US time warp on Cuba must end soon

Campaign News | Wednesday, 6 December 2006

From the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper

Sunday | December 3, 2006

Robert Buddan, Contributor

Fidel Castro has celebrated his 80th birthday this weekend and the Cuban Revolution has marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the revolutionary campaign. No other event has transformed the international politics of the Caribbean as this revolution has done. It brought the Cold War to the Caribbean.

The cold warriors, the United States and the Soviet Union, then came as close to a nuclear war as they had ever come during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The Caribbean remains the one place in the world where the Cold War continues.

The United States is a friend and ally of the old enemy Russia, and wants Russia to join the World Trade Organisation but it won't trade with Cuba. Communist China holds the largest reserves of U.S. currency but the U.S. blocks U.S. currency trade with Cuba. The U.S. has just signed a free trade agreement with Vietnam, with which it fought its bloodiest and most traumatic Cold War, but freezes trade with Cuba.

No peace talks

The United States even buys large amounts of oil from Venezuela while its law prohibits oil exploration in Cuban waters. The U.S. is willing to invite talks with potential nuclear powers like North Korea and Iran, but will not entertain any discussions for peace with Cuba, even though Cuba does not have an offensive nuclear programme.

What accounts for this obstinacy? Is it just spite, masochism, a thick-headed refusal to adjust to a new world, or the baneful politics of vote getting in Florida? No one can say for sure. The international community, America's best friends in the European Union and its NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada, all do business with Cuba. The U.N. has just voted for the 15th consecutive year for the embargo to be removed. The embargo has cost the Cuban economy US$86 billion. No one knows how much it has cost the U.S. economy but it must be billions of dollars as well. The U.N. resolution had the largest support ever and was only opposed by the U.S. and its predictable ally, Israel, along with such global powers as the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Cuba is no longer isolated in the world beyond the United States. It is a participant in the major world sports organisations, from the Olympics to baseball. In September Cuba hosted the summit of Non-Aligned Movement and leaders from all continents attended. In fact, Cuba became a peacemaker at that summit, forging a new dialogue between two American nuclear friends, India and Pakistan, something the U.S. had failed to do. Cuba is a member of all the important Caribbean and Latin American regional economic, political and technical organisations except the U.S.- dominated Organisation of American States.

Foreign relations

The United States says it will not remove the embargo against Cuba until the Castro brothers no longer rule, and until Cuba releases political prisoners and allows political freedom in Cuba. These conditions have only reinforced the Cold War mindset. They are not posited on democratic practices on the U.S. side. The American government has employed its own ways of trying to end Fidel Castro's rule by trying to assassinate him.

They have tried to bring 'freedom' to Cuba by invasion, destabilisation, and an embargo designed to choke and starve Cuba into submission. There is nothing democratic about any of this. Cubans wonder if the American government really has the interest of the Cuban people at heart. Cuban-Americans cannot just visit Cuba even to attend the funeral of family members, or send more than a minimum of dollars to their family, old or young, in Cuba. Even dissident groups say these restrictions are inhumane and that the Bush administration has gone too far.

The U.S. says that Cuba must free political prisoners. So must the U.S. The U.S. holds more political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay than Cuba is said to hold. Terrorist suspects are held without charge, legal representation, and only recently with hearing. The U.N. says these prison camps should be closed. Similar situations exist at Abu Ghraib and secret prisons in Europe. Some wonder if American leaders should not be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

The Bush administration applies what amounts to torture to prisoners and reversed Clinton's decision to subject Americans to the International Criminal Court of the United Nations. The Americans must put their own house in order. Jimmy Carter's new book says that Israeli occupied territories in Palestine involve some of the worse cases of abuse of human rights in the world and the U.S. needs to do something about what its leading ally is doing.

Cuban laws are no harsher than those of conservative Muslim oil-rich states that are among America's best friends.

Failure to export democracy

The U.S. wants to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba. It has failed to deliver this in Iraq. American senator, Barack Obama, says that one of the lessons learned in Iraq is that democracy cannot be imposed on a people, worse, from the barrel of a gun. The Democrats in Congress now say that the Iraqis must be allowed to take responsibility for the type of government and society they wish to have. This must be the rule for Cuba as well.

The Americans have failed to impose their brand of democracy in Vietnam and have now come to respect Vietnam's choices and ways. They have not consolidated democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. They installed a bloody regime in Haiti between 2004 and 2006. Transparency International said that Haiti had become the most corrupt country they assessed.

There is no evidence to suggest that the United States can best guide or establish conditions for Cuba's future. The rest of the world understands that it has to engage Cuba on Cuban terms. Some 1,800 leaders from 80 countries have descended on Cuba to wish Fidel Castro well. They appreciate the unprecedented generosity of Cuba in providing medical professionals and services to half a million people throughOperation Miracle (eye surgery) from Africa to Asia and the Americas. But there is a special opportunity now for the U.S. and Cuba to break new ground once and for all, and for Caribbean diplomacy to lead the way.

Diplomacy is the best way towards democracy. The Democrats in Congress hope to relax or remove the U.S. embargo. American businessmen want to explore for oil, sell farm products, invest in minerals and infrastructure, and profit from Cuba's tourism boom. Cuban-Americans want to visit their family, send them money, and do business as well. The Caribbean needs the benefit of trade with and between the U.S. and Cuba.

The benefits to the Caribbean would be enormous. Caribbean investors would no longer have to be wary of investing in Cuba. American tourists would no longer be hamstrung in travelling between Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.People who do business, holiday, study, or have health treatment in Cuba will no longer be in jeopardy of U.S. law and freedom to travel to the US because they have passports stamped in Cuba.

Cuban breakthroughs in science and technology in health, energy, and agriculture would be more widely available to the public and private sectors of the Caribbean. Happily, times are changing. The U.S. and Cuba cannot remain frozen in their time warp for long.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI. Email:

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