Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tertulia on the Tiergartenstrasse

A conference about “Seeking Common Initiatives” toward Cuba begins in Berlin today.

Similar conferences held in Prague and Costa Rica in recent years turned out to have been funded by the U.S. taxpayer. It would not be surprising if that were the case here too, judging from the participants and the program, and the way it all fits with the international objectives of the 2004 report from the Administration’s Cuba commission.

That report included funding to support “public diplomacy initiatives worldwide, including conferences, small grants, media and public outreach” (p.25); grants to foreign organizations as part of an “effort to discourage tourist travel” to Cuba (p.xvii); “small grants and other assistance to local national groups interested in promoting greater information about U.S. policies toward Cuba and greater national involvement in support of democracy and the development of civil society in Cuba” (p.45); and other activities aimed at “encouraging international solidarity with the Cuban people and promoting democracy” (p.10).

As one might expect, Cuban media are trashing the conference; here’s a not-very-witty example in English.

Setting that spat aside, the conference agenda asks some good questions, including whether there is a need for international cooperation, and if it is possible for Europe, Latin America, and the United States to unite behind a common approach toward Cuba.

We weren’t invited, but let’s discuss it anyway.

My view is that a common approach is not necessary, and it’s impossible in any event.

Look first within Europe itself: Spain’s recent move (discussed in the fourth item here) was a sort of declaration of independence from the idea of a common European approach. Spain apparently wants contact, lots of it, and across all sectors in Cuba. Others agree. The Czechs and others want a return to diplomatic sanctions that would have the effect of cutting off contact with Cuban officials. If Spain and others keep contacts open, including dialogue with officials that includes human rights issues, while others adopt a different posture until human rights practices improve, why is that a bad thing?

Then there’s the fundamental issue of whether to isolate Cuba or to expose it to contact with foreign societies.

On that score, Europe is united; no government has proposed ending exchanges or unrestricted travel by its citizens, much less a commercial embargo.

But that’s where the United States separates itself from the pack. Its sanctions policy is broad, immutable, not subject to discussion.

What about agreement on specific initiatives, while leaving larger disagreements aside?

Here it is possible that other governments may take initiatives that coincide with U.S. goals. But to be effective, they will have to frame their policies independently and in their own terms. The Administration’s concept of “transition,” as presented in its lengthy reports, has proven unpalatable even to Cubans who oppose their government. Such independence would not be a bad thing, either.


leftside said...

As long as the US continues funding and organizing anti-Cuba activity on the island and off, 100% of Cubans will close ranks against these efforts... as the "dissident" quotes in your report vividly show. The US efforts seem geared towards hardening the regime, if there is any thought at all, beyond pandering to Miami. The only result of current US efforts will be to provoke arrests and denunciations of those who take the bait. The strategy appears more concerned with short-term legitimization of a bankrupt embargo and possible post-Fidel intervention than any notion of positive change. The Cuban government has no choice but to take the US Government at its word when it talks about preventing a succession.

I believe the Cubans are keen to show they will respond positively to a different approach, such as that the Spanish are trying. Perhaps this explains the release of the 7, and the acceptance of discussion of human rights issues - something usually off limits to foreigners? At the same time, the Cubans need to show they won't tolerate folks working with the US plans, or compromising national security (hence the 2 sentences).

Anonymous said...

Los epsañoles se vieron obligados a torcer el brazo, porque tienen fuertes intereses económicos en Cuba. Y hay una sutil manobra por parte del gobierno cubano contra los empresarios y empresas españolas, de esa forma presionaron lo suficiente para obligar a los españoles a negociar.
Fidel Castro ha actuado siempre así, cuantas veces no ha provocado la ruptura de conversaciones secretas con EEUU y en las que aparentemente estaba dispuesto a ceder. Su estrategia es el suspense, de esa manera atrae a la otra parte a donde quiere, a desear esa misma parte el deseo de Fidel Castro, y presentarse él como el agraviado. Suelta a 7 y aprisiona a 2, lo mismo, igual.
La única variable que sabe el gobierno cubano que le puede fallar, es el pueblo, cansado como está de la situación, como sucedió en el 1994. Y de cierto les digo, que ahora está peor la situación que en el 94. Los opositores han ido ganando terreno ahora, poco a poco, se hacen sentir cada vez más, y las estructuras de gobierno ya están fatigadas por el esfuerzo de mantener a raya a todos por tanto tiempo. Además, la ausencia del "jefe", como le dicen, ha relajado la moral y sin el látigo, con perspectivas de cambio, miran más por si mismos que por el anciano que rinde sus últimos días, y un sistema que a nadie le ha convencido que es la solución.