Jesús Arboleya Cervera
President George W. Bush just released a presidential proclamation ordering the inspection of any vessel, American or foreign, suspicious of transporting unauthorized persons to Cuba.
Assuming that it is something relevant, being a document released by the office of the most powerful man in the world, international media have highlighted the event and linked it with new measures against Cuba by the U.S. government.
The truth is that what is new is the intensity of the repression against its own citizens. Every day we read reports about people punished for traveling to Cuba. Causes vary, from traveling to keep someone´s last will and bring his or her ashes to the island, to the fact that a senior citizen wants to bicycle around Cuba.
It is ridiculous to publish a presidential proclamation to prevent people from sailing to Cuba as tourists. Even James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, wanted to berth his boat at Marina Hemingway - Barlovento (Windward), as it was called before the revolution, was built by American Mafiosi to branch out their casinos and cocaine traffic along the coast of Havana - which caused a scandal that almost cost him his job.
After all, if the Administration wants to know who is running the blockade, it can rely on spy satellites that watch every inch of Cuban territory around the clock. Unfortunately for the present administration, its predecessors didn´t leave much room for new policies; all they can do is change it or invade the island, the rest has all been done.
In order to play up to the Miami Cuban American ultra right, Bush can only do more of the same and try to convert the existing situation into “aggressive gestures” that contribute to his electoral strategy in South Florida. That explains the incongruence when Mr. Cason bombastically announces that talks on migratory issues are suspended - although he acknowledges that he speaks of the subject every week with Cuban authorities - and that a proclamation is issued to forbid what has been forbidden for a number of years.
The measure is added to others, also ancient ones, related to travel through third countries and the harassment those who travel legally by charter flights between both countries are subject to, as well as companies involved in the business. What is interesting, almost laughable if it weren´t for the dangers involved, is that contradictions of these policies lead the administration to shoot itself in the foot.
The most violent reaction has not come from the Cuban government, but from “humanitarian organizations” in Miami that are in the business of illegal traffic of Cuban immigrants. It is widely known that for those immigrants the difference between death and deportation, or the happiness that awaits them in the “land of the free,” depends on escaping from the U.S. Coast Guard and setting foot on United States soil, where they are granted immediate political asylum.
The so-called difference between “dry foot” or “wet foot” is an aberration that has only served to increase the dangers of the crossing of the Florida Straits and a justification of a sinister propaganda at the expense of those who die in the attempt. Bush´s proclamation allegedly will reinforce the vigilance and as a by product will serve to decrease illegal traffic, precisely what the Cuban American extreme right is against, for it wants the indiscriminate acceptance of illegal immigrants in order to, among other things, increase the business.
The conflict places the administration in the awkward position of being an accessory to this illegal trafficking, creating a selective control of ships suspicious of sailing to Cuba, or repressing its potential followers. The drafters of the proclamation are aware of the conflict, thus they establish as one of the causes of the measure the holding by Cuba of U.S. boats dedicated to those operations.
A good idea for Bush would be to change his advisers, but they are not the only guilty parties. Taking advantage of the impact of 9/11, the policy of the Bush administration has been based on playing the extremes and the creation of a climate of terror and insecurity, because calls for the enormous growth of the military budget and the generalization of the repressive state imposed on the whole country.
Confident that the conservative vote and the economic backing by the corporations of the infamous military-industrial complex will be enough to insure re-election, the president has abandoned the quest for a national consensus at the price of completely satisfying the appetite of those interests.
The Iraq war was a top exponent of that policy, but it hasn´t been an exception: each issue of the debate has been polarized by the administration - from abortion to same-sex marriage - facing Democrats and in good measure most of the population with the inconsequence of the liberal agenda.
The case of Cuba has been a good example of it; in the face of a powerful trend that has made Congress express itself in favor of a change of policy, the reaction of the administration has been to stretch the already taut rope to the utmost. Many of the vices of the present administration can be found in its Cuban policy, for example, subordination of the country´s strategy to the selfish interests of the ruling group; disproportionate influence that certain special interests acquire in this dynamic; the inclination to lie in the political discourse; intolerance and fundamentalism as the base of its agenda; and repression to opponents as a resource.
The new presidential “edict” travels that same road; it´s designed to deceive and terrify. What continues to be a danger is that no is sure what the limits are in order to win re-election. In one “whereas,” Bush proclaims that the Cuban government insists that the United States is preparing an armed aggression, and claiming this isn´t true. If the condition for not being punished by the present administration is to believe in it, then only fools will be acquitted.
*Jesús Arboleya has a Ph. D. in history and teaches at the University of Havana. He has also written several books on the subject of U.S.-Cuba relations, as well as on Cuban emigration.