A recent conference on Cuba, coordinated by the CIP, Center for International Policy ad specifically, by Wayne Smith, contained both positive and negative aspects. I would say that calling for a more friendly relationship between the two peoples is positive. The Cuban people, suffering already 60 or more years of extreme poverty and political repression at the hands of the Castro brothers, need all the empathy and solidarity they can get. However, using the conference as a political weapon to promote, in no subtle ways, the survival of the dictatorial regime in the island is negative. The U.S. has to be loyal to its democratic creed, not to pragmatic accommodation with rogue regimes. The conference had a strong political component, which became stronger as the presentations progressed.
Some of the statements made in the conference deserve some comments:
1. In 2012, nearly 400,000 Cuban-Americans and Americans visited the island. With such a surge of individuals traveling to Cuba, more and more Americans are recognizing that the United States’ policy towards Cuba is injudicious. I would comment that the many visitors to Cuba do not automatically represent a criticism against the U.S. policy towards Cuba but, rather, the product of the liberalization of travel restrictions decided by the U.S. government as a humanitarian gesture.
2. “We don’t need to agree with [the Cuban government] on everything,” said Smith, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have diplomatic and trade relations. The U.S. has relations with other countries who are more threatening than the small island off the Florida Straits. These countries include Iraq, Libya and China. So why is Cuba any different? I would say that the U.S. cannot afford to accept the manner the Cuban regime treats its people and denies democracy to the nation. This should be a matter of principle. As long as the regime continues being repressive and undemocratic, the U.S. has to maintain its policy of antagonism. As for the comparisons Wayne Smith makes with other countries, it is not the same. Iraq is no longer under Hussein, Libya is no longer under Gadhafi, China has opened up politically and economically in a way that Cuba has not.
3. Colonel Larry Wilkerson closed the conference. Colonel Wilkerson, a respected military officer, told the audience that Cuba is not a threat to the United States. [he said] Most people in the Pentagon believe that our policy towards Cuba is stupid…. They (the Cuban government) are not promoting revolution; they are promoting healthcare”. He added: “With the majority of governments in the Western Hemisphere threatening not to attend the next Summit of the Americas unless Cuba is invited, as well as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) recently nominating and electing Cuban President Raul Castro as its president, Wilkerson said, “We (the United States) are becoming an isolated party in our own hemisphere!” Is this what we want?
I would say that Colonel Wilkerson’s presentation really politicized the conference. Calling the U.S. policy towards Cuba “stupid” Is not conducive to friendly dialogue. Moreover, Wilkerson is dead wrong when he says Cuba “is not promoting revolution but health care”. Has he ever heard of Cuban intervention in Venezuela? I doubt it. There are 50,000 Castro-Cubans in Venezuela, inserted in most sensitive areas of Venezuelan administration: military, intelligence, electricity, agriculture, security, ideological indoctrination, you name it. The Cuban pseudo-doctors in Venezuela do other things besides prescribing aspirins to the Venezuelan poor. Many defect but others exercise open indoctrination while “curing” people. In fact, medical attention by these Cuban pseudo doctors is not the best. Deceased President Chavez might have accelerated his death by trusting Cuban medicine.
4. The summary of the conference stated: “moral courage is needed and that If the U.S. is to avoid being a pariah in its own hemisphere, the executive branch must be the first to promote a policy between the two countries that is based on cooperation and a respect for human rights. President Obama can start by removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list….Removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list would make it more difficult for elected officials, such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mario Diaz-Balart and Bob Menendez to block normalizing relations with Cuba”. I would comment that the U.S. has to follow its principles without fear of becoming isolated, which is, in any case, an inaccurate assessment by Wilkerson. There are several Latin American leaders who have yielded to the temptation of easy oil money from Venezuela, notably those at ALBA: Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and others, such as Argentina’s Mrs. Kirchner and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica. However, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, even Brazil, are not unconditional allies of the Venezuelan regime.
Colonel Wilkerson, it seem, has a long record of controversial postures. In the Iraq war he went along with the action of the U.S. government, to the point of assisting on the presentations made to this effect by Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell. He later said: “We were just following orders, and Dick Cheney made us to it.”. But as one his critics remarked: “No, Dick Cheney didn’t make you do it. There’s something called resignation. There’s something called speaking up and the First Amendment”.
Castro is showing sign of coming around to the U.S. position. Don’t go easy on him.