Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kerry on Cuba

The American debate over Cuba policy doesn’t exactly lend itself to division along liberal and conservative lines.

But when reading a long, analytical statement that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry has in Tuesday’s Congressional Record, I came away thinking that there’s a conservative quality to his approach to Cuba.

His statement was an explanation of his decision to add his name to the bill that repeals Cuba travel restrictions. In it, he applauds President Obama’s first moves on Cuba policy but views them as minimal – and he calls for a bigger overhaul.

What’s conservative, then?

Senator Kerry credits the embargo with curbing Cuban/Soviet adventurism during the Cold War.

He is clear that Cuba’s human rights record is “dismal.”

He has no misty hopes about “transition.” “I don’t personally hold high hopes,” he says, “that the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul Castro and to the next generation of hand-picked loyalists portends rapid change.”

He announces that he is taking a hard look at old, fat government programs to see if they actually work, or could work better. Imagine that!

Exhibit A: Radio/TV Marti, to determine “whether the TV service should be closed entirely and radio should be integrated into the high-quality VOA [Voice of America] services. We ought to be especially concerned that human rights activists in Cuba, a key bellwether audience, are unanimous in their view that the Martı brand must be repaired.”

Exhibit B: The USAID civil society programs: “It is also fair to ask whether these programs even work. Bush’s refocus on regime change made it difficult for Cubans outside declared antiregime groups to accept the informational materials or assistance offered – even if they had a burning desire for it.”

Senator Kerry points out that for the Bush Administration, these programs were effectively substitutes for a policy of unrestricted citizen travel. The argument was that we send stuff to the right people through AID, we broadcast the right things on Radio/TV Marti, and we give licenses to Americans with “legitimate” purposes in Cuba – so that’s enough, we don’t need Americans in general mucking around down there.

By contrast, Senator Kerry is asking whether free actions by free Americans might accomplish more than the old, fat government programs.

He’s on to something.

Finally, he gently points out an absurdity of the Obama policy that extols the special “ambassadors for freedom” qualities of Cuban Americans, who now enjoy the right of unrestricted travel to Cuba. “But I think it’s also fair to say that there are excellent ambassadors for freedom among the 299 million other Americans,” Senator Kerry says.

Call it conservative, call it mainstream, call it what you like – it shows much greater confidence in the power of public diplomacy, and in American citizens as agents of public diplomacy, than anything we have seen from Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

[Newsweek photo.]


Anonymous said...

Re Kerry on USAID civil society programs: “Bush’s refocus on regime change made it difficult for Cubans outside declared antiregime groups to accept the informational materials or assistance offered – even if they had a burning desire for it.”

Why, why, WHY wasn't this genious elected president?

OF COURSE Cubans have no right to read, hear or watch ANYTHING which diverges, in the slightest degree, from the Party line.

And the torrent of mojito guzzling, non-Spanish speaking yuma tourists whom Kerry wants to enrich the Castro brothers will have a major impact in persuading the tyranny that Cubans *do* have any so-called "human rights." Correct, Senator?

After all, didn't the foreign turistas flooding into Spain have the same impact on Franco?

leftside said...

After all, didn't the foreign turistas flooding into Spain have the same impact on Franco?

Umm... you are aware that Spain is no longer fascist right? And that Cuba is still socialist?

Anonymous said...

Kerry is parroting a conservative approach.

I agree with it.

i would , howver, take the more agressive view (from US mindset).

we have no business telling other countries how to live, en PUNTO!

Anonymous said...

"we have no business telling other countries how to live, en PUNTO!"

Except, of course, for right-wing dictatorships. But Cuba's Comandante is sacred, so we cannot risk hurting his feelings by quibbling, in however muffled and apologetic a tone, about a few measley imperfections in the First Free Territory of the Americas.

Phil's solution: send more North Dakota kazoo bands to Guanahacabibes! When the music is playing, who has time to quibble about slave conditions on the last plantation in the Caribbean?

leftside said...

Except, of course, for right-wing dictatorships.

And what "right wing dictatorships" does the US treat more harshly than Cuba??

Anonymous said...


Iran, Korea and Siria.

leftside said...

I don't know many people that consider those states right-wing. But I know that US citizens are permitted to visit those countries more easily than Cuba. And the economic blockades are nowhere near as total as in Cuba. Plus there are higher level talks with officials from those countries...

Anonymous said...

"Iran, Korea and Siria."

Lefty: "I don't know many people that consider those states right-wing...."

But are they our neighbors? And did any of these countries install nuclear missiles on their soil and urge the Russians to launch the missiles and turn us into a radioactive ash heap? (And not just in the 60s, either.)

Lefty's hero El Supremo urged the Russkies again in the 1980s to kill us. The Russkies had to explain to a dissapointed Castro the consequences when the wind reversed direction and the radioactive ash heap formerly known as the United States gave Castro a taste of his own nuclear medicine.

Anonymous said...

"After all, didn't the foreign turistas flooding into Spain have the same impact on Franco?"

"Umm... you are aware that Spain is no longer fascist right? And that Cuba is still socialist?"

The point, as if you didn't understand it Lefty, is that a flood of foreign tourists in fascist Spain did nothing to turn Franco into a democrat. Change occurred only *after* his death. And the clock is ticking in Cuba, too, whether some people like it or not.

Anonymous said...

oh man, what historical revisionism from the right wing nuts.

how you can compare what the usa has done to cuba as to how they treat iran et al is laughable.

the usa treats cuba as a colony for 50 years, the cubas rebel, america invades and blockades, then plans another invasion. cuba has the nerve to defend itself

and so this is how you treat a neighbor

and so you deny americans the right to travel to cuba because of your warped sense of historical fantasy and delusions of control.

really try and get a grip on some sort of reality

Anonymous said...

First of all, stupid, Cuba was a colony of Spain. From a historical perspective the U.S. presence in Cuba was relatively short-lived. By 1959, it had vastly declined. The Cubans revolted against the corrupt order under Batista. Try to read a real history book, not leftist romance novels. Also please don't get your history by watching re-runs of Godfather Part 2.

Anonymous said...

Right on Phil! Let John "Dear Comandante" Kerry be our guide to Cuba's freedom!

Anonymous said...

There is of course a legal problem to define by the US justice system.

That is whether allowing Cuban Americans to visit the island while denying it to the rest of the US citizens and residents denies the equal protection clause of the US constitution.

However, as long as the courts allow this to continue, I favor the present policy on pragmatic grounds.

As a Cuban American I am in favor of a US foreign policy that promotes its democratic transition.

It is true that both categories of Americans spend dollars in Cuba.

However. the Cuban American does a much more effective subversive role when he visits the island because he is acquainted with its problems, is able to speak the language and can communicate with its inhabitants.
Also he can communicate in confidence with relatives and friends with a reasonable assurance that he will not be denounced to the security services.
But the Cuban Americans greatest advantage is that his fellow Cubans he meets identify with him.

They perceive in the Cuban Americans wealth and lifestyle the type of life they would like to be living and associate this with a democratic transition and a market economy.
Thus the very presence of Cuban americans in the island is extremely subversive even if they make no effort to carry out political proselytation.

None of these advantages occur with normal american tourism.

Of course the Cuban American who visits the island does so principally to visit his family and friends and not for sightseeing purposes.

But the main reason why i favor that we be allowed to visit while the rest of the Americans are restricted is that we accomplish a much greater subversive bang for the buck than the American tourists of non Cuban origin.

Thus on the above grounds (which I consider pragmatic but which others might very well believe to be unfair and self serving), I favor Obama's present policy of using negotiated lifting of the embargo to promote the democratic and market reforms Cuba needs.

And as a part of this policy I would like to see the US government establish yearly quotas for Americans of non Cuban origin to visit the island as tourists and vary these quotas in accordance with the Cuban government's progress in implementing democratic reforms.

The incentives that the US has available to influence future reforms are limited and should be used wisely to try to accomplish the aims of its foreign policy towards the island.

Why should we give away the potential incentives and disincentives of increasing or decreasing the number of american tourists in return for nothing when we could use this leverage very efficiently to influence future Cuban reforms?

This is one of the main tools available for our Cuban foreign policy?

Why waste it unconditionally lifting the travel ban and allowing American tourists to go to Cuba without getting anything back in return?