Monday, October 22, 2007

What will the President say?

President Bush will make a Cuba policy speech at the State Department on Wednesday, AFP reports. According to the President’s spokesman, he will discuss ways “to help the people of Cuba.”

We’ll see what that means. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ll be watching for.

First, it will be interesting to see how the President describes the situation in Cuba. When Fidel Castro first fell ill, President Bush thought a turning point had arrived and declared that Cubans were engaged in an “effort to build a transitional government” – but that turned out not to have been the case. Then, after many uneventful months with Castro remaining offstage, the President envisioned a potential turning point on the day when “the good Lord” takes Fidel Castro away. But I think that train has already left the station, in that Cubans have assimilated Fidel’s absence already, and his death or resignation is not likely to be a shock to the political system. The most intriguing story in Cuba today is the possibility of reform from within; we’ll see if the President addresses that, and if so, how.

Second, how will President Bush describe American capacity to influence Cuba? The release of the Administration’s 2004 commission report marked the high-water mark of Administration confidence in that regard; it claimed that its sanctions, beefed-up broadcasting, and aid to the Cuban opposition would “accelerate” the downfall of the Cuban government. One official also stated that there would not be a succession in Cuba, and that the United States would not permit one to occur. Since then, that kind of talk has largely subsided, although Secretary Rice did say in July that “we’re not going to tolerate the transfer of power from one dictator to another.” What will be the President’s ends, what will be his means, and will they be connected to each other?

Third, how will the President try to influence Cuba? With the “transfer of power” that Secretary Rice envisioned basically complete, it’s clear that the 2004 measures are not very consequential. As a result, the Administration has turned to asking other countries to join in a call for democracy in Cuba, or perhaps to work together in other ways. So maybe the President will have something to announce along those lines. Or maybe he will offer carrots of some type – an extension of the (backfired) approach in his two commission reports, which held out the prospect of U.S. aid as an inducement to change. Or maybe he will backtrack on his 2004 measures and ease restrictions on Cuban American visits and remittances.

There are rumors that the President will pursue that last option, and that he discussed it recently with some leaders in Miami.

I doubt it.

Another possibility, also the subject of rumors, is that the President will offer to modify U.S. sanctions if Cuba takes certain steps toward democratic reform.

It wouldn’t be the first time he has tried this; in May 2002 he offered to ease sanctions if Cuba held fair elections that year. That offer was perceived as a softening of policy, a retreat from the long list of conditions that the Helms-Burton law sets forth before any easing of U.S. sanctions can occur. The result, to put it mildly, was a lot of criticism from Miami.

But I can see the Administration trying some version of this offer in today’s context, especially if its priority is to forge a common approach with other countries. The point would be to soften the U.S. approach, or to appear to soften it, in order to gain international support, reduce the distance between Washington and its allies on Cuba policy, and put the United States in a better position from which to influence Cuba itself. Not to mention putting Washington in the position of taking the initiative, and attempting to put the issue of political reform front and center.

We’ll see.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, we'll see. But I fear every time the president opens his mouth regarding Cuba. It usually turns into a propaganda bonanza for the Castro regime. And if he sounds menacing this time, his words will be used by the hardliners within the regime to deny the people the possibility of any reforms. More repression and control may be applied and blame it all on Bush. I certainly hope I am wrong this time. said...

Great analysis. I'm looking forward to Wednesday but my prediction is that WHATEVER President Bush says will be wrong

I say that not as a Bush hater but just going with the odds that since he knows nothing about Cuba and/or gets bad advice, that he'll get it wrong.

Also, I wouldn't expect much diplomacy. I would expect threats.

Anonymous said...

It does matter what Bush will say, what ever hi'll say, it'll be take by cuban goverment as a threat.
I could sure that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, there is an mistake in my previos post, I wanna say "it does not matter what Bush will say"

leftside said...

While I don't predict any policy changes soft enough to get support from anyone besides the Czech Republic, I think any rhetorical shift would just be that. The US goals of influencing the direction of Cuba towards a capitalist and US electoral model will not change one iota. Any difference in tone will be just a strategic dance. I predict he will denounce the recent elections (despite an envious 95% voter rate, and 1/3 of
electees NOT being Party members) and place some new goalposts in terms of acceptable reforms. The old goalposts of freedom of speech, releasing "political prisoners" and having free elections don't seem so distant anymore.

leftside said...

Anything short of the death of the Revolution is not good enough for those hardliners in Florida, and therefore good enough for Bush.

Anonymous said...

Whatever Bush says will make no major difference to the Castro hardliners. Nor will it make any difference to absurd apologists like Leftside - 95% voter rate? One third not being Party members? Is this guy (couldnt possibly be a woman) serious?

Anonymous said...

can there be any surprise that american president george (idiot) bush will say anything other than what the cuban lobby wants him to say....the cuban lobby has caused the same problems for cuba and the lives of those on the island as the israeli lobby (aipac) has caused for israel and its citizens lives.

the problem with these groups is that they cant learn from their mistakes because they are drunk with their own power.