Thursday, June 7, 2007

New words, same policy

The friendly, anonymous, and slightly right-of-center folks at Western Hemisphere Policy Watch noticed something that caught my eye too: a change in the language that U.S. officials are using to discuss Cuba’s political future.

When the Administration’s Cuba commission issued a report in 2004, and for a good time thereafter, officials called for “transition” and defined it as a complete change in Cuba’s political order, a conversion from socialism to democracy and free markets. This word is rooted in the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which defines a “transition government.” The naming of a Transition Coordinator in the State Department, a step mandated by Helms-Burton, went together with the idea that “transition” implied sufficient change in Cuba that the United States would start sending aid.

Then, “transition” was counterposed with “succession,” a continuation of the current system under post-Fidel Castro leadership. The State Department even announced in 2004 that the United States “will not accept a succession scenario,” and that “there will not be a succession.” “Succession,” even if accompanied by a limited political or economic opening, would bring no change in the U.S. posture – that’s the Administration’s policy, and it’s mandated by Helms-Burton.

Now, the Administration is using the word “transition” differently.

As Western Hemisphere points out, the State Department spokesman said this week:

“There is clearly some form of transition that is under way from Fidel Castro to his brother…”

The Secretary of State has made similar statements; what
used to be called “succession” is now being called “transition.”

Are these semantics important?

First, it’s important to point out that the change in language is not accompanied by any change in U.S. policy.

But I don’t think the change is accidental.

A new Administration Cuba team is in place since 2004, Fidel Castro fell ill and left public view ten months ago, and there has been no political turbulence in Cuba. The Administration’s new formulation – that Cuba may or may not experience systemic change when Fidel Castro definitively leaves the scene – is more realistic than the old one.

A second move toward realism is in the Secretary of State’s description of Cuba’s dissidents, delivered en route to Europe; she calls them a “very nascent and fragile democratic opposition that is beginning to arise.”

Neither of these changes makes the Administration’s international pitch – that the way to influence Cuba’s government is to have less contact with it – any easier to sell. And its pretense that only Washington cares about the dissidents, when our allies all have relationships with them – and unlike U.S. diplomats, they travel outside Havana and see them in the provinces – only digs the hole deeper.

1 comment:

leftside said...

Rice also said "a process of change is taking place in Cuba, and the OAS must be ready to help..."

Apparently this is the first time the US has explicitly mentioned the OAS having a role in Cuba affairs. While there is room for optimism that the US getting more real and rational here, I fear we may be heading towards a North Korea situation whereas the US refuses to talk one on one, despite the obvious need for such dialogue.