Not leading by example

News from Cuba | Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Yesterday, President Obama spoke of Cuba in terms that recognized the continuing US policy towards the island country: "it's time for the regime to change" is only five letters away from "it's time for regime change." He outlined some reasons for saying it was that time again, after more than 50 years of repetition, but his explanation made us think that it's time for the US to do more leading by example than through threats. Following are extracts from news reports on what he said, and the comparisons that they invited.

'We have not seen enough evidence that they have been sufficiently aggressive in changing their policies economically."

What is going on in Cuba is possibly the most profound change made in the Cuban economy since the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. On the other hand, the current US administration and a deadlocked Congress are not being sufficiently aggressive in changing their policies economically, given the depth and velocity of the economic crisis.

"And they certainly have not been aggressive enough when it comes to freeing political prisoners and giving people the opportunity to speak their minds."

Maybe the president was reading from someone else's script, as was the case with "his answer" to Yoani the blogger, but he seems not to have heard of the massive release of the prisoners that the US considered political, and some others as well. Maybe, also, he can explain how the 172 prisoners in Guantanamo, and the many more in jails and secret places in other countries, added to the largest population in the World of people in jail and in prison, numerically and proportionately, are examples to follow. Fear is now the great motivator in the US, and speaking one's mind is not a good idea. Not even during the Cold War were we reminded so constantly to report to the authorities anyone who seems strange to us.

"Everywhere people are crying out for freedom, you are seeing enormous changes taking place in the Middle East just in the span of six months, you are seeing there are almost no authoritarian communist countries left in the world, and here you have this small island that is a throwback to the 60s."

People are crying out for freedom from liberation armies they did not ask for. For example, both Iraq and Afghanistan are taking an awfully long time, even under heavy pressure from the US, to decide whether they want any US troops to remain in those countries. In the Middle East, people are making changes, but not yet enormous, and not in places like Bahrain, which hosts an important US military base, as did Honduras up to and through the coup of 2009 (Honduras has now granted the US two more bases). In Libya, change is being imposed not by the people, but by NATO bombers. The president is not concerned about authoritarian countries allied to the US, like Saudi Arabia --another Middle Eastern country that somehow is not scheduled for regime change, and that in fact has been helping to repress its neighboring Bahrainis.

Some other peoples not mentioned here are rising in Spain and Greece, and in Iceland and Ireland, and --from the professional middle classes-- in Israel. There were major riots throughout the UK. Europe and the euro are not exactly sturdy these days. But here in the US you have this large country that is looking more and more like a throwback to the 30s.

"Obviously it's not working for them. The standards of living have not improved significantly, in fact they are deteriorating in many cases, people's liberties continue to be constrained at a time when the world is more open and people have more information than ever before."

Oddly, the President does not mention the continuing blockade he is implementing, like other presidents before him, meant to strangle the Cuban economy. At the same time, his references to stagnant standards of living and constrained civil liberties describe the state of our own nation.

"In this setting, it's clearly time for the Cuban regime to change."

Cuba is in fact changing, creating space for self-employment and private-sector agriculture, while in the US the main changes in the economy have concentrated more and more wealth at the top as tens of millions of people lose their homes and jobs.

In this setting, it's clearly time for US policies to change.

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