Wayne Smith: US Cuba Policy on a Dead End
Campaign News | Wednesday, 8 November 2006
Former US diplomat lambasts Bush Plan
Washington, Nov 7 (Prensa Latina) Former US diplomat to Cuba, Wayne S. Smith chastised the Bush administration for carrying their Cuba policy to a dead end.
Wayne S. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and the former Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana (1979-82). published an article on the subject in Foreign Policy in Focus (full article below), where he says President Bush?s plan is a blueprint for an American occupation of the island.
This plan, corrected and in a shorter version, issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Transition Coordinator Caleb McCarry on July 10 this year, is full of recommended actions, always provided that Cubans on the island wished to initiate them, says Smith.
US plan also finds first Cuban Vice President Raul Castro "unacceptable". No sooner had the administration said he was than Fidel takes ill and signs main responsibilities over to his brother, who became acting President.
The Cuban people, recognizes Smith, took the change with calm maturity and goes on to say that at this point, three months after Raul took power, things are running smoothly and normally in Cuba.
Instead, Bush and Rice called on the Cuban people "to work for democratic change" and stressed that the United States stood ready to help in any way possible, pretending people to rise against the government.
In this case, Smith stresses the US administration has no one to talk to in Cuba, it has been left on the sidelines mumbling to itself, says the expert on Cuba policy.
On the other hand, hoping for a collapse of Cuban economy, it has found instead new and very profitable relationships with Venezuela and China, so it is just the opposite.
Faced with failure, Washington has only come up with more of the same, affirms Wayne Smith. The farce of Radio and TV Marti results that it still has not had any influence on Cuban public opinion.
As many Cuban-Americans fear, the $80 million promised for dissidents in the island, is really a pay-off to hard-line exiles who are unhappy with what they see in the way of Administration?s Cuba policy. They say this money will virtually line pockets in Miami but have little if any effect in Cuba.
As for Cuba travel, in spite of fewer US visitors, tourism has increased with tourists from Canada, Europe and Latin America. This is then a futile gesture, says Smith, and those hurt most are Cuban-Americans who can only visit their relatives in the island once every three years.
Adding to our embarrassment, says Professor Smith, we have the case of Luis Posada Carriles, the arch-terrorist and co-architect of the bombing of the Cubana airliner in 1976.
Posada has been held in El Paso on an immigration charge for the last year and a half. The judge there has pointed out he cannot be held indefinitely. Venezuela has asked for his extradition, so the administration must either send him to Venezuela or try him on terrorist charges, for which there is ample evidence, in the United States, affirms Smith.
The expert says the Bush administration apparently intends to do neither. In its brief to the El Paso court, it indicated it is still trying to find a country to send him to. Where does that leave George W. Bush--or, for that matter, George H.W. Bush?
The approach the US should take toward Cuba is obvious. The Cold War is over. Cuba poses no threat whatever to the United States. We have normal trade and diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam, so why not with Cuba?, asks Smith.
*Wayne S. Smith is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82). He is also an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he directs the Cuban Exchange Program, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org).
*Wayne is an invited speaker to the Latin America 2006 Conference, Congress House, London, 2 December, 2006.
Bush's dysfunctional Cuba policy
By Wayne S. Smith
From Foreign Policy In Focus
The Bush administration's Cuba policy has reached a dead end, with no hope of success. Its objective is nothing less than to bring down the Castro regime. Or, as then-Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega put it on October 2, 2003: "The President is determined to see the end of the Castro regime and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in office for so long."
President George W. Bush then appointed a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba with the goals of bringing about "an expeditious end of the dictatorship," and developing a plan to achieve that goal. In May 2004, the Commission came out with a near-500- page plan whose basic premise was that the Castro regime was near collapse and that another shove or two would bring it down--a few more Radio Marti broadcasts, a few more travel restrictions, another economic sanction or two and it would all be over. The plan also read like a blueprint for an American occupation that would make the trains run on time, show the Cubans how to run their school systems and grow their crops--so much so that it offended many Cubans who read it, even those who didn't necessarily agree with the Castro government.
To correct that, the new--and shorter--report issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Transition Coordinator Caleb McCarry, on July 10 this year stressed that its purpose was simply to assist Cubans on the island. Solutions must come from them, it insisted, adding that the U.S. stood ready and willing to support those initiatives. But having said that, the report went on with page after page of recommended actions--always provided that Cubans on the island wished to initiate them.
U.S. Plan Found Raul "Unacceptable"
The new plan was issued with much fanfare and the strong suggestion that the strategy was working and that we'd reached a new stage in the transformation of Cuba. There was a new wrinkle, however. The goal of the old plan, as stated above, had been to bring down the Castro government. The new objective, rather, was to prevent what was called a "succession strategy," i.e., that Fidel Castro be succeeded by his brother, Raul. This was deemed "unacceptable."
But no sooner had the administration said it was unacceptable than it happened. On July 31, Fidel announced that because of a delicate operation and the need for time to recuperate, he was signing power over to his brother, who would now become acting President.
The Cuban people took the succession with calm maturity. Raul Castro does not have his brother's charisma, but is a respected figure, recognized for his administrative talents. The Armed Forces, which he leads, is the most efficient and respected institution in the country. At this point, two and a half months after the succession, things are running smoothly and normally in Cuba.
In Miami, of course, there was at first dancing in the streets and interviews reflecting the strong expectation that the Cuban people would not accept Raul Castro and that the Cuban Revolution would collapse forthwith. Reflecting that same kind of thinking, the State Department immediately rejected the transfer of power and demanded instead that the Cuban people have the right to freely elect any new government. It also offered to assist their efforts toward a transition more to their (and the State Department's) liking. Bush and Rice called on the Cuban people "to work for democratic change" and stressed that the United States stood ready to help "Cuba's transition to democracy" in any way possible.
U.S. Mumbling to Itself
But these entreaties, in effect calling on the Cuban people to work against the successor government, were totally ignored by them. Meanwhile, as it refused to deal with the government of Fidel Castro, the administration also refuses to deal with the new President, Raul Castro. And so, it has no one to talk to. It insists that there must be a new government, but it has no means of bringing that about. It is, in effect, left on the sidelines mumbling to itself.
Further, the idea put forward by the administration that our policy was working and that the Cuban economy--and government--were on the verge of collapse, could be seen by anyone who looked as a total fiction. Rather than collapsing, the Cuban economy, between 2004 and 2006, grew at a rate of approximately 8% per year. Revenues from tourism increased. The price of nickel, Cuba's main export, went to record highs. Cuba has new and very profitable economic relationships with Venezuela and China, and indications of a new oil field off the north coast, with other countries already bidding for drilling sites. It certainly is not nearing collapse. Quite the contrary.
And what measures does the administration have in its quiver to bring down the Cuban government? More of the same. It says, for example, that it will expand Radio and TV Marti broadcasts. A farce. Radio Marti has been broadcasting for some 20 years now without having the slightest effect on Cuban public opinion. TV Marti, despite efforts to transmit from aircraft and other new innovations, is still not seen because the Cuban government jams the broadcasts. Even if it were, its effect wouldn't likely be more than that of Radio Marti. In effect, zero.
Counterproductive Dissident Aid
The administration also promises to provide some $80 million for dissidents on the island and various other programs against the Cuban government. Again, a farce. As Oswaldo Paya, one of Cuba's leading dissidents, who says he would not accept any such handouts, has put it to me on a number of occasions: "Virtually all such funds remain in Miami, but they tarnish us even so and simply make our work more difficult."
The strong suspicion among Cuban-Americans who favor dialogue, and among many others as well, is that the $80 million really represents a pay-off to hard-line exiles who are unhappy with what they see as the administration's overly cautious efforts to get rid of the Cuban Revolution. Whether a pay-off or not, as Paya says, virtually all the money will line pockets in Miami and have little if any effect in Cuba.
And, finally, the administration has further restricted travel to Cuba, now even appointing a task force "to target those who violate the travel ban." Announcing the formation of the task force in Miami on October 11, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta explained its objective as being "to isolate the Castro regime economically and to deprive the Castro regime of the U.S. dollars its so desperately needs."
Tourism Is Increasing
But in fact, Cuba is not isolated. Even with fewer U.S. visitors, tourism has increased, with visitors from Canada, Europe and Latin America coming in even greater numbers. This then is a futile gesture and those hurt most by it are Cuban-Americans, who can now only visit their families on the island once every three years.
And there is no emergency provision. If a Cuban-American visits his or her mother, let us say, in June, and is then told in September that she is dying, there is no way to obtain an emergency license and be at her bedside. No, that person will have to wait another three years and then visit her grave. This is inhumane--and accomplishes nothing.
Acosta insisted that the October 11 announcement of the task force's creation was in no way related to the elections coming up on November 7--not at all designed to please hard-line exiles who don't want anyone traveling. If anyone believes that, please let me know so I may offer you a chance to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
Luis Posada Carriles
Finally, adding further to our embarrassment, we have the case of Luis Posada Carriles, the arch-terrorist and co-architect of the bombing of the Cubana airliner in 1976. This terrorist act killed 73 people. Posada's co-architect was Orlando Bosch, another terrorist now living freely in Miami, after having been pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Posada has been held in El Paso on an immigration charge for the last year and a half. The judge there has pointed out that he cannot be held indefinitely on such a charge. Venezuela has asked for his extradition. In order not to be in violation of our extradition treaty with Venezuela, the administration must either send him to Venezuela or try him on terrorist charges, for which there is ample evidence, in the United States.
The Bush administration apparently intends to do neither. In its brief to the El Paso court, it indicated it is still trying to find a country (a friendly country, that is) to send him to. Meanwhile, given that he is a dangerous character, he should not be released. But the administration did not declare him to be a terrorist under the USA PATRIOT Act, nor apparently does it have any intention of trying him in the U.S. It is in effect harboring this terrorist--giving him safe haven. And yet, Bush has often said that anyone who harbors a terrorist, is a terrorist.
Where does that leave George W. Bush--or, for that matter, George H.W. Bush?
What the U.S. should do is obvious: it should extradite Posada to Venezuela or it should declare him to be and try him as a terrorist here in the United States. It is too late, probably, to try Bosch, but the administration should take the position publicly that henceforth it will not give safehaven to any such known terrorists.
The approach the U.S. should take toward Cuba, rather than the dead-end policy it is now following, is also obvious. The Cold War is over. Cuba poses no threat whatever to the United States. We have normal trade and diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam, two other communist states, so why not with Cuba?
We have disagreements with Cuba to be sure, but surely it would be better to discuss those disagreements through normal diplomatic dialogue rather than refusing to talk. And that diplomatic dialogue should begin immediately, with Raul Castro as Acting President, and should continue should Fidel Castro return to the presidency, which at this point seems unlikely.
The administration (or Congress) should also immediately remove all restrictions on travel to Cuba--restrictions which violate the rights of American citizens and which do not in any way encourage liberalization in Cuba. As Elizardo Sanchez, one of Cuba's leading human rights activist, has said to me on a number of occasions: "The more American citizens in the streets of Cuban cities, the better for the cause of a more open society."
Obviously. Indeed, it used to be a veritable maxim with us that the best way to spread the message of American democracy was through the travel of American citizens abroad. Why is that not true of Cuba?
Lifting the embargo will be more complicated and take more time. We would first have to reach some solution to the question of compensation for nationalized U.S. properties. That should not pose an insurmountable obstacle, however. For its part, Cuba has indicated its readiness to negotiate.
It would also be necessary to clear away the legislative obstacles to resumed trade, in particular repealing the Helms-Burton Act and similar legislation. That will take time and is likely to come about only after engagement and dialogue have improved the atmosphere between Havana and Washington. But let us begin the process.
The Guardian: After 46 years of failure, we must change course on Cuba
The US is deaf to the almost unanimous international view: its embargo is a block on positive change in Havana
Wayne S Smith
Wednesday November 1, 2006
The Guardian, London
The annual vote in the UN general assembly on the US embargo against Cuba is back this month. Last year's result saw 182 member states oppose the blockade, with only four - the US, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau - voting in favour. The embargo, and indeed overall US policy towards the island, have virtually no international support. No wonder: it is a failed approach.
The essential elements of the embargo have been in place since 1960. As recently declassified documents confirm, the objective of the policy since the beginning has been to bring about the downfall of the Castro regime, an ambition pursued in vain for 46 years.
Early on, there may have been some logic to US efforts to isolate Cuba and bring down its government - at a time, that is, when Fidel Castro was trying to overthrow the leaders of various other Latin American states and moving into a relationship with the Soviet Union, one that led to the missile crisis in 1962. But all that is now ancient history. Castro has built normal, peaceful diplomatic relations in the region, while any threat posed by the so-called Cuban-Soviet alliance ended with the demise of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago.
And yet the Bush administration's policy towards Cuba is more hostile than ever. This despite the fact that, immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Cuba expressed its solidarity with the American people. It subsequently called for dialogue on joint efforts against terrorism. It also signed all 12 UN resolutions against terrorism.
Surely these overtures were worth exploring. But, no, the Bush administration rejected them out of hand and instead began calling for the downfall of the Castro government. As Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, put it in October 2003: "The president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime, and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept it in power."
To bring that about, the administration appointed a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which, in May 2004, produced a 500-page action plan for the removal of the Castro government and for what sounded worryingly like the US occupation of Cuba: how to make their trains run on time, how to reorganise their schools, and so on. Shortly thereafter, it even appointed a US "transition coordinator". As Jose Miguel Insulza, the Chilean secretary general of the Organisation of American States remarked, "But there is no transition - and it isn't your country."
The underlying premise of the document was that the regime was on the verge of collapse. Just a few more sanctions and it would all crumble.
That proved wildly optimistic. Two years on, the Cuban economy has a growth rate of at least 8%. New, crucial economic relationships have been forged with Venezuela and China, the price of nickel (now Cuba's major export) is at record highs, and there are strong signs of the development of a major new oilfield off the north coast.
The Bush administration simply ignored this reality. In a new document issued on July 10 this year, it suggested that its "plan" was working and had produced a "new stage" in Cuba's transformation. It also put a new objective: to prevent the "succession strategy", in which Fidel Castro is succeeded by his brother, Raul. This was "totally unacceptable", according to the Bush administration, which hinted that the Cuban people would not allow it.
But on July 31, it happened. Fidel announced that because of an intestinal operation, he was signing power over to his brother, who would be acting president. In Miami, there were celebrations in the streets, with shouted assurances that this meant the end of the Cuban Revolution. As one celebrant put it: "We'll all be home within a month. The Cuban people will never accept Raul!"
But accept him they did. The Cuban people took Raul's promotion in their stride, with calm maturity. They had always expected that if Fidel were for any reason incapacitated, Raul would take over. Now he had. He does not have his brother's charisma, but is known to be an excellent administrator. The armed forces, which he commands, are without doubt the most efficient and respected institution in the country. Three months on, Raul is running the government effectively.
Seeming to follow Miami's lead, however, the Bush administration has refused to accept the transition. It refuses to deal with Raul, as it had earlier refused to deal with Fidel. This is especially unfortunate for there is considerable evidence that Raul is more pragmatic than his brother and might be open to some degree of accommodation with Washington. That was something at least worth exploring, but following its usual pattern, the Bush administration simply closed the door.
Bush's is not only a failed policy, it is one which does considerable harm. The US should want to see Cuba move towards a more open society, yes, with greater respect for the civil rights of its citizens. But given that the US has since 1898 been the principal threat to Cuban sovereignty and independence, any time it is threatening and pressuring the island, the Cuban government will react defensively, urging discipline and unity - which doesn't encourage internal relaxation and liberalisation.
US policy, then, is actually an impediment to precisely the kind of liberalising changes the US - and its European allies - should wish to see in Cuba. And given the counterproductive nature of US policy, any country that supports that policy in effect works against positive change in Cuba.
· Wayne S Smith was at the US embassy in Havana from 1958 to 1961 and was chief of mission at the US Interests Section in Havana from 1979 to 1982.