Sunday, October 20, 2013

U.S.-Cuba Lessons of the past

Posted on Sunday, 10.20.13

U.S.-Cuba: Lessons of the past

The Cuban leadership in Havana continues to try to woo the U.S.
administration into providing unilateral concessions to Cuba. The
embargo and the travel ban will be ended, they believe, as a result of
internal pressures in the U.S. and a more accommodating Obama

Yet, after seven years in power, Gen. Raúl Castro is unwilling to chart
a radically new course for Cuba or offer meaningful concessions.
Expectations remain that he will follow the Chinese or the Vietnamese
model and even find an accommodation with the United States.

We seem to cling to an outdated economic determinism in trying to
understand events in other societies and the motivations of their
leaders. Despite economic difficulties, Raúl Castro does not seem ready
to provide irreversible concessions for a U.S.-Cuba normalization. He
may release and exile some political prisoners; he may offer more
consumer goods and food to tranquilize the Cuban population; but no
major structural reforms that would open the Cuban economy and no
political openings.

It should have been obvious from the beginning that the Castro brothers
were not interested in friendly relations with the United States. In
spite of U.S. calls for moderation, the Castro brothers carried out
public executions in the island. In public speeches Castro insulted
President Eisenhower and followed them with expropriations of American
properties. Finally in July 1960, Eisenhower was left with no option but
to cut the Cuban sugar quota. By then the Cubans had already arranged
for the Soviet Union to buy Cuban sugar.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Castro sent a message to Soviet Premier
Nikita Khrushchev calling for a preemptive nuclear strike against the
U.S. mainland. Even the Soviets were shocked by the plea.

In the 1970's President Jimmy Carter tried to normalize relations. He
hoped to turn an enemy into a friend. When he was getting too close for
comfort, Castro offered to send this country several thousand Cubans who
had been given asylum in the Peruvian embassy. Ships were invited to
pick up "political prisoners and dissidents" at the Port of Mariel. More
than 120,000 Cubans left. Included in the group of people seeking
freedom Castro released some of the most vicious criminals in his
prisons; not an act of friendship and one more factor that caused Carter
to become a one term president.

President Clinton's experience with Cuba was also problematic. Clinton
was expected to veto the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which codified the
U.S. embargo on Cuba. Before he could act, the Cuban Air Force shot down
two civilian planes over international waters, killing three Americans
and one Cuban-American. Clinton had no choice; he signed the bill.

President Obama's policy on Cuba seems more puzzling. Early in his
administration he lifted the limit for remittances to Cuba and increased
the frequency of visits to family members, both major unilateral acts of
good will towards an enemy. Castro (this time it was Raúl) responded by
jailing Alan Gross for up to 15 years in prison for taking computers to
the small Jewish-Cuban community on the island. Once again, not the act
of a regime seeking to improve relations with an adversary.

The Obama administration should heed the lessons of the past. Cuba under
Raúl Castro remains a failed totalitarian state encrusted in the
anti-American policies of the Cold War.

Raúl has been a loyal follower and cheerleader of Fidel's anti-American
policies and military interventions in Africa and elsewhere. In 1962,
interpreting President Kennedy's Bay of Pigs failure as a sign of
weakness, Raúl and Khrushchev conspired to surreptitiously introduce
nuclear missiles into Cuba. Raúl supervised the Americas Department in
Cuba approving support for terrorist, guerrilla and revolutionary groups
throughout Latin America.

Unfortunately, not all international problems can be solved through
negotiation or with economic incentives. Some require significant
patience until the leadership changes. The Cuban case seems one of these.

Carlos Gutierrez was secretary of commerce during the George W. Bush
administration. Jaime Suchlicki is director of the Institute for Cuban
and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

Source: "U.S.-Cuba: Lessons of the past - Other Views -"

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