Boston Globe: Transition to nowhere

Campaign News | Monday, 3 July 2006

By Democrat Congressman Jim McGovern

By Jim McGovern, August 3, 2006

NEWS REPORTS this week confirming the ill health of 79-year-old President Fidel Castro of Cuba follow on the heels of another development concerning the island nation -- the Bush administration's release last month of its latest report outlining US goals and policies toward Cuba.

For 47 years, the United States has pursued a failed policy toward the communist government there based on two key elements: economic isolation and waiting until Castro dies.

The first, a US embargo, has not resulted in the isolation of Cuba; it has resulted only in the isolation of the United States from Cuba. The rest of the world openly trades, invests, and vacations in Cuba. Over the past six years, the Bush administration has not only tightened economic sanctions, it has steadily increased restrictions on travel and interactions by Americans with Cuban academics, scientists, artists, athletes, and religious leaders. People-to-people programs have disappeared, and, most cruelly, travel by and assistance from Cuban-Americans to their family members who remain in Cuba have been severely curtailed.

The US crackdown on family remittances has served only to punish Cuban families and add to the deprivations that are part of daily life there. It has not affected the Cuban economy, which is thriving, with investments from Europe, Venezuela, and China on line for the future. The discovery of oil fields off the Cuban coast ensures a wealth of new investment for the island, as well.

What the increased sanctions and restrictions have brought the United States is a near-complete lack of contact and relationships with the very people who might be engaged in a post-Castro government, such as academics, technicians, government officials, and others who are young and open-minded and not identified with the dissident movement. These are the individuals on whose advice and expertise a sensible US administration would want to draw.

Releasing a report on what future relations with Cuba will be like while shutting down current contact between the two countries is contradictory, to say the least. It is not the path that America followed with former Soviet states or Vietnam, and it's not the policy being followed with China, where developing contacts and communication were primary features, and where engaging in the exchange of ideas, while educating and training potential future leaders, took center stage in preparing for future transitions. From what I have observed during my trips to Cuba, the release of yet another report outlining what the Bush administration intends to impose on Cubans after Castro has only served to harden and unify Cuban public opinion against an arrogant and meddling United States.

The latest outline of the Bush doctrine calls for more money to be put into supporting dissidents, sending books and magazines, radios and fax machines, and trying to get third parties involved in working with them. Even if that direct US aid to Cuban dissidents -- a policy that frequently adds to the danger of being a dissident voice -- actually reaches their hands and supports them in a constructive manner, the dissident community is a small group, with limited influence, and will at best be only one voice in the future of Cuba. Supporting dissidents while ignoring the rest of Cuban society is a mistake.

The administration, while pretending to prepare for dealings with Cuba after Castro is gone, only confirms that this government does not have the contacts, the intelligence, or the relationships with key actors who will shape Cuba's immediate future. In fact, the report states that the goal of US policy is to prevent a ``successor" government and to encourage a ``transition" government, a simplistic and unrealistic assessment. Unless there is a major internal crisis in Cuba -- an unlikely scenario and one that would probably produce a migration crisis that the United States should seek to avoid -- any post-Castro government will probably have elements of continuity and elements of change.

I have many concerns regarding a post- Fidel Cuba. None of his potential heirs, especially his brother Raul, has the same influence or emotional pull on the Cuban people. A tightening of security and a crackdown on dissidents are likely scenarios. But change is inevitable, and those nations that have cultivated relationships across the Cuban spectrum will most likely play important roles in shaping a post-Castro society.

The United States, unfortunately, with its transition-to-nowhere road map, is poised to remain on the sidelines.

US Representative Jim McGovern represents the Third District of Massachusetts.

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