Thursday, April 12, 2007

Straws in the Wind

As we slog on to expand support for the House and Senate bills for unrestricted travel, it is worth keeping in mind the larger debate over US policy toward Cuba that will provide the context for Congressional action.

The Voice of America has run a reasonable story about US-Cuba trade quoting extensively no less a source than Kirby Jones. While VOA is much more credible than the US funded propaganda stations (Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia), it has not been known for the independence of the BBC. Take a look at

That page offers a link to another interesting VOA story from March 19th, "Castro Seen Returning to Power, But Cuba's Style Changing":

As Cuba's government begins to transform, Andy Gomez says U.S. policy towards the island should change as well."We need to start thinking about the future, and about what we as a country in the international community can do, at a time that is crucial given what is happening in Latin America, to accelerate
change in Cuba," he said.Gomez says he feels the United States should begin revising the strict policies that prohibit most trade and activity with Cuba.

Also of interest is the language used by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon in an interview with Reuters that was reported on March 21:

While Raul Castro has voiced a willingness to talk to the United States, Shannon suggested the United States would consider such a dialogue only as Cuba moved toward peaceful, democratic change."There is nothing new on that front because
... since Fidel Castro remains this ... controlling presence it means that Raul and the people around him are kind of frozen. There is not a lot that they can do," said Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.

He said Washington wanted to see clear signs of change, including a release of political prisoners."Any positive step would be welcome ... We have made it clear that our engagement will be determined by change in Cuba and that the degree to which the Cubans show a willingness to take positive steps, we'll respond to it," Shannon added, without saying how such steps would be rewarded.

Is State now prepared to see a difference between Raul and Fidel, either really or for the sake of convenience? Does this create space for a new policy when Fidel is not present, or at least definitively not in charge, in contrast with past juvenile pronouncements that Raul was "Fidel light"? Is there in the works a non-"regime change" road map to more normal relations?

Our friends at CAAEF published a more skeptical interpretation of Shannon's spin, seeing it as a way of justifying the failure of predictions that Cuba would face a crisis post-Fidel, i.e. he is still there after all.

Also giving reason for optimism is the latest poll of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade and the forum at which they were presented at Brookings on Monday. The poll shows 55% favoring unrestricted travel, and 64% favoring return to the 2003 policies on family and "purposeful" people to people travel.

The full transcript of the Brookings panel is available at and it can be watched as a web stream. (Look for it at )

Consider the implications of a comment by Hugh Gladwin, Director, Institute for Public Opinion Research, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Florida International University:

"I think that there is a great desire for policy to change, but you are right in the sense that what is missing in this big picture is some kind of leadership that would then take this obvious diversity which for many of us -- it might be new to some of you -- but for many of us has been very obvious for many, many
years. But make it -- that's where leadership is lacking is to actually make this diversity matter and make it part of a Cuban identity as well."

Also interesting was a comment the moderator invited from the audience by Andres Rosenthal, formerly the Deputy Foreign Minister of Mexico:"We all know that there are 33 Latin American Caribbean countries that maintain diplomatic
relations with Cuba, normal diplomatic relations, some more friendly than others. But it is a vast majority of the hemisphere that was not the case until quite recently. There is today, if it were a decision of that majority to go to the OAS and reincorporate Cuba into the OAS, the United States would be isolated in its opposition. And we know that there is considerable opposition. But the fact is that it's very difficult for any of us to engage the U.S. on this discussion, and I don't know whether that will change or not. We're hopeful it will.The Spanish government is currently in Havana, the foreign minister of
Spain together with a rather large delegation today and tomorrow, the first visit to Havana by a foreign minister of an E.U. country since 2003, and the first Spanish visit since 1998, if I'm not mistaken."

This panel was the public aspect of a day long Brookings conference on Cuba which included the participation of the Secretary General of the OAS who has not been shy at voicing his disdain for US policy on Cuba.

Another indicator of how the Cuba travel issue is going mainstream was the Newshour segment on PBS last week. The content was generally sympathetic, but as important was simply recognition that the story was worth covering and that Flake and Serano deserved face time along with the Miami hard liners in Congress.

No comments: