Thursday, June 24, 2010

Castros reject any opening

Posted on Thursday, 06.17.10
Castros reject any opening

Aletter signed by 74 Cuban citizens -- calling on the U.S. Congress to
end the travel ban on Americans visiting Cuba -- has raised hackles
among hard-liners in Miami. With them in mind, the signatories
acknowledge that the regime stands to benefit from windfall earnings if
the ban is lifted, and that these could, indeed, be used to reinforce
its repressive machinery.

But increasing contacts between Americans and Cubans, in addition to
those already on the rise between Cuban Americans and their relatives on
the island, fomenting exchanges of all kinds, chip away at the blockade
that the regime has erected around ordinary Cubans.

American tourists won't bring democracy to Cuba, but neither has the
U.S. embargo or the travel ban.

In April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: ``It is my personal
belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo because
they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in
the last 50 years.''

If the embargo has served the regime as a scapegoat for its failures --
and I agree with the secretary -- would it not be wise for the United
States to challenge Cuba through dialogue and openness? Last year,
President Obama called for a ``new beginning'' in the fraught
relationship between the two neighbors.

And, even as repression and shamelessness escalated after Orlando Zapata
Tamayo's death, the administration has stayed the course. The White
House lamented Zapata's passing, the harassment of Las Damas de Blanco
and the regime's ``clenched fist'' against an opposition whose only
weapons are the ideas of freedom, human rights and democracy.

Travel for Cuban Americans wasn't curtailed, visas were issued for
Cubans to visit family, perform in Carnegie Hall and do research in the
Library of Congress. U.S. diplomats continued to talk to Cuban officials
about releasing Alan Gross, the computer expert arrested in December.
Aid to Haiti and BP's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are
also on the bilateral agenda. On Friday, the third round of talks on
migration will be held in Washington.

Any attempt to engage the Cuban government is rife with frustrations.
Take the recent dialogue between Raúl Castro and the Catholic bishops.
One ailing prisoner has been freed, and 12 have been transferred to
facilities closer to their homes. That leaves 25 men in ill health still
jailed and 15 others in prisons far from their families. Altogether
there are about 200 prisoners of conscience, but the dialogue addressed
the activists still imprisoned from the Black Spring of 2003.

Since Zapata's death and the hounding of the Ladies in White, Havana has
faced a torrent of censure from the international community. Regime
actions torpedoed Spain's efforts to fully normalize relations with the
European Union. If the fledgling dialogue produces more substantial
results, the EU may be better disposed in September.

I don't think the travel ban will be lifted anytime soon. All the same,
the White House has the power to liberalize all travel to Cuba except
for tourism. In its last two years, the Clinton administration crafted a
better Cuba policy by exercising the executive's rule-making powers that
were not curtailed by Helms-Burton. More liberal travel, academic
exchanges including students and licensed trade in agricultural goods
all pointed in the right direction. Until 2003, George W. Bush continued
Clinton's policies.

Obama himself and his ``new beginning'' complicate matters for Havana.
Ordinary Cubans are still waiting for the right to make their own
living. Young people are restless. Corruption is running rampant even
among former ``true believers.'' Cubans of color have long seen through
the veil of proclaimed equality. The last thing that the island's
elderly leaders need is openness and dialogue.

Hard-liners are quick to declare any effort to engage Havana a failure.
How long do we have to wait for the embargo and confrontation to work?
Patience on their side is a virtue, on ours a vice? I don't think so.

Besides, openness, dialogue and engagement are the real hard-line.

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