Friday, May 6, 2016

The Obama Administration and the Implosion of Latin America

"What's past is prologue."  - William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act 2 Scene 1

Then Cuba and Nicaragua vs Now Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela
Latin America is imploding with pro-Castro regimes pushing a revolutionary agenda in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela that runs counter to improved human rights in the region. At the same time these regimes are networking with international and transnational bad actors. Cuban intelligence agents and the military are projecting power across the region and the Russians are back.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it in North Korea, in 2015 removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror while ignoring the ongoing bad acts of the Castro regime. This is done in the hopes that their behavior would improve. In both North Korea and Cuba this has had the opposite effect.

This is a dangerous situation to the U.S. mainland when one considers that the United States does not have control of its borders. For example on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, four uniformed Cuban Coast Guardsmen arrived in Key West from Cuba with AK-47s and a Chinese handgun. Despite the fear of terrorist attacks the coastline remains unprotected and most recently in 2016 two Cuban police men arrived in South Florida still wearing their uniforms.

Past is prologue
 Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgencio Batista regime on January 1, 1959 following a U.S. arms embargo being imposed on the military dictator on April 2, 1958. On January 7, 1959 the United States recognized the new Cuban government ushered in by the Castro brothers and had actively pressured Batista to leave since 1958.

The honeymoon
 The United States thought that it could have normal relations with the Cuban revolutionary government which was also a reason for recognition within the span of a week. In comparison it had taken the United States 17 days to recognize the government of Fulgencio Batista following his March 10, 1952 coup. The United States had not been consulted ahead of time about Batista's coup and this led to the delay in recognition. 

How the Castro regime ended the honeymoon with the United States
On March 3, 1959 the Castro regime expropriates properties belonging to the International Telephone and Telegraph Company, and took over its affiliate, the Cuban Telephone Company. On May 17, 1959 the government expropriated farm lands over 1,000 acres and banned land ownership by foreigners. On February 6, 1960 talks begin publicly between the U.S.S.R and Fidel Castro. The Soviet Union agreed to buy five million tons of sugar over five years. They also agreed to support Cuba with oil, grain, and credit. On July 6, 1960 the Castro regime passed a nationalization law authorizing nationalization of U.S.-owned property through expropriation. Texaco, Esso, and Shell oil refineries were taken. These policies combined with the Castro regime engaging the Soviet Union led the Eisenhower administration towards an embargo on Cuba and in 1960 exploring options to overthrow the new dictatorship that ended being taken up in the Kennedy Administration first with the Bay of Pigs fiasco and later Operation Mongoose overseen by his brother and attorney general, Robert Kennedy.

Trying to destabilize Latin America

The Castro regime beginning in 1959 sent armed expeditions to Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to overthrow their governments. The regime's destabilization policy led two thirds of the 21 states of Latin America voting to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States on February 14, 1963.   A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.

Throughout the 1960s the policy of containment and sanctions were also supported by much of Latin America because the efforts of the Castro regime to violently overthrow their governments led to hemispheric unity for a policy of isolating the dictatorship.

The "low point" in U.S. relations with the Castro regime was during the Kennedy Administration with the Bay of Pigs (1961), the Cuban missile crisis (1962),  Operation Mongoose and the assassination of John Kennedy in November of 1963. The Johnson Administration ended active measures to overthrow the Castro regime and pursued a policy of containment.

First efforts to normalize relations
Fidel Castro, during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, requested a nuclear first strike on the United States in a letter to Nikita Khrushchev and it would not be the last time. 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.

Argentina junta leader Reynaldo Bignone with Fidel Castro
The efforts of the United States beginning in the Ford administration to normalize relations with the Castro regime, that were then accelerated and intensified during the Carter administration, may have been in reaction to understanding this threat. However these overtures contributed to weakening the hemispheric consensus to isolate Castroism. This ironically opened the way for the Castro regime not only to overthrow the Somoza regime in Nicaragua installing a Marxist-Leninist regime there but also into a strange alliance with the military junta in Argentina that at the time was "disappearing" 30,000 leftists. Carter had ended a policy of supporting the Somoza regime and had cooled relations with the military regimes in Argentina and Chile.

Reagan's returns to policy of containment rejecting Carter's normalization policy

Carter's policy of détente was rejected by the Reagan administration. Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981 and re-imposed the travel ban, toughened economic sanctions, in 1982 placed the Castro regime on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and started Radio Marti to break through the communist monopoly with uncensored information for Cubans on the island. This policy reversed Castroism's gains in Grenada and in Central America. The collapse of the Soviet empire between 1989 through the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 put the Castro regime into a crisis. However in the midst of this collapse, the remaining communist parties from around the world gathered in Brazil at the Sao Paulo Forum and planned their comeback.

Clinton resurrects Carter's Cuba policy with deadly results
Carter's  détente policy would reassert itself first during the Clinton Administration beginning in 1994 when President Bill Clinton authorized the U.S. military to have permanent contacts and joint exercises with the Castro regime's military.

The Clinton administration stopped calling Cubans refugees declaring them migrants. The General Accounting Office (GAO) explained this change "for over 30 years, fleeing Cubans had been welcomed to the United States; however, the U.S. government reversed this policy on August 19, 1994, when President Clinton announced that Cuban rafters interdicted at sea would no longer be brought to the United States."  Wet foot, dry foot" was a massive set back for Cuban refugees. At the same time a  1995 agreement with the Castro regime empowered them to control who would arrive in the United States by registering Cubans for a lottery and up to 20,000 "immigrants" would be eligible to enter the United States annually. This is a large part of what has led to South Florida being filled with regime oppressors and who knows how many spies. This, not the Cuban Adjustment Act, is what needs to be ended. 

This normalization effort peaked when Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and opened cash and carry trade with the dictatorship loosening sanctions.  This was done in spite of tightened sanction in 1996 following the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. This new period of engagement coincided with the rise of Hugo Chavez and reversals of the democratic gains made in the 1980s and early 1990s.

George W. Bush cools relations without rejecting Clinton normalization advances
During the George W. Bush Administration the cash and carry trade continued as did the joint military exercises. Even though in 2003 in the aftermath of the Black Cuban spring in which 75 dissidents were jailed following show trials the Bush administration responded by tightening sanctions limiting travel by Cuban exiles to Cuba and remittances. In 2006 the Sandinistas return to power in Nicaragua with the old dictator Daniel Ortega now winning a democratic election with 38% of the vote. Despite all of this, under the Bush Administration, the United States became the fifth leading trade partner with the Castro regime in 2008.

President Obama shaking hands with President Hugo Chavez (2009)
Obama's back to the future retread of Carter era Cuba policies
The Obama administration's current Cuba policy of engagement and detente with the Castro regime in the past has served to empower other anti-democratic actors in the region with the aide of the Cuban intelligence service and military. Latin American democrats in the region, despite some positive signs, should remain vigilant. These are dangerous times. It is important to recall that the long term policy goals first enunciated by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1959 continue into the present: "We promise to continue making Cuba the example that can convert the cordillera of the Andes into the Sierra Maestra of the American continent." This vision was reaffirmed by Fidel Castro at the VII Cuban Communist Party Conference in 2016
"Lenin’s work insulted after 70 years of revolution. What a historical lesson! We can say that it should not take another 70 years before another event like the Russian Revolution occurs, so that humanity has another example of a great social revolution that meant a huge step in the fight against colonialism and its inseparable companion: imperialism."
The Cuban dictatorship is not limited to Latin America and has also pursued an ambitious foreign policy in Africa, that in the case of Ethiopia contributed to famine and mass murder, as relations improved with the Carter administration in the 1970s. Human rights defenders today are being targeted across the hemisphere.

With or without sanctions Castro regime's hostility will continue
With or without the Embargo the confrontation with the United States will continue as long as the government of the United States is a democracy. Furthermore, the propaganda of the regime in Cuba and its allies in Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, and elsewhere is that the United States is an imperial power. Opening up to the United States economically as it has with other countries will present a new line of argument to justify its continued totalitarian control: the threat of economic domination by the imperialists. This can already be seen in the arrests of Western businessmen and the confiscation of their assets with preferences to companies from ideologically friendly countries such as communist China, Vietnam, Venezuela, Brazil, etc. The increased hard currency that the Castro regime is getting its hands on will go towards reinforcing the dictatorship's repressive apparatus at home and expanding its power and influence abroad at the expense of U.S. and regional interests.

Nicaragua: A deteriorating situation that can spark conflict in Central America
Ominous signs in Nicaragua for Central America with the purchase of 50 new T-72B1 battle tanks at a cost of 80 million dollars in 2016 could be to send a message to the domestic opposition but also points to a more aggressive foreign policy that may target neighbors. Last year human rights defenders were ejected from Nicaragua. In 2011 the Sandinistas stole the elections with violence and appear to be on track to repeat in 2016.

President Obama and General Castro during press conference
 U.S. policy in Latin America is counterproductive to U.S. national interests
Advances that are made in Latin America in the coming years, if there are any, will be in spite of not because of U.S. foreign policy. Consider for a moment the following: Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with journalist Andres Oppenheimer in August 20, 2015 made it known that "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis." This ignores that it is the Castro regime that backed Hugo Chavez's rise to power in Venezuela and engineered a succession in Havana that brought Nicolas Maduro to power and seeks to maintain him there at all costs. Today what passes for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America would be better described as wishful thinking divorced from reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment