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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

United States Cuba Policy – The Gordian Knot

The last thirty days have seen a whirlwind of news that portend great challenges ahead and a call to President Obama to exercise fundamental leadership in a foreign policy area that grows more chaotic. We see the regrettable and tragic loss of life of one Cuban political prisoner from a hunger strike in Cuba. Another is days away from passing away. American Alan Gross remains in custody in a Cuban jail awaiting charges to be brought against him. The Cuban Five continue serving their heavy sentences here in the U.S. while two of the five men have not even been allowed visits from their Cuban wives in ten years due to our visa denials. Are we being congruent in our proclamations of human rights abuses? Key politicians on both sides of the issue are now retiring from Congress creating a void that will only serve the pro-embargo forces that want to pay for maintaining the status quo. We saw the recent bilateral discussions in Havana turn out badly in large part due to our own diplomatic behavior. Did the State Department really have to meet with Cuban dissidents on the heels of diplomatic talks with the Cuban government? Couldn’t that have occurred at another time and under different circumstances? What would our reaction have been in this hypothetical situation - The United States hosts an islamic nation for diplomatic talks and while they meet with us, they meet with islamic radical sympathizers right after meeting with us during the same diplomatic visit?

While Cuba remains on the state sponsors of terror list, we now see the chaos of Cuba judgment chasing plaintiffs and lawyers who will even go so far as to threaten the growing air charter flights to Cuba from the U.S. and disrupt an entire community and local economy to collect money. This does not mention the fact that as long as Cuba remains on the Terror list, it is still impractical to do any newly authorized telecommunications business and the cost to call Cuba from the U.S. remains among the most expensive in the world. Even allowing U.S. companies to export social media and software like Microsoft Messenger or Yahoo Instant Messaging means little when there is little internet bandwidth in Cuba.

All of these issues beg the key question that we need to answer honestly – Does the United States want to have relations with, and deal with, the Cuban government as it is, not as we would like it to be? There are individuals and groups who are invested in politically assuring that no such dialogue ever occurs -- even at the expense of our national security and economic interests and our constitutional freedoms. Most of them prefer that we engineer regime change in Cuba from within our government, on the U.S. taxpayer dime and with no accountability. Our policy of interference rules the day even though it is a failure. Whatever regime change is coming to Cuba, it simply is not going to happen because we dictated it from Washington DC or Miami. It also will likely not look like what expect it to be either. This is an issue for the Cubans who live on the island. Our Cuban American community must create and find ways to positively influence Cuba instead of interfere with it or fight the Cuban revolution from Miami. There is enough dissatisfaction on the island that the Cuban people will make changes to their system. This is not a secret but common knowledge to anyone who understands U.S. Cuba policy or has visited the island. But those changes will not come from us or through us. Our best hope for change is to begin to influence, instead of interfere. There is an important distinction.

Meanwhile, human lives continue to weigh in the balance. But sadly we do not let that get in the way of our destructive politics. If both countries were really serious about improving relations – we would be sitting down right now and negotiating a pathway for freedom of all the human beings caught in this tragedy. President Obama has the authority to facilitate historic negotiations and forge a U.S. Cuba policy away from interference in Cuba towards a comprehensive policy of positive influence on Cuba. That is the Gordian knot that must be cut or loosened– by an act of political courage and determination. When President Obama is ready to forge a new policy with our neighbors in Latin America, the Cuba issue cannot be ignored nor dealt with like it has been. That is the opportunity that awaits President Obama. The only question is when, Mr. President?

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