Thursday, March 4, 2010

Answering the mail

It is hard for me to get grumpy about Ernesto Hernandez Busto, who writes the Spanish-language blog Penultimos Dias. Stationed in Spain, he lives about five hours in the future, his radar is always on and pointed in all directions, and his blog is a fine daily resource.

He is not quite in agreement with my views on USAID’s Cuba program and made a few new points yesterday. Not being American and not living here, Ernesto may not grasp the terrible sinking feeling many of us have when we hear the phrase, “Oh, let’s just have the government do it.” Or in this case, when we entrust relations with the Cuban people to a bureaucratic phalanx consisting of 1) USAID and the development-industrial complex, 2) licensing officers at the Treasury and Commerce departments, and 3) two low-to-no-audience government broadcast outlets – because, the government assures us, this is better than allowing American citizens and civil society institutions to act as they please. Unrestricted travel is in line with our concept of civil liberties and with the approach we took toward a number of countries where communist governments dissolved about two decades ago. As for the rest of it, I think it’s pretty apparent I wasn’t comparing Cuba and Haiti, I was noting the advice our government gives to Americans traveling anywhere abroad. And I’ll repeat that to cite foreign law is not to endorse it.

Jose Cardenas, a big wheel in the Bush Cuba policy, has weighed in with about a thousand words of holier-than-thou. I won’t belabor the USAID discussion, and I’m happy to have readers consider my views and his side-by-side. His short discussion of human rights organizations is curious, and instructive, and it’s pure bunk. They haven’t been “forced to confront” Cuba’s human rights record, they do that year in and year out. And they have never suggested that U.S. policy is to blame for Cuban abuses. Jose seems irked by the idea that someone could understand the situation in Cuba and at the same time view U.S. policy as misguided; Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House are all in that category. As for playing into Havana’s hands, I think the gold medal in that category went to the Bush Administration’s Cuba commission. Sadly, its report dismayed dissidents and many other Cubans and was a gift that kept on giving for Cuba’s state security, party propagandists, and everyone in between.

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