Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama, Cuba and the OAS

. Thursday, June 4, 2009

Many know of my general disdain for staff editorials published in American newspapers (mostly because the majority of them are useless and poorly written, take up space that could be used by experts to publish their own opinions, and do not list the author). However, I was pleasantly surprised to see this staff op-ed in yesterday's NY Times. Especially these lines:

For 50 years, the Cuban people have suffered under Fidel Castro’s, and now Raúl Castro’s, repressive rule. But Washington’s embargo — a cold war anachronism kept alive by Florida politics — has not lessened that suffering and has given the Castros a far-too-convenient excuse to maintain their iron grip on power.

So we are encouraged to see President Obama’s tentative efforts to ease the embargo and reach out to the Cuban people. At the same time, we are absolutely puzzled and dismayed by this week’s frenzied push by many Latin American countries to readmit Cuba to the Organization of American States.

The more contacts Cubans have with the outside world — and the more they learn about the freedoms just 90 miles away — the more likely they are to question the privations of their one-family rule.

The White House also has offered to negotiate the first direct-mail service in decades and to resume talks with the Cuban government on migration, which were suspended by the Bush administration in 2003 along with most avenues of regular communication. This week, Havana agreed to the talks on migration and mail service as well as to possible cooperation on counterterrorism, drug interdiction and hurricane relief.

This is not a reward for the Castro government. Eliciting Cuba’s cooperation is in this country’s clear interest. We also suspect that if Cuban officials talk to their American counterparts regularly, then they, too, may end up questioning their political allegiances.
It is obvious that the 50 year old embargo has not worked. The op-ed calls for engagement with the Cuban government, an engagement economically, politically and socially that would allow the United States to directly speak to the Cuban people and help establish connections between the two countries. These economic, political and social connections, it is argued, are critical in bringing greater political freedom and economic prosperity to the island. The belief is that engagement and connections will begin to foment internal dissent, and economic prosperity will further that dissent to the point where democratic reforms are possible. (I tend to agree with this position and the belief that integration between these two countries would only be good for political freedom on the island.) There are two models for transition: 1) The Eastern European model of quick and direct transition from authoritarian socialism to democratic capitalism and 2) The Chinese model of creeping economic liberty with the hopes of political liberty as economic liberty increases. I hope that model #1 is the answer, but realize that in reality, we are most likely to see model #2 play out under Raul Castro's Cuban government, unless something unanticipated happens like a coup. 

The op-ed also calls for tearing down a key piece of propaganda that the Cuban government repeatedly uses with its domestic audience as well as sympathetic leaders throughout Latin America and the world. The Cuban government repeatedly argues that the embargo, placed by the dominant and imperialist American government, is the reason that its people are under-nourished and the cause of its slumping economic position, even though Cuba is allowed to trade with the other 191 countries in the world. Removing the embargo would weaken this line of argument.

But, of course there are reasons why the embargo is still in place, and the crux of these reasons lie in the important Cuban-American voting bloc based mostly in South Florida and the greater New York/New Jersey region (where both sitting Cuban-American U.S. Senators, Bob Menendez and Mel Martinez hail from). But, things-are-a-changing here too. As the older, very conservative and pro-embargo Cuban-American population begins to die out, a new, more liberal, anti-embargo, and more pragmatic younger generation of Cuban-Americans is coming to the fore. The movement of the Cuban-American community closer to the political center will be key to the removal of the embargo. 


Obama, Cuba and the OAS
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