Monday, January 5, 2015

The Administration's Fig Leaf: An Open Letter to Carlos Saladrigas

This is the second of two open letters written to Carlos Saladrigas on the subject of U.S. - Cuba policy. The first was made public back on June 8, 2014. This is part of an exercise in disagreeing without hostility on Cuba.

 Dear Carlos,

Reviewing your opinion piece of December 30, 2014 in El País titled "La reducida ventana de Raúl" ( Raul's shrinking window) raised a number of observations and questions that in the spirit of dialogue and the ongoing conversation on US-Cuba policy are outlined below.

In the first paragraph of your op-ed you make the assertion that President Obama is "the first North American leader since 1959 that faces the challenge of a changing Cuba." With respect, history indicates otherwise. During the course of the long tenure of the Castro regime that has spanned eleven presidencies, beginning with Eisenhower in 1959 through the present administration, the regime has not been static and unchanging. 

During the course of several presidencies the changes undergone by the Castro regime presented great challenges. For example, during the Kennedy Administration with the help of their Soviet allies the Castro regime hosted medium and long range nuclear inter continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that generated the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. The fact that Fidel Castro behind the scenes advocated and pushed for a Soviet nuclear first strike on the United States frightened U.S. and Soviet leaders.

Disappointed that the Soviets hadn't followed through with nuclear Armageddon Fidel Castro personally recruited former members of the Nazi SS Waffen to train Cuban troops and also reached out to Nazi operatives, Otto Ernst Remer and Ernst-Wilhelm Springer, in Germany's extreme right to purchase weapons.  José Ignacio Rasco, the founder of the Cuban Christian Democratic Party, and a classmate of Fidel Castro in a portrait of the Cuban dictator describes him as as a Marxist opportunist who could have easily been a Nazi if it had been politically convenient.

In 1966 during the Lyndon Johnson Administration the Castro regime hosted the Tricontinental Conference in Havana where Fidel Castro insisted that "conditions exist for an armed revolutionary struggle." The aim of the Tricontinental, according to Georges Fauriol in Cuba:the international dimension, was to promote violent revolution in Africa and Asia as well as Latin America: “At this conference, Cuba and Latin American Marxist Leninist terrorist groups began their collaboration with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and other radical Arab groups in the training and arming of terrorists." 

Richard Nixon's National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who pursued a policy of detente with both the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China tried to reach out to the Castro regime only to fail. Later outraged over Cuban incursions in Africa, in 1976 Kissinger contemplated air strikes on Cuba in retaliation.

Many focus on the Castro regime’s involvement in Angola in the 1970s backing a Marxist regime in battles against anti-communist guerrillas and the South African Apartheid regime but fail to mention another important incursion in Africa.  In Ethiopia the Castro regime backed Mengistu Haile Mariam with advice, troops and high level visits by both Fidel and Raul Castro.  War crimes such as a provoked famine and the targeting of ideologically suspect children for mass killings led to downplaying the role of the Castro regime in the whole affair.

This pattern of the Castro regime adapting and changing has continued to the present day

Furthermore President Obama's behavior of making unilateral concessions to the Castro regime has been done before by both the Carter and Clinton Administrations. You point this behavior out in your essay in explaining the kidnapping of Alan Gross, but misinterpret it as the Castro regime seeking to sabotage the normalization of relations between the two countries. Alan Gross rotted in a Cuban jail for over five years because when he was taken, the United States remained publicly silent for weeks, and it took U.S. diplomats 25 days to visit the kidnapped American citizen. This sent a signal to the Castro regime that they could use him as a bargaining piece and achieve an important objective: the return of five Cuban spies who had planned terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and whose network was responsible for a conspiracy that led to the murder of Americans.

The Castro regime's legitimacy does not arise out of the commercial embargo of the United States but out of the dictatorship's hostile revolutionary tradition to Yankee imperialism while seeking the overthrow of other bourgeois regimes in the hemisphere. It arises out of being able to out maneuver the United States diplomatically and with the use of military force in asymmetrical warfare. Furthermore its aggressive behavior especially to the perceived weakness of the adversary is classic bullying behavior and is a large part of the political culture of the Castro regime.

The challenge that Raul Castro and the regime face with the passing of Fidel Castro, who never cared about institutions but wanted the hyper-centralized control of power in his own hands, was how to turn the communist party of Cuba into an institution that could wield power instead of the empty shell it had been under Fidel Castro's rule

Once again, Mr. Saladrigas you ignore past history when in the 1980s and 1990s the Castro regime, was forced to open up to farmers markets and other free market mechanisms in order to survive. These reforms were shut down when the crisis had passed. Presently the instability in Venezuela has led the regime to look at other avenues to save itself and hang on to power including some internal economic reforms. This is nothing new but a mechanism for the system to hang on to power.

Noticed that in your opinion piece that you took a shot at those who argue for maintaining sanctions on the regime in Miami with the "historical ones" while others in the debate like to use the term "hardliners" in an attempt to draw some sort of equivalence. The reality in Miami is that  the young elite maybe divided on the subject, and despite what the Bendixen pollsters may push poll, a majority are probably against what you are peddling.

Because when you claim that the steps taken by Obama have given  a boost to reformist sectors seeking profound change and that he has done so with "an extraordinary elegance for Cuba to change" with all due respect one can only reply with a question: Are you serious?

Regime hardliners have won, thanks to the Obama Administration's actions on December 17, 2014. Kidnapping an American and holding him for ransom for five years has paid off for the Castro regime.  Moderate elements within the dictatorship, seeking to transition Cuba into a responsible member of the family of nations, will have to continue to remain silent and wait.

Young Cubans based out of Florida International University have drafted a document titled "Not in our name" that offers a different analysis of what has just taken place:
FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative, may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba. We also know as does the regime that due to short term economic interests that economic engagement with the dictatorship will not be seriously impacted by whatever new atrocities are committed. Additionally, the hostage demand having been met by the United States government also sets a dangerous precedent for Americans traveling abroad. Add to this the normalization of diplomatic relations and the further loosening of sanctions and the signal sent to the hardline elements within the regime is clear: operating with criminal impunity delivers results. This was the same message sent by President Clinton in 2000.
 The claim that the policy of the United States towards Cuba since 1959 has been a failure is factually incorrect for a number of reasons. First the policy of the United States over the past 56 years has on different occasions changed and more radically (Carter 1977) then what Obama has done so far. Secondly, the aim of the economic embargo as laid out in State Department documents in the early 1960s was to contain the dictatorship's expansion in the hemisphere. It was never meant to liberate, but post 1996 it was viewed as a negotiating tool in a post-Castro Cuba.

Furthermore the claim that "Obama has opened a door to change with an international coalition  to offer Cuba a smooth landing" flies in the face of reality. The international coalition was forged by the Castro regime with the hard currency provided by its ideological offspring Hugo Chavez and was on display one year ago in Havana as Cuba chaired the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), with the Secretary Generals of the United Nations and the Organization of American States in attendance to legitimize the dictatorship. This is projecting the Castro model throughout the region not providing a "soft landing" for a democratic transition.Incidentally, despite having normal diplomatic and trade relations Canada has also been kept out of CELAC. The news that the Obama administration is looking to the government of Mexico to pressure the Castro regime is an indication of how lost the administration is. This initiative at a time when the Mexican president is being pressured by the Castro regime and its left wing allies in Mexico to resign in a campaign seeking to conflate the murder of 43 students by members of a left-wing opposition party (friendly with Havana) into an attack on the overall political system will not prosper.

Young voices that have emerged from Cuba understand that what the Obama administration and you are advocating will only shore up the dictatorship and prolong its existence. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who was murdered on July 22, 2012 warned against fraudulent change just months before his untimely death and his daughter forced into exile understand what both you and the White House apparently do not:
"Economic reforms that do not give autonomy to the citizens, nor come accompanied by recognition of civil and political rights of the people, do not guarantee or facilitate a democratic transition. We are not talking about the recognition of private enterprise, but at concessions that the government offers to a few privileged people and that they use to show international public opinion an image of openings that is not real. It’s worth mentioning that at the same time we are seeing an increase in repression against pro-democracy activists on the island."
It appears now that the effort to portray the release of Alan Gross as a humanitarian gesture is falling apart. Gerardo Hernandez, the spy convicted of conspiracy to commit murder of four human beings ( three of them U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident) who was serving a life sentence has now returned to Cuba with a hero's welcome. The spy supposedly swapped for Hernandez now appears may or may not be a double agent working for the Castro regime whose resume was padded in order to make it appear something other than what this was: freeing terrorist spies and a murderer in exchange for Alan Gross, an innocent American who should have never spent a day in jail. This sends a dangerous signal that empowers hardliners and weakens the reformers in the regime and internationally signals that terrorists held by the U.S. can now be freed in exchange for innocent victims of government oppression. Unfortunately, the fruits of this poisonous "new approach" will be harvested by the Obama Administration over the next two years.

Supporters of the Obama Administration will continue to place fig leaves over this disaster, but its scale is so great that they will not succeed, and trying to blame it on the Castro regime sabotaging the effort will no longer work. The dictatorship wants normalized relations just like China and Vietnam where the United States makes formal complaints of human rights abuses but does not allow that to impact its underlying economic and diplomatic relationship. 

Here are two final questions for you. First, do you believe that political considerations drive the Castro regime's economic policies? Since Obama entered the White House in 2009 export trade with Cuba has been consistently lower than during the Bush Administration and according to the AP has reached a decade low in 2014.  Twelve years ago James Prevor, of the publication Produce Business, predicted where things have now arrived in the Cuba policy debate as far as Agro-business is concerned:
But what the really big grain traders want is to sell to Cuba on credit - and get those credits provided or guaranteed by various federal loan programs. In effect, these agribusiness behemoths want to sell to Cuba and have the U.S. tax- payer pick up the tab. And their bet is that once produce shippers have gotten a taste of the business, they will become a kind of Amen corner for the Cuban lobby, pushing Congress to approve whatever laws will be to the liking of the Cuban government. This really brings to the forefront why trade with a communist country poses unique dangers to a democratic society.
Professor C. Parr Rosson of Texas A&M University authored a study that does a break down of trade through 2011  that demonstrates that the peak year of trade between Cuba and the United States was 2008. James Prevoe in October of 2002 in the article, Cuba Caution, reported on how Cuba "had exhausted all its credit lines and, at best, was simply rotating the accounts. When the opportunity came to buy from the United States, Cuba simply abandoned all those suppliers who supported the country for 40 years and began buying from us."  The suppliers were not the ones impacted by Cuba's failure to pay its debts, the taxpayers of the suppliers' home countries were the one's left holding the tab.

Secondly, is U.S. Agro-business in on this bait and switch con or are they pawns, driven by short term self interest, in a chess match? The regime's decade long strategy is clear: Drive up purchases in U.S. exports to levels not sustainable by the regime under free (non-subsidized) trade thus creating a lobby for subsidized trade through credits. 

A policy of "normalization" with the current regime in Cuba may be good for Agro-business, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the dictatorship but it will not be good for American taxpayers or the Cuban people. Please let me know where am I wrong in this analysis?



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