Friday, March 7, 2008

Published letter and NY Times editorial

February 24, 2008
An Approach to Cuba

To the Editor:

Re “And a Chance for Cuba — and the U.S.” (editorial, Feb. 20):

You are correct. The best immediate way to support reform in Cuba is for the president to “loosen restrictions on cultural and academic exchanges and open the way for serious diplomatic contacts with Mr. Castro’s successors.”

The initial response of the leading presidential candidates to Fidel Castro’s retirement was not very different from that of President Bush. None have called for returning to nontourist people-to-people initiatives as flourished before 2004, not to mention restoring to all Americans our constitutional and human right of freedom to travel.

In a campaign focusing on change and rebuilding United States leadership in the world, there should be more attention to an anachronistic policy that is far simpler to fix than Iraq — with as great a benefit to our international reputation.

To his credit, Barack Obama has expressed readiness for unconditional negotiations with Raúl Castro. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain insist on the failed formula of making laudable American goals of human rights and democracy a precondition.

Two-thirds of Americans want to end travel restrictions and normalize relations. According to a recent G.A.O. report, 120,000 a year are voting with their feet and going to Cuba through third countries.

John McAuliff
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Feb. 20, 2008

New York Times
February 20, 2008
Twilight of the Dictators: And a Chance for Cuba — and the U.S.

It was age and illness, not the free voice of the Cuban people, that finally led Fidel Castro to announce Tuesday that he is stepping down as Cuba’s president — after a mere 49 years of absolute power. Mr. Castro’s immediate successor is likely to be his 76-year-old younger brother Raúl. Still, the post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it.

Cuba is a closed, repressive society. But the administration has gone out of its way to ensure that it has no chance of influencing events there. In the name of tightening the failed embargo, it has made it much harder for academics, artists and religious people to travel to Cuba and spread the good word about democracy, and much harder for Cubans to visit here. Rather than probing the ongoing political transition, the White House has dismissed it in advance as insignificant.

A policy that made little sense in the cold war makes still less in today’s age of globalization — when America does not hesitate to trade with and invest in other repressive countries (China, for example), recognizing that commerce is more likely than isolation to nurture positive political change.

The embargo provided Mr. Castro with a built-in excuse for his own failed economic policies and ruthless political repression. It made it easier for him to wall ordinary Cubans off from American friendships, political ideas and affluent lifestyles. It handed him a propaganda tool to discredit courageous Cubans who openly campaigned for greater democracy. Continuing this policy of isolation will only make it easier for whoever succeeds Mr. Castro to continue the same repressive policies.

If President Bush wants to get the message of democracy across, he should loosen restrictions on cultural and academic exchanges and open the way for serious diplomatic contacts with Mr. Castro’s successors. Bucking Miami’s politically powerful anti-Castro community won’t be easy — especially in an election year. If Mr. Bush cannot summon up such courage, we hope that the candidates vying to succeed him will make clear that they would change policy as soon as they reached the White House. Tuesday’s first round of statements showed little creativity or courage.

For millions of Cubans, the wait for Mr. Castro to go has been almost interminable. Now that he is finally stepping down, Washington needs to do all it can to help encourage a peaceful transition to democracy. It needs to shake off its own ghosts and start talking directly with Cuban politicians and the Cuban people.


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