Tuesday, January 20, 2015

History repeats itself: Lessons from Libya and Syria for Cuba

Gaddafi and Obama (2009) Obama and Castro (2013)
The ongoing disasters in Libya and Syria are demonstrations of 1.) the failure of engaging and normalizing relations with tyrants and 2.) paying lip service to human rights violations and ignoring nonviolent opposition activists until the stench of death and the threat to regional interests ends in a military response that is also a dismal failure. At the end of the day the West ends up looking the other way impotently not having advanced freedom or stability. Unfortunately, the new Obama policy on Cuba promises more of the same. However, there is another way but first a brief review of what hasn't work.

The Syrian opposition had its greatest successes when it maintained a nonviolent posture. Unfortunately when the Assad regime was in retreat and elements of the military switched sides the temptation to end things quickly with violence only ended up in dramatically driving up the body count and strengthening the dictatorship that is in a stronger position today while at the same time leading to the spread of ISIS. In Libya the West's embrace of Gaddafi and disengagement from dissidents on the ground who rose up during the Arab Spring; followed by the quick backing of NATO did not allow for a nascent nonviolent movement to get very far. Foreign backing was able to drive Gaddafi from power, but that which was born in violence in Libya has not brought freedom or stability to that country.

Small moral compromises that led to failure

In the case of Libya in 2009 the lone convicted terrorist of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was jailed in 2001 was freed and sent back to Muammar Gaddafi. Thousands welcomed home as a hero the Lockerbie bomber who murdered 270 people in 1988 when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103. At the time time President Barack Obama said the release was a mistake, but five years later he released Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, 49, a Cuban intelligence officer, jailed in1998 for the murder of four people in 1996 was returned to Raul Castro and a hero's welcome in Cuba.

What appears to be a small moral compromise in the service of a larger policy agenda, the freeing of murderous intelligence officers for business interests or the release of a hostage, often times return to haunt policy makers. The message not only to the Castro regime's security services but to others is clear: you can get away with multiple murders and the United States will eventually relent if you have an American hostage.

History repeats itself?
This combined with business and political interests in the United States corrupting themselves in order to pursue trade with the Castro dictatorship and the perpetuation of decades more of dictatorship will be the end result. Economic engagement that modernizes totalitarian dictatorships has led to richer countries in China and Vietnam with worsening human rights standards that are now impacting internationally. Repeating this approach in Cuba while rewarding repression promises the same outcome. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time that the United States backed a left wing dictatorship with the collusion of the Catholic Church and condemned an entire people to more than 70 years of what became known as the perfect dictatorship.

Withdrawing consent and regaining sovereignty
Finally in the current debate on Cuba there is a case that is not being made in Washington DC: that Cubans withdrawing their consent nonviolently with an international community that is willing to demonstrate its solidarity with them, and not empowering the dictatorship oppressing the Cuban people, is the best means to achieve a successful transition. This is why national opposition figures such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas who could have over seen a democratic transition have met with untimely deaths.

University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.” This also depends on the nonviolent opposition movement having a strategic vision and maintaining its non-violent posture even under the worse repression.

Change must come from the bottom up if a democratic order is to emerge in Cuba.

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