Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why President Barack Obama's Cuba policy will fail both Cubans and Americans

December 17, 2014: A historic blunder on Cuba policy

On December 17, 2014 President Obama with his Cuba policy announcement continued down a path his administration followed in 2009 that had already started in the Carter administration and restarted in the Clinton  administrations that has only served to legitimize and empower the longest totalitarian dictatorship in the Americas. The Castro regime has perceived itself on each of these occasions free to deal with obstacles to its rule without having to fear outside consequences and both Cubans and U.S. policy interests have suffered as a result.  

There is agreement on the publicly stated U.S. policy goals for Cuba which are: helping the island transition from a totalitarian dictatorship to a democratic order with civil society and the rule of law. They coincide with the aspirations of the Cuban democratic opposition. For example, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, co-founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba spent a life time there pursuing nonviolent means to achieve democratic change. 

Oswaldo Payá during a national dialogue, his movement organized, with 12,000 Cubans inside and outside of Cuba participating in a process that began in 2003 and ended in 2006 with the document “Program for all Cubans”, described a transition that would go from the present totalitarian laws to the rule of law in an emerging democratic order without descending into chaos. Oswaldo was murdered, along with his movement’s youth leader, Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 by the Castro regime’s state security services. They aren’t the only opposition leaders murdered by the regime since 2009.

In the course of debating Cuba policy one should not underestimate the Castro brothers and their ruling military junta. The United States attempted twice to topple the Castro regime in April 1961 through the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and again with Operation Mongoose between 1962 and 1964. Beginning in 1964 despite campaign pronouncements, U.S. policy in practice and in particular with regards to economic sanctions has been one of containment with repeated attempts to achieve a détente with the dictatorship.

This is due to the realization acquired during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that Fidel Castro preferred a nuclear first strike on the United States than lose power. The Cuban dictator asked for Nuclear Armageddon during the October 1962 Missile Crisis in a letter to Nikita Khrushchev and actively sought to provoke it. This caused his Soviet allies to rethink basing any nuclear missiles in Cuba. In the early 1980s Castro again pressed the Soviets hard for a nuclear strike against the United States. Andrian A. Danilevich, a Soviet general staff officer made Fidel Castro’s second request public knowledge in 2009 in The New York Times.

This is why the United States in the 1960s stopped trying to topple Castro. Why risk 300 million lives to liberate an island of 11 million people from a sociopath willing to spark Armageddon if his power is threatened?

The Castro regime also has one of the top three intelligence services on the planet, trained by the East German Stasi, along with a half century record of sponsoring and engaging in terrorism and guerrilla warfare on different continents. In 2013 the Castro regime was caught smuggling weapons to North Korea that included ballistic missile technology, rockets, MiG fighter jets, and much more hidden under bags of sugar. Underestimating Castro has led to many a fool’s errand and not only for the United States, just ask the Venezuelan opposition for another contemporary example.

The idea, circulated since the late 1990s, that the Castro dictatorship is not a military threat to the United States was planted in a threat assessment authored by one of Fidel Castro’s spies who had infiltrated the Defense Intelligence Agency. She was only captured in September 2001 after first being detected because of some unusual behavior during the immediate aftermath of February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. Her name is Ana Belen Montes, a graduate of John Hopkins and the University of Virginia, and she is currently serving a 25 year prison sentence for espionage.

The most important action President Obama took on December 17 has been the one least debated and that cannot be undone and undermines stated U.S. policy goals in Cuba. The exchange of three Cuban spies for Alan Gross, an American held hostage since December 2009. Castro had repeatedly stated that Alan Gross would remain imprisoned until the five Cuban spies were returned to Cuba and five years later on December 17 Alan Gross was back on American soil and all five spies were back in Cuba. Adding an American spy to the mix and claiming Gross’s release is humanitarian doesn’t pass the smell test.

One of the supposed end goals of U.S, policy towards the island is to see a Cuba were “rule by law “is replaced by “rule of law.” The best way to accomplish this is to practice what you preach. Unfortunately, the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez, a Castro spy serving a double life sentence (one of them for conspiracy to murder Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996) was an unusual act that flouts the spirit of the rule of law. The United States had engaged in spy trades before but not for someone serving life for murder. Add to it that it was done responding to a kidnapper’s demand and the moral dubiousness of the action is compounded.

The idea that one should not focus on the means but on “the ends” is a mistake. Mohandas Gandhi, a great strategic thinker, understood this and on July 17, 1924 in the publication Young India said: “There is no wall of separation between means and end. Indeed the Creator has given us control (and that too very limited) over means, none over the end. Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.”

This does not bode well for Obama’s Cuba policy.

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