculous.

That’s why an economic opening in Cuba after Fidel would be a hopeful sign for some, and the political nightmare of a lifetime for others.


Rob said...

President Bush does not have the intelligence, courage, political capital or ability to alter US Cuba policy so regardless of what happens in Cuba, he won't do anything.

Just like in Iraq, wrong or right, winning or losing he will just stay the course.

Spring of 2009 is the soonest that I expect any changes to US Cuba policy.

leftside said...

Excellent debunking of the current US approach, so unfortunately enshrined in law. It would be much easier for to empower a White House to have the ability to negotiate with the full array of carrots, than to have to wait for a Congress that seems (even more) scared of touching Cuba issues with Dems in power.

Another problematic (for hardliners and under current law), but perhaps likely scenerio, is a Constitutional, electorial process that produces a Communist Party President other than Fidel or Raul. Something tells me even this will not satisfy the requirements of Helms-Burton, when the Cuban delegation seems to be given veto power over any Cuba policy changes.

Suchlicki, it should be remembered considers Raul a "Stalinist" and predicted increased repression under his rule. He calls for increased "covert operations to weaken the successor regimes." To me he, also IS calling for military action. He has said many times, and repeats it here, that the US military has "restored democracy" to Panama and Grenada.

Mambi_Watch said...

Let's just say that Suchlicki, like many other supporters of foreign intervention, always have the military option on the table. But, its mostly dressing on the salad.

Phil, love the insight and the important questions that Americans should be asking themselves.

But, I can actually see a possible extension of isolation towards Cuba, even if Raul Castro makes positive economic reforms.

Past US administrations have always been able to easily "move the goalpost" on Cuba policy. Maybe they can still be audacious enough. Perhaps something involving Hugo Chavez.

But, without question, a positive scenario in Cuba under Raul will be disastrous for current policy. But, hard-liners have always been able to cook something up.

Juan Cuellar said...

Phil arguments are full of contradictions. In one hand he argued that Helm-Burton is anti-democratic. To make his point he recurred to the sophism of "chewing" the idea that if Raul Castro freed all political prisoner, allowed free press, political parties, and hold an international supervise general election (Phil left this crucial point out)and he wins, Helm-Burton would not allow this. !False! Helm-Burton speak of a "transition" The scenario Phil describe is a "regime change", meaning that the facts that the profound change of fulfilling those requisites is in itself, not a transition. Helm-Burton, to prevent the appearances of changes by the Castro's dictatorship without those marks, simply nulled that scenario.
If he wins under those conditions he will be the First President elected in his 48 years as the segundo tyrant in charge. This idea chewed by Phil is a "hueso duro de roer" (A bone to hard to chew)as we say in Cuba. He will not win in a free an open election. Raul knows that, so does Phil.

But the most outrageous thing that Phil wrote is when he speculate what if Raul "liberalize the economy", what if.., what if.., what if... Those are no "what if" Those are things "they did", but only when they were forced by necessities. When the Soviet empire crumbled, the situation was so unbearable that gave way to what it is known as "The Periodo Especial" (Special Period), also referred as "Option Cero" (Cero Option.) Many of those economic changes were: Cuentapropismo (self-employement) in limited professions, home restaurant (paladares)and others business enterprises. Legalizing the dollar in their socialist system, and opening up their "diplotiendas" - which were food stores that sell only to the diplomats and foreigners - to the people that obtain dollars from remittances abroad. Joint Ventures enterprises with foreigners also was created.
But the mayor reform came as the "Mercado Libre Campesino" Which also allowed small farmers to sell their agriculture products directly to the people in Cuban pesos. All of this "economic liberalizations" were the result of their economic crisis. As soon the regime stabilize such crisis, every reform has been dismantle, some drastically, others gradually.

This proved the point that the regime will only make some changes in crisis to the benefit of it's people. Then came Hugo Chavez and the petro-dollar, and all the reforms are things of the past.

Phil is right on when he said that "regimen change" will only happen by U.S. military force. The question that he (Phil) must ask himself is if he wants to change the regimen or fortify it by allowing us to subsidize it's agriculture purchases or it's apartheid. For someone so opposed to used taxpayer money to crack the absolute grip of Castro's on the Cuban people, like Radio & TV Marti and "Ayuda para una Transicion en Cuba" to help the dissidents inside Cuba, is a little strange he is so willing to subsidize the regime at our expense in the name of the same old "economic liberalization"

Tomás Estrada-Palma said...

All great point Juan! My hat's off. Tell Phil if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

Phil Peters said...

Mr. Cuellar, thanks for your comment. If you read Helms-Burton itself, I think you’ll see that what I wrote is accurate. It defines a “transition government” and a “democratically elected government” and among the many conditions for each (read them here, Sections 205 and 206), it says that neither can “include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.” That’s anti-democratic on its face. The likelihood of the scenario is irrelevant.

I only raised the issue because Professor Suchlicki and his associate preached to the rest of us about democratic values and American traditions and all that, and they held up this provision of the law, which is a travesty. You will notice that American officials are careful everywhere else in the world, when talking about democracy, to say that we seek fair conditions and processes, not specific results.

And if you read what I wrote about Raul and economic reform, you’ll see it’s quite conditional. What’s certain is that Raul has created expectations that he will act in that area. Whether he will or not, only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Professor Suchlicki does not have to misrepresent Raul Castro as a Stalinist because he himself is a great admirer of the murderous mustachioed tyrant from Georgia. Raul himself has said i front of many witnesses that "no one can speak ill of Stalin in his presence". And his behaviour in the last 47 years proves he is a stalinist at heart down right to quoting Stalin himself.
"my hand will not tremble if I have to......"
Check out the phony trial of Cause number 1 in 1989. If this was not a copy of the 1930's trials of the Soeviet military, then what was? Down right to the self-incriminations of the accused and their remorseful confession on TV and their professed love for the leader Fidel who was about to put them in front of a firing squad. The names Ochoa, De la Guardia reminds me of the the names Marshall Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Blyukher, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Rykov, and Kamenev, Mr.Leftside. If it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and has feathers, is a duck!!Suchlicki is not defaming a Stalinist if he is already one, he is merely pointing out the truth as uncomfortable as that may be to your apologetic socialist ears.

Juan Cuellar said...

Mr. Peters, if you call "transition" to a freely and democratic elected government that's your prerogative. If the result of this scenario is irrelevant, the scenario you propose is in itself irrelevant too. Helm-Burton is clear in this regard.
Antidemocratic is to subsidize a tyranny in the name of "economic liberalization".

leftside said...

Anonymous, if you, Fontova and Suchlicki want to use the word Stalinist to best describe Raul and Cuba at this point in time, fine. But I think it falls flat on its face and degrades their level of analysis. Raul surely read Stalin and learned from that period of any Revolutionary should. But forgive me if your "proof" does not cut it for me. Brian Latell has studied Raul probably more than anyone, and I find more truth in his analysis and description of Raul more than Frontova, Suchlicki and other hardliners - who have been wrong about so much. Stalinism symbolizes much more than sturdy hands and suppoed show trials - such as: 1) cult of personality (statues, etc.), 2) military dominance, 3) mass purges and killings, 4) lack of pragmatism in economic policy, 5) insistence on 100% obediency (not asking for dissent)...

Anonymous said...

It seems you as a revolutionary learned a lot from Stalin himself. Such as 20 million people perishing in the Gulag. Another of Stalin great acomplishments. Well, if you opinion is right Raul qualifies for most of those you mentioned. Let's see, Fidel cult of personality, 1) cult of personality (statues, etc.), 2) military dominance,(Cuba's military dominate and controls most businesses and life). 4) lack of pragmatism in economic policy, 5) insistence on 100% obediency (not asking for dissent)...
the other 2 left are plain for all to see unless one is Mr. Leftside, and then all of these I mentioned are not present.
I must say that your ideological blinders are absolutely amazing.! Mr. Leftside motto: I see no evil, I hear no evil, but I speak or write plenty of evil". You communist apologists never cease to amaze me. Yes, Stalin was great guy and a revolutionary hero in the full sense of the word. Than must be the reason why most (about 98%) of Lenin's comrades themselves did not survive or rotted in the GULAG past the year 1940. A real humane and wonderful guy. Gee, come to think of it, just your friend Raul.

leftside said...

You do know there are no statues of Fidel or Raul in Cuba, that the military has been cut by at least 2/3 under Raul in the last 15 years and most cite Raul as backing the increased pragmatism in economic affairs since the special period??

And of course, no one was apologizing for Stalin

Anonymous said...

How laughable that there are no statues of Fidel in Cuba! I just saw one at the 26th of jly speech right in front of the dais where Raul spoke. Obviously your ideological blinders block your peripheral view. And his picture is everywhere you look as diaplyed by Granma itself. You must think we are stupid or live in a different planet than you do. Try again for a different approach. I watch the news from Cuba as you do and evidently you must be watching a different channel than I do since you don't see the personality cult anywhere. Amazing indeed!

leftside said...

That was a stone relief in Camaguey, featuring a lot of revolutionary leaders I beleive.

Many reports confirm there are no (or very tiny amounts) of Fidel statues or street signs. Billboards feature his words sometimes, but rarely his face.

Here is a long dissection from the Herald:

Added exile author Norberto Fuentes: "The most avaricious cabinet minister lives no better than the average Cuban in Miami. He has one car, not two. An air conditioner in the car? No air conditioner.

Unlike other Latin dictators, he (Fidel) promotes no cult of personality. Most Latin American dictators have sought to glorify themselves... (ex. Trujillo, or in Paraguay, etc.)

Yet even as Castro's bearded profile has become an icon for revolutionaries around the world after 41 years in power, inside Cuba his desire for privacy has
generated an odd sort of reverse cult of personality.

Few public images of El Comandante are visible around Cuba, and his Aug. 13 birthday is not a holiday
even though it's always noted by the government's media monopoly.

His regime instead promotes dead revolutionary heroes such as Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Camilo
Cienfuegos on everything from statues to key chains...

Phil Peters said...

I am NOT getting into the middle of this Stalin business, but the statue issue is interesting. There are not statues of Fidel in Cuba. That one in Camaguey is the first I've seen. I read somewhere, but don't know if it's true, that it was just put up before the 26 July speech. Does anyone know?

Juan Cuellar said...

Absolutely Phil. The first time. But somehow I think you know something fishing is going on in Cuba.

Anonymous said...

To actually post that there are no billboards with Fidel's face is Cuba is nothing but laughable. His face is everywhere for Christ's sake! Just look at any newscasts or pictures from Cuba, you seriously don't think we can believe this? Can't you? And you claim you visit Cuba and never saw this? And the praises and obesaince showed by Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores media outlets on his birthday ,borders on Stalin-like worship. "Titan among Titans" and other such nonsense. What do you call that if not personality cult? And let's not talk about all his titles: Maximun Leader, Chairman of the Council of State, President of the Republic, Commander in Chief, First Secretary of the Communist Party, bal,bla,bla. I don't think even Stalin had that many titles in the Soviet Union. At least in teory, he shared power and titles with his other acolytes in the Party. Power corrupts, and abolute power corrupts absolutely. Fidel is a megalomaniac, narcisist tyrant and nothing can convince me otherwise. The proof is there for anyone who wants to see it, if they look without ideological blinders. But that would be asking too much of those who are conveniently blind to his totalitarian tyranny. As they say in Cuba loosely translated: "there is no worse blind person, that the one who does not want to see".

Phil Peters said...

Right, there are billboards. I said "statues." From there, I didn't leap to any conclusions.

Mr Cuellar, thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

that stone relief was Castro? oh, it looked like Charlton Heston in The 10 Commandments... personality cult, geez.