Bush's Cuba speech was only half right
Posted on Wed, Oct. 24, 2007
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Should President Bush be making major policy speeches on Cuba, as he did
Wednesday? Or does that backfire, giving Cuba's dictatorship much needed
ammunition to claim it's a victim of U.S. aggression?
Before I tell you my answer to the riddle that has torn U.S. policy
analysts and Cuban exiles for decades, let's take a quick look at what
hard-liners, moderates and appeasers have to say about it.
Hard-liners say it's the United States' obligation as the world's
biggest democracy to try to bring democracy to Cuba. The 2004 report
from Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and the president's
speech Wednesday are steps in the right direction, they say.
Washington cannot accept a succession from ailing leader Fidel Castro to
his brother Raúl. Just as the United States imposed economic sanctions
on South Africa to help end that country's apartheid regime, it's the
United States' duty to put economic and political pressure on the Cuban
gerontocracy to open up that country's political system, hard-liners say.
And whatever one might think about the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba,
lifting it now would provide a major propaganda victory to a dying
regime, the hard-line argument goes.
Moderates say the situation on the island has changed since an ailing
Fidel Castro transferred Cuba's day-to-day leadership to the younger
Raúl last year.
The White House should use the opportunity to help accelerate changes in
Cuba, they say. For instance, Washington should open up the U.S. travel
ban to Cuba, which in addition to denying Americans their basic right to
travel anywhere, is keeping Cubans on the island isolated and
uninformed, moderates say.
Furthermore, Washington should put the Castro regime on the defensive by
offering a gradual lifting of the U.S. trade embargo in exchange for
Cuba's steps to open up its political system, they say.
Why not unilaterally lift 25 percent of the U.S. embargo, and invite
Cuba to make a move on the freedom of expression front, they say.
Granted, Cuba will most likely not take the bait, but Washington would
no longer be seen by many as the main culprit in the Cuban drama, they say.
Appeasers, finally, think that the United States should lift the travel
and economic embargoes at once, and unconditionally.
The United States conducts brisk business with other communist
dictatorships such as China and Vietnam, they say. Furthermore, the
sanctions on Cuba have not worked and are becoming increasingly
meaningless at a time when Venezuela is pumping more than $2 billion a
year into the island, appeasers say.
U.S. economic sanctions only help give Cuba an excuse to delay a
political opening. Let's do away with all sanctions, and the sheer
impact of U.S. tourists and trade will bring about change on the island,
the let's-lift-all-sanctions camp argues.
My opinion: The decades-old shouting match between Washington and Havana
only helps distract world attention from the real conflict, which is the
one going on between the Cuban dictatorship and the Cuban people.
As leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá told me in a telephone interview
from Havana hours before Bush's speech, ``We are not going to tell the
Cuban government or Bush to shut up, but what we are saying is that it's
time for both of them to listen to the Cuban people.''
Bush -- and whoever succeeds him -- should de-couple U.S. rhetoric on
Cuba: step up the defense of human rights, while setting aside U.S.
''programs'' and ''commissions'' for Cuba's transition that smack of
The defense of universal human rights is an international obligation,
which the United States and all other countries should be proud to
uphold in Cuba. Creating programs and commissions for Cuba's transition
smacks of meddling in Cuba's internal affairs.
Bush deserves praise for having spoken out in support of fundamental
freedoms in Cuba when much of the rest of the world is scandalously
looking the other way. But he plays into Castro's hands when he
announces U.S. plans for Cuba's transition. It's time to do more of the
first and less of the latter.