Monday, October 20, 2008

The Damas de Blanco, off the reservation

The White House held another videoconference last week, this time with several of the Damas de Blanco in Havana talking with First Lady Laura Bush and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

The White House issued a brief statement. Secretary Gutierrez was on Radio Marti (story and audio here). He said the conversation was “unforgettable,” covering the situation in Cuba after the hurricanes, the U.S. offers of aid, economic and human rights issues, and prison conditions.

Neither the Radio Marti story nor the White House statement mentioned that the Cuban women asked that the Bush Administration suspend its sanctions “that affect the sending of direct aid,” as El Nuevo Herald paraphrased the words of Laura Pollan, who participated in the videoconference. In response, according to Pollan, “They stated that they were going to analyze it [the request]. Hopefully, the penury and suffering would be less that way…We explained to Mrs. Bush that there is widespread desperation.” El Nuevo’s story didn’t make clear whether Pollan was asking for the suspension of the Administration’s family sanctions, or something broader. A brief English summary is here.

Good for these women for raising this issue with Mrs. Bush, who is probably the only person in Washington who could possibly have an impact.

One can’t say the same for our Secretary of Commerce, who has been on these videoconferences before, and has heard the same kind of request, before the hurricanes. Still, he said last month, “What we are hearing from Cubans in Cuba is they don’t need money because there’s nothing to buy.”

The impact of Ike and Gustav in Cuba may be fading from the news, but Cubans still suffer. What governments should do in a case like this is to put politics aside and send help. President Bush put humanitarian concerns above politics when he offered aid to Cuba, and Cuba did the opposite when it turned that offer down. Still, the United States is standing in the way of direct, effective aid by maintaining sanctions against families – their visits, their cash assistance, even the contents of their gift parcels – that are truly draconian at a time when crops, food supplies, and housing have been wrecked from one end of the island to another.

Once again, the question arises: If we praise the dissidents as future leaders of Cuba and spend millions to support them each year, why can’t we heed their simple request now to ease suffering after a natural disaster?

Finally, a note about Radio Marti. From the story and audio on the Marti website, one would never know that the Damas de Blanco discussed U.S. policy, which is newsworthy by anyone’s standard, and doubly so because it would seem to be the only area of the conversation where there was a difference of opinion and a discussion of possible policy change. If Marti’s broadcasts have included Pollan’s statements, that would be great to know. If not, then it’s an omission that reinforces the idea that Marti is a government radio station with a political slant.

[White House photo.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This type of GOP have sunk so low.. they are borderline tryanny .. They lie, and then spin the answers of the damas de blanco to their own narrow poltical domestica advantage

Gutierrez is sick indivdiual... He should have no place in future free cuba.