Friday, April 10, 2009

The Cuba "distraction"

President Obama’s summit coordinator doesn’t want next week’s Trinidad summit to be “distracted by the Cuba issue.” Fair enough – but if the Obama foreign policy is about “listening” to friends and allies, as Vice President Biden says, and if the entire democratic hemisphere is calling on Washington to change its approach to Cuba, how to avoid the “distraction?”

Here’s a suggestion: by listening, and also responding.

President Obama has expressed willingness to enter some kind of diplomacy with Cuba, so he could define what he means by that, and announce an intention to talk with Cuba about controlling migration and drug trafficking, and protecting the maritime environment. He could open up contacts between our societies, beyond his apparent intention to remove all restrictions on Cuban American travel. And he could make clear that everything else is under review, as his Secretary of State has said.

On that score, there’s some new fodder – and plenty for President Obama to listen to – from a group of Cuban dissidents who just sent President Obama a letter. It was released to the press by Hector Palacios, one of the 75 arrested in 2003 and later released for medical treatment. It was signed by the groups Todos Unidos, Unidad Liberal de la República de Cuba, and Agenda para la Transición, although a member of the latter group, Vladimiro Roca, distanced himself from it.

The letter:

  • Supports “maintaining or broadening diplomatic contacts with the totalitarian dictatorship,” with the warning that the Cuban government’s aim is to keep itself in power and “to flout the good faith of democratic nations.”

  • Says TV Marti’s signal “simply does not reach Cuban homes.”

  • Says, regarding the USAID Cuba program, that “if the government of the United States cannot guarantee in advance that the aid to promote democracy in Cuba really arrives…in our country, then it will be better to withdraw those funds and use them for other purposes.”

Palacios also said the signers favor ending the U.S. embargo, but this step is “not a priority now.”

AP’s coverage of the letter is here, and EFE’s is here.


leftside said...

Not sure why the main message of the "dissidents" letter was not mentioned - that they (also) want US Government dollars to go directly to those fighting the Government on the island. I'm quite sure that the timing with the CANF letter saying the same thing is sadly not a coincidence. Is the Cuban Government supposed to respond well to groups who act in coordination with an external enemies like CANF?

Phil's suggestions for Obama are fine and pragmatic. But they are not going to put the issue to rest like they want, nor satisfy anyone. It now seems clear to me that Lula sees this reapproachment as an essential part of what he wants his legacy to be (also between the US & Venezuela/Bolivia/et. al).

Walter Mercado said...

If the leftish leaders of the Hemisphere want to waste an opportunity to address pressing issues, such as the global financial crisis, for the sake of scoring pro-Castro points with their domestic marxist supporters, by all means, go right ahead.

leftside said...

Walter, if you think only Marxists want the US to have good relations with the left-wing countries in the region, then you are mistaken. I don't think there are any political parties in the entire region that embrace the US policy against Cuba and Venezuela. Second, the financial crisis is not going to be forgotten. You will certainly hear lots of (well deserved) blame thrown towards the US neoliberal model. But Latin America knows that if Europe was not able to get good committments to effectively regulate capitalism, then Latin leaders aren't going to have much luck. Not sure what you expect Latin leaders to achieve on the financial crisis. Leaders like Lula and even Bachelet see better relations with Cuba, not only as achieveable, but a necessary condition to moving forward with Obama.

leftside said...

Here's an interesting wrap up of the Cuba issue as discussed at an event at the Council of Foreign Relations yesterday.

Ambassador Davidow, Obama's point man on the Americas Summitt actually went out of his way to embrace the terrible editorial from the Washington Post the other day (titled Coddling Cuba). And he again, went out of his way to criticize the very notion that Cuba is an issue at the Summit (despite the fact that Obama is clearly helping in that regard by leaking things and planning an announcement).

Thankfully someone got up and chastised Davidow for his right-of Richard Lugar attitude versus Cuba, saying:

The editorial in today's Washington Post was absurd. The position of the Florida contingent on this is Paleolithic. The policy is indefensible on any grounds.

The reality is that Cuba may be special, but you have to ask yourself why it's therefore easier to travel to or do business with the Stalinist, nuclear weapon-toting North Koreans, or whether it's more comfortable for us to be totally economically integrated with the Saudi royal family and their depredations, or if we are concerned about human rights, why are we so integrated with and why are we the sole supporter of a government in Afghanistan that has just made rape in marriage legal and denies women the right to go outside without the approval of their husbands?
Our [US-Cuba] policy dates back to the Edsel. It is the Edsel of American foreign policy.

Steve Clemons concluded by saying:

Barack Obama has given few indications thus far that he is willing to move a five decade failed relationship forward in a meaningful sense -- with the single exception that he may ironically codify "relaxation" for a class of ethnic Americans in a way that crudely discriminates against all other Americans.

We did not open Vietnam by relaxing travel and remittances for Vietnamese-Americans.

And Obama's team -- for all of the ballyhoo about democracy promotion -- is promoting a policy of the United States government that restricts the American right of free travel anywhere.

I thought that we lived in a real democracy -- and that it was supposed to be Communist governments -- not democracies -- that restricted the travel rights of their citizens.

President Obama is a busy man, but he better take a look at the brief that his team is preparing for him -- otherwise he'll learn too late that he's driving "an Edsel" to the Summit of the Americas.

Anonymous said...

So, you are puzzled why the region leaders want to bring the cuban issue to the submit? The answer is simple: cuban collaboration is solving real problems in latin america. Take a look at this (somehow outdated) figures taken from several sites:

...some actions are being taken to follow-up on and implement the “Yes, I Can” Literacy Method in 28 countries, 15 from Latin America, 5 from the Caribbean, 5 from Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 from Asia, 1 from North America and 1 from North Africa. A total number of 839 cadres and teachers from the Ministry of Education provide the advice so that this program be properly implemented in the various countries.

Through radio and television, over 3,634,239 people from 23 countries have learned how to read and write. These countries are Venezuela, Haiti, Paraguay, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Panama, Guatemala, Uruguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Mozambique, Nigeria, El Salvador, Colombia, Guinea Bissau and Equatorial Guinea, Timor L’Este).

Over 333,218 illiterate people from 17 countries are currently being taught with the advice of Cuban collaborators. These countries are Venezuela, Haiti, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Guatemala, Uruguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Colombia, Grenada, Guinea Bissau and Timor L’Este).


In 2007, one academic study on Cuban internationalism surveyed the history of the programme, noting its broad sweep: "Since the early 1960s, 28,422 Cuban health workers have worked in 37 Latin American countries, 31,181 in 33 African countries, and 7,986 in 24 Asian countries. Throughout a period of four decades, Cuba sent 67,000 health workers to structural cooperation programs, usually for at least two years, in 94 countries ... an average of 3,350 health workers working abroad every year between 1960 and 2000.


However, alongside internationalism driven by foreign policy objectives, humanitarian objectives also played a role, with medical teams despatched to countries governed by ideological foes. For example in 1960, 1972 and 1990 it dispatched emergency assistance teams to Chile and Nicaragua, and Iran following earthquakes.[1] Similarly, Venezuela's Mission Barrio Adentro programme grew out of the emergency assistance provided by Cuban doctors in the wake of the December 1999 mudslides in Vargas state, which killed 20,000 people.[7]

Cuban medical missions were sent to Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti following 1998's Hurricane Mitch and Hurricane George, and remained there semi-permanently.[4] This has been part of a dramatic expansion of Cuba’s international cooperation in health since 1998.[8] The number of Cuban doctors working abroad jumped from about 5000 in 2003 to more than 25,000 in 2005.[8]

In Honduras the medical personnel had a substantial impact: "In the areas they served, infant mortality rates were reduced from 30.8 to 10.1 per 1,000 live births and maternal mortality rates from 48.1 to 22.4 per 1,000 live births between 1998 and 2003."[1] However, as one academic paper notes, "The idea of a nation saving lives and improving the human condition is alien to traditional statecraft and is therefore discounted as a rationale for the Cuban approach."[1] In 2004 the 1700 medical personnel in Guatemala received the Order of the Quetzal, the country's highest state honour.[1] A 2005 attempt by Honduras to expel the Cuban mission on the basis that it was threatening Honduran jobs was successfully resisted by trade unions and community organisations.[4]

Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, Cuba sent medical assistance to Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka.[3] In response to Hurricane Katrina, Cuba prepared to send 1500 doctors to the New Orleans; the offer was refused. Several months later the mission was dispatched to Pakistan following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake there. Ultimately Cuba sent "more than 2,500 disaster response experts, surgeons, family doctors, and other health personnel", who stayed through the winter for more than 6 months.[


Established in 1999 and operated by the Cuban government, Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) has been described as possibly being the largest medical school in the world by enrollment with approx. 10,000 or 12,000 students from 27 or 29 countries reported as enrolled in 2006/early 2007. All those enrolled are international students from outside Cuba and mainly come from Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Africa. The school also accepts students from the United States - 91 were reportedly enrolled as of January 2007. Tuition, accommodation and board are free, and a small stipend is provided for students.


Within the framework of Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle), Cuba has donated 51 ophthalmologic centres which have already been installed in 13 countries in Latin American, the Caribbean and Africa (17 in Venezuela, 2 in Haiti, 15 in Bolivia, 3 in Guatemala, 3 in Ecuador, 3 in Honduras, 1 in Panama, 1 in Mali, 1 in Uruguay, 1 in Paraguay, 1 in San Vicent and The Granadines, 2 in Nicaragua and 1 in Angola).

Where 1,362,505 Latin American, Africa and Caribbean patients have already been operated on. More than 900 Cuban public health professionals are working in these ophthalmologic centres and of these, 200 are ophthalmologists.

So, in short, Cuba is contributing meaningfully to the region, thats why most of the countries have friendly relationships with Cuba, being the US the odd one.

Anonymous said...

and now that the US doesn't have the same imperialistic influence over Latin America, nor the same threats of removing aid, the other countries can move towards developing policies that serve their interests first. nice research on how cuba has impacted the region, and shows how others recognize the reality of cuba.
another nail in the coffin of the gusanos.

Anonymous said...

Cuba = D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N from the real problems affecting the hemisphere: economic growth for all, crime, drugs, strengthening democratic institutions, and on and on....

leftside said...

Cuba = D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N

Well, the actual elected leaders of Latin America are saying something quite different - as Phil's summary showed. They don't see Cuba as a distraction at all. They see it as a necessary precondition to turning the page in US-Latin relations. That is not to say there are not other issues that deserve a lot of attention.

Anonymous said...

Those leaders want to talk about Cuba because they don't want anyone to notice how poorly the region's political leadership has done in improving the lives of average citizens.

Anonymous said...

The Council of Foreign Relations has been thoroughly penetrated by Cuban intelligence. Ana Belen Montes practically had an office there and counter-intelligence expert Colonel Simmons identified Julia Sweig as a Cuban agent.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, you mean Colonel "because I say so" Simmons? Thats bollocks, if he has proof the only thing he has to do is hand it to the FBI, CIA, NSA or whatever and let the law take care of it.

Anonymous said...

simmons is has been completely repudiated, he's the glenn beck of counter-intel sweig a cuban agent, give it your best shot to proof that. still seeing commies under your bed

Anonymous said...

ANONY 2:31 Pm

YOU ARE SMOKING CRACK... just b./c disagree doesn't mean that one is cuban agent.. I guess all countries voting against us embargo at UN are 'foreign agennts'

why are right wingers such know nothings who so suspectible to paranoia and crack theoreties.

Anonymous said...

but that's the point, anyone who disagrees with the right wingers are either commie dupes, foreign agents, or 'you just don't know cuba' it is their absolute desperate attempts to control the message, so only their side is heard. and as the travel restrictions and embargo crumble the desperation will only get worse.
i wish they were smoking crack then they could get help. it's kinda sad as we start to watch history finally pass them by. or is it bye bye