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Monday, July 18, 2011

United States Cuba Relations – Political Delusions, Policy Illusions

The Obama administration recently announced in a Statement of Administration Position, that it will veto the Treasury appropriations bill if it contains the offensive Diaz-Balart amendment in the final version.  This action is consistent with our prediction that the measure will not pass the Congress.  While this is good news, there is still little to celebrate.  Nothing really has changed.  Many keep hoping, wondering, and talking about change.  What are we actually doing and who are we being as a community and a country for that change?

A friend commented to me that what is needed in U.S. Cuba policy is a psychotherapist, as no side in this debate can see things clearly and is ensconced  in their own perceptions of reality.   Everyone only wants to see what they wish to see instead of the truth.  This duel of perception versus reality only contributes to the ongoing dysfunction that represents the politics and policy of U.S. Cuba relations.

The pro-travel side is outraged that Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl) , Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl) , Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl), David Rivera (R-Fl), and other pro-embargo stalwarts are throwing obstacles at expanded U.S. Cuba travel.  Shall we expect any less from these politicians?  They were supported by campaign contributions and elected by voters who believe in the embargo and travel restrictions! The solution to dealing with the likes of Diaz-Balart and company is actually a simple one.  Un-elect them.  Retire them from office.    If these folks are no longer in Congress, guess what happens to U.S. Cuba policy?  It changes for the better.  Knock out just one of these embargo stalwarts from office and watch how the rest of the house of cards will fall apart.  The travel restrictions will get lifted and the Executive branch will be empowered to begin a serious normalization discussion with Cuba. 

Wait a second – how do you defeat and retire Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl)  or Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fl) from Congress?  You help as many legal immigrant residents in their districts become U.S. citizens.  You register as many new voters as you can in their new  soon to be revealed congressional districts.  And, most importantly you raise money for their opponents and Members of Congress.  Lots of money.   Anytime a pro Cuba travel group asks you for financial support, respond with a few questions before you write that check.  How politically effective is that group being in doing what is needed to change U.S. Cuba policy?  How many immigrants have they helped become U.S. citizens?  How many people have they registered to vote?  How much money has the group’s members and staff personally contributed to candidates who think and agree with you?  Now if they balk that nonprofits and NGOs cannot make political contributions which is true, there is no law prohibiting those individuals as citizens or legal residents from making personal campaign contribution to candidates who believe in the issues of their organization.   We are all in this together or we will not win.   We are not going to talk our way to lifting the travel restrictions or end the embargo or achieve this being divided.  It is that simple.

The embargo stalwarts in Congress are not invulnerable.   However, they will not be defeated by clever and rational op-eds, taking Members of Congress on trips to Cuba, signing petitions to President Obama, calling and emailing Congress, or conducting travel challenges. Those actions are well and good but sorry, no Cuban cigar. The two most powerful forces in the U.S. Congress are votes and money.  Even the late Rev. Lucius Walker said the fight must be taken to the Congress.  I hope Pastors for Peace will add the activities of U.S. citizenship applications, voter registrations, and that their individual members will raise money for congressional candidates to change our idiotic policies with Cuba.  The focus needs to be on votes and money folks.  Those are the only two things that will make our foreign policy tragedy in Cuba and mediocre political representation in Florida go away.   The hardliners will remain in office as long as they choose if they are never challenged politically.  Guess what the hardliners think about all of this?  They could care less with what we think.  In their minds, we are deluded because we want all Americans to freely travel to Cuba and we do not even play the political game.   However, who is really deluded?


The hardliner illusion and delusion gets even more insidious.  Most people, let alone their congressional colleagues, do not even know of Diaz-Balart’s and Ros Lehtinen’s family or political connections to the Batista regime that ran Cuba before Castro.  While their families fled Cuba during and after the Cuban revolution, it would appear that it is not enough for them that the Cuban American community has been given every kind of political advantage over most other immigrant groups, ie.  The Cuban Adjustment Act.  This has helped make the Cuban American community the most successful Hispanic group in the U.S.   Now they ascribe to the belief that they alone will dictate and control our sanctions policy over the island.

Whether it is from political meetings around the globe or a music concert where Diaz Balart recently sought to engage other organizations on his anti-Cuba tear or meeting with U2’s Bono fooling him into thinking he is going to start a movement by mentioning the name of a well known U.S. sponsored Cuban dissident.  Note to Bono, please pay more attention to your fellow artist, Jackson Browne, who actually knows more about Cuba than Diaz Balart does.   Jackson has actually been to Cuba.   And Mario, why don’t you read Yoani Sanchez’s blog posting today, “The Bodies of Martyrs Would Be Borne by Us”.  How about the embracing of our U.S. sponsored dissident émigrés like David Rivera recently did?  How about Ileana Ros Lehtinen's letter rants to the Administration disregarding the reality of where our country stands with respect to our failed policies with Cuba?  Last week, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ),  Bill Nelson (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl) were hosting the mother of a Cuban hunger striker who passed away in the Cuban prison system.  And with their outraged expressions at the loss of this mother’s son in a Cuban jail, where was their equal outrage at the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world!  What are these Senators doing about this in their own home states?  Where is their outrage at the fact that the Cuban 5 imprisoned here had to wait almost a decade to be allowed a visit from their wives and families?   Somehow these elected representatives believe in their own warped sense of reality that they are doing the right thing and could care less if they hurt their fellow Cuban Americans with families in Cuba, the Cuban people themselves, while trashing the U.S. Constitution and foreign policy in the process.   

You see Cuban Americans with families in Cuba either do not vote or give them campaign contributions.   Why aren’t these Congressmen focused on creating jobs in their districts, helping young people go to college, immigration reform, helping their constituents keep their homes from foreclosure, obtaining and keeping health insurance, paying down our national debt, and ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which are destroying our economy?  No, Cuba is their main focus and their obsession, at everyone’s expense.   They could care less if taxpayer money gets wasted like the one billion dollars spent on Radio TV Marti and other Cuba “democracy” programs.  They could care less if these programs put Americans in danger in Cuba like what happened to Alan Gross.  Hopefully, Cuba will do the wise thing and send Gross home free with a warning that the next time there will not be the same consideration extended anymore.  Most of all, they could care less if their constitutients and Americans want to travel to Cuba freely or whatever gets trashed in the name of their Cuba agenda.  Not until the Castros are gone is their bottom line.  Foreign policy decisions based upon personal vendettas and biology is bad foreign policy.   In this policy delusion, basic principles of sound diplomacy and international relations also get thrown out of the window.

Now what about Cuba and the Castro government?  Well there are illusions and delusions over there too.  There is an illusion that there is a dissident movement in Cuba.  Actually,  there are two dissident movements in Cuba.  One is the very small U.S. sponsored movement which was referred to in a recent Wikileaks published cable written by the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and now U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Nicaragua, Jonathan Farrar.  Even the hardliners had to bully Mr. Farrar and place his well deserved appointment into question at his Senate confirmation hearing for simply telling the truth.   The U.S. sponsored dissident movement in Cuba is more astroturf than real sod.  The other, authentic dissident movement in Cuba, is reflected by a genuine dissatisfaction throughout the general population with the state of the Cuban economy; the stagnation of its political leadership; and the lack of pluralism within Cuban politics and society.  The Cuban people want change and it is delusional for its leadership to think that the current form and leadership of Cuba will resist change and transformation.  Everything changes over time.  Economically, it is delusional for them to believe that it is has to be one way or the other –when why not the best of both worlds when it comes to socialism and capitalism? These two imperfect systems actually balance each other’s defects.  Too much of one does not work for the individual nor serve humanity.  It is also delusional to think that everyone has to think one certain way or there should only be one political party and no freedom of the press.

However, this is a problem that must be addressed by the Cuban people who live on the island.  American interference only hurts the Cuban people’s evolution.  The best we can hope for is to develop policies of positive American influence.  That is not possible with travel restrictions or an embargo.  There is a Latin American aphorism, “Todo se consiga  por la buena” – “Everything is possible through good”.   Cuban Americans living in the U.S. and abroad have a tremendous capacity to be a positive social and economic influence on their relatives and ancestors.  Unfortunately, following the path of the hardliners has brought us very little influence in Cuba and empowered the very repression we complain about.

It is time to awaken from the delusions and illusions we have been under when we it comes to U.S. Cuba policy and politics.  Time to get real, get to work, and walk the talk…

-Tony Martinez, Editor

5 Comments:

Anonymous said...

A very, very good article, Tony.

Thanks!

A Canadian friend of Cuba

Cris McConkey said...

Very good argument for voter registration and campaigning against Mario Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen. Both are from Florida. Any from New Jersey other that Torricelli?

IFCO/Pastors for Peace does a lot of good teaching the public about Cuba. Without IFCO, there wouldn't be a program in the U.S. for students to study at the Latin American School of Medicine.

The reaction in Congress does not touch it. Why is that?

Tony Martinez said...

Chris - fyi, Torricelli left the U.S. Senate years ago. The problem there is Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) being part of the embargo political machine.

Agreed that Pastors for Peace does a lot of good. However, they need to pay attention to what Rev. Walker said about taking the fight to the Congress - that is where this will be solved. It will take an Act of Congress to lift the travel restrictions. It will take an Act of Congress to end the embargo. Thus, it is politics - votes and money that are the only things that matter in this fight. If you want Cuba policy to change - make a contribution to U.S. Cuba Now PAC www.uscubanowpac.com so we can help elect candidates who will support the change the majority of this country wants.

scousecaulkhead said...

I bet that the ordinary working people who reside in the USA wish that they had as good a health and education system in place as they do in Cuba. Cuba must be a terrible place, no unemployment, the sick get taken care of, everyone is housed. Cuba has no massive debt, owes not one cent to anyone thanks to ALBA.

Anonymous said...

@scousecaulkhead - funny sarcasm. We do not help Cuba's problems with an embargo and travel restrictions on our own citizens. Our sanctions policies are idiotic foreign policy failures.