United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Human Rights and Cuba – What You Resist Persists –Perception vs Reality

Human rights are at the forefront and both sides continue the public relations game instead of doing what is immediately necessary to find a solution to obtain the release of all the human beings Cubans and American caught up in this mess – sit down in good faith and talk with each other. We could do that if there was the political will to do it. But it is still lacking. Why? Arrogance and ignorance are the common enemies of both countries.

Cuba cannot dismiss what is occurring. President Raul Castro called the hunger strikes by Cuban citizens on the island “blackmail”. Why does he call it blackmail? The fact that a Cuban citizen is willing to sacrifice his own life in a nonviolent manner is a desperate cry for attention to their plight. Let’s not get caught up with whether Farinas or the late Zapata Tomayo were political prisoners, common criminals, whatever. They are still Cuban citizens and human beings. Every day the Ladies in White (Damas en Blanco) continue to peacefully march to call for the freedom of their husbands probably will continue to do so until their husbands are free or they are blocked from demonstrating.

The reaction worldwide has been obvious. In response to what the public witnessed on these two issues – the hunger strikes and the harassment of the Ladies in White, demonstrations were held in major cities in America. In Miami, these were led by Gloria Estefan, the Cuban American pop music icon. In Los Angeles, Cuban American Actor Andy Garcia led the demonstration. In New York, Cuban American musician maestro Paquito D’Rivera led the demonstration. But in our drive to send Cuba a message we are hobbled by our own ignorance and arrogance. For at the Miami demonstration we had the oxymoronic display of Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind of the 1976 Cubana airline bombing killing seventy three innocent people, chanting for the plight of the Ladies in White. Our Cuban American community refuses to repudiate the likes of Posada Cariles and other extremists in our midst who believe violence is the solution. And that is one of the reasons why these demonstrations are more about perception than reality. How many demonstrators are aware that our government is holding five convicted Cuban nationals (The Cuban 5), two of whom with wives who have not seen them in more than ten years? Why? We refuse to issue visas for those ladies to visit their husbands in prison. And we are taking a stand demanding human rights of Cuba? We have to practice what we are preaching. Hopefully President Obama himself will become personally familiar with this situation and take steps to allow these women to visit their husbands in our prisons. It is the human right thing to do. Will the Estefans bring this issue up to the President when he visits with them next week in Miami to raise money for the Democratic Party? Maybe miracles are possible.

The struggle over what direction our policy with Cuba should be continues. It is caught and held politically hostage here by those who would rather we have no relations and maintain our social and economic isolation of Cuba, even if it is against the national, economic, and security interests of our country. Right now there are demands to release $20 million dollars in so called Cuba Democracy funding. Thankfully, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry has wisely put a hold on these monies. Far from democracy promotion, the only thing that those monies will ensure is that any Cuban who gets those monies will be arrested and harassed by the Cuban government and chill our relationship even further. Let us hope our State department is doing some critical thinking here. If we really want to promote American ideals, values, and products, Congress must lift the travel restrictions and end the embargo sooner than later. We do not apply this standard to any other country in the world except Cuba. The Cuban government led now by Raul Castro is still very much in power, even with all our hostile posturing. We have to recognize that whatever change comes to Cuba, it will be from the Cuban people themselves and not U.S. foreign policy, taxpayer dollars, or even Cubans living abroad. Our best hope is to create policies of influence and end our failed policy of interference. That would be trying something new. We have only been hurting ourselves and the Cuban people with the status quo.

Similarly, the Cuban government must somehow recognize and accept that it has a serious problem. Maybe it is because it knows that its own political and economic ideology is unsustainable. Then again, every political and economic system is flawed . And then there are the political and economic truths that transcend the ideologies. Truths such as the measure of authentic democratic power in government lies in the open existence of an opposition to the party in power. The engine of economic creativity and development begins with the individual and not with the state. Only the state can be a fair arbiter and economic facilitator. The state cannot replace the individual. There is no state without the individual. And power devolves to the state from the individual. Poverty is the enemy of democracy. People are motivated by their own self interest and their level of social consciousness. But these are concepts and ideals best discussed in a friendly environment, instead of the hostility of an embargo and travel restrictions.

While these unfortunate perception games continue, we look forward to the day serious and forthright negotiations will begin and political prisoners will be released; the Cuban 5 receive visits from their wives, are pardoned, and returned home; and our Americans held in Cuba imprisoned or fugitives, such as Alan Gross and others are sent back to us. That possibility ultimately lies in the hands of the two Presidents, Obama and Castro,– to put some reality back where perception has been everything.

[Editors Note: With a flurry of activity over the last two to three weeks, we had withheld comment and blog posting to assess the impact of where we stand at this delicate moment in relations between our country and Cuba. ]