On the Cuban side, talks are all take and no give
BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
President Obama’s Cuba initiative represents, as Dr. Johnson said of
second marriage, the triumph of hope over experience.
“We’ve been neighbors,” the president said in the White House Rose
Garden, “now we can be friends.” Oh, if it were only that simple.
When it comes to Cuba, nothing is simple. And hasn’t been since Fidel
and his barbudos marched triumphant out of the Sierra Maestra. Fidel is
now 88 and frail. His revolution is 56 and was sputtering until Obama
threw brother Raúl a life preserver. A revolution preserver, really,
because the Cuban leader vows that nothing about Cuba’s socialist
revolution will change. Except who the country’s sugar daddy is. The
Soviet Union played that role for decades, then Venezuela until oil
markets went kerplooey and now Cuba’s new benefactor, somewhat
unbelievably, is us, the running dog Yankee imperialists.
Sec. of State John Kerry will travel to Havana later this month to raise
the flag over the U.S. “Interests Section” and — shazam!— transform it
into an embassy. Cuba will raise the flag over its stately headquarters
in Washington, which has been spiffed up nicely, on July 20th. The
Cubans are expected to name their ambassador quickly. Could it be
Josefina Vidal, who was impressive as she led the Cuban side in the four
negotiating sessions (that we know about) with U.S. diplomats over the
last seven months?
But just how did those talks end with the embassy agreement just
announced? We still don’t if several thorny issues were resolved. One is
Cuba’s nasty habit of poking around in U.S. diplomatic pouches, a
serious breach of security and diplomatic protocol. Another big issue:
What will happen with the U.S. fugitives from justice like Joanne
Chesimard and perhaps 70 others? And will Cuban police continue to
harass Cubans who want to enter the U.S. embassy?
President Obama shed light on only one of the disputed issues, saying
that U.S. diplomats will be able to move freely around the island to
speak with dissidents or anyone else as long as they give the Castro
government 24-hour notice. That’s progress on one important issue, but
myriad details about the others remain unknown. Also unknown is exactly
what constitutes “normalization,” plus our human rights demands.
“I think we lost the first round,” says James Cason, the Coral Gables
mayor and retired U.S. career diplomat who headed the U.S. Interests
Section in Havana from 2002-2005, “We made all the concessions and
Havana made none. We don’t know what’s been gained in terms of
Cason calls the embassy openings purely symbolic: “Nothing much will
change on the ground.”
The whole point of Obama’s Cuba policy is to achieve change on the
ground for the average Cuban, to give him and her a chance to live more
freely and escape the freedom-strangling clutches of the Castro regime..
“Will the Cuban people benefit?” asks Andy Gomez. a retired professor
and Cuba scholar at the University of Miami. “I don’t think they’ll
benefit, especially Afro-Cubans who make up about 60 per cent of the
They are the ones who rarely receive remittances from abroad, don’t have
access to dollars and may be growing restless. For them, as for many
others on the island, full diplomatic relations won’t mean a pollo in
What the Castro government clearly wants from its new relationship with
the U.S. is to be able to buy on credit on the world markets. Problem
is, Cuba wants to buy an estimated $14 billion on imports but has only
$3 billion a year to spend. For years, the Cubans have been buying
millions of dollars in agricultural products from the U.S. (mainly to
feed tourists) and all purchases must be made in cash. Now, the biggest
advocates for giving Cuba the right to buy on credit are members of
Congress from farm states that produce poultry, pork, beef, rice, beans
and the like. Havana wants all that and more and will seek loans from
the World Bank and IMF now that it’s off the U.S. list of state sponsors
of terrorism. Of course, they’ll never be able to pay back those loans
under their current economic system. They’ve long been one of the
biggest deadbeat countries in the world.
The next step in the process is up to Congress. Just last month the
House voted 247-176 against easing travel restrictions to the island.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a libertarian Republican, is sponsoring a bill
to ease travel restrictions, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from
Wisconsin, is the main sponsor of bill to lift the embargo. The former
is a long shot, the latter has no chance. Sen. Marco Rubio is leading
the fight to block a $6 million request to overhaul the U.S. embassy in
Havana; he and House allies like Rep.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, also
vow to block the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to Cuba.
Reaction in Miami to all these recent developments has been curiously
muted. “The Cuban community is sitting on the edge of its seat, waiting
to see what happens next,” says Prof. Gomez. So are we all. But it will
be a long and fraught process.
Adding to the combustible mix is the 2016 presidential race. Hillary
Clinton, naturally, supports Obama’s Cuba initiative while only one
Republican may — Rand Paul. All the others, starting with Jeb Bush, call
the Cuba initiative a colossal mistake and point to the regime’s
ferocious crackdown recently on pro-democracy activists.
Sadly, the president is evidently willing to turn a blind eye to
flagrant human rights abuses for the sake of his legacy — the president
who opened Cuba. The crowning moment will be his expected visit to
Havana. He’d better get there before November 2016 because if a
Republican wins the White House, all bets with Cuba will be off.
Source: On the Cuban side, talks are all take and no give | Miami Herald
Miami Herald – http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article26704663.html