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Posted February 22, 2004 by publisher in US Embargo

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By Wayne S. Smith and Chloe Schwabe | [url=http://www.axisoflogic.com]http://www.axisoflogic.com[/url]

February 21, 2004-On the basis of badly flawed intelligence, much of it from Iraqi exiles who wanted the U.S. to invade, and in defiance of the United Nations, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq to bring about regime change. There turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction and no “imminent threat” from the existing regime. But in the ensuing invasion and occupation, more than 500 American soldiers have been killed and thousands wounded so far, along with many thousands of Iraqi civilians - and there is no end in sight.

Now the Bush Administration is planning to bring about regime change just to our south - though, it insists (so far at least) that it will do so by peaceful means. It has virtually closed off channels for dialogue with the Cuban government, even in early January of this year suspending the twice-yearly migration talks. You don’t seek dialogue, you see, with a government you intend to oust, and regime change is now the avowed objective of the Bush Administration in Cuba. As Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega put it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 2 of last year, “the president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in office for so long.”

Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba

To achieve that goal, the President has now appointed a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba 1) “to bring about the expeditious end of the dictatorship” [1] and 2) to develop a plan to provide assistance to the Cuban people in a post-Castro Cuba. Commission members include all cabinet level agencies. The core agencies responsible for its day-to-day operations, however, include the Secretary of State (its chairman); the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; the Secretary of the Treasury; the Secretary of Commerce; the Secretary of Homeland Security; the Assistant to the President of National Security Affairs; and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Secretary of State Powell has appointed Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Commission.

Questionable Goal: Regime Change

Now, while it may seem premature to plan for assistance to the Cuban people in a post-Castro period, no one can object to the concept, assuming that the Cuban people and authorities, when the times comes, wish to receive such assistance. Bringing about “the end of the Castro regime” is something else again. The Bush Administration insists that this will be brought about by peaceful means, and mentions assistance to the internal opposition as one of the principal instruments to achieve its goal. But that is still in blatant violation of the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state, embodied, for example, in the Charter of the OAS [2]. That appears to be a matter of no concern to the Administration - not surprisingly, since its attitude toward international law and treaty restrictions can best be described as utterly contemptuous.

There is nothing in international law, in the Charter of the United Nations or in the Charter of the OAS, that would give the U.S. the right to change the government in Cuba. Quite the contrary. But the Bush Administration goes even further; it insists that “neither would it accept a successor regime.”

As Mr. Adolofo Franco, the USAID official who would be responsible for providing assistance to Cuba in the supposed post-Castro period, put it at a recent conference at the University of Iowa: “The President has said that we will not accept a successor regime. It is the law. It is embodied in the Helms-Burton Act” [3]

Now, it is true that the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 lays down a whole series of conditions that must be met by any Cuban government before we can lift the embargo. Those include democratic elections, that neither Castro be a part of the new government, that the new government be moving toward a free market economy, that it have stopped jamming Radio Marti (!) and a series of other things. But lifting the embargo is one thing, dealing with, negotiating with, a future Cuban government is quite another. And there is no provision in the Helms-Burton Act that would prevent us from dealing with a future Cuban government in the same way the U.S. government dealt with the present Cuban government from 1996 until the Bush Administration decided to close off dialogue. The interests sections, after all, are supposed to be channels for communication, even with the embargo still in place.

Policy Instruments

And how is the Administration to bring about “the end of the Castro regime?” According to the State Department’s announcement concerning the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, there are three principal instruments.

—Travel Crackdown. First, it will “deny revenues to the regime.” Clearly, since the U.S. buys nothing from Cuba, this will be principally a matter of tightening up on travel controls, so that fewer Americans travel to Cuba and spend money. But the effect of this is likely to be marginal at best. Of the 1,900,000 foreign visitors who went to Cuba last year, only some 190,000 were Americans and less than 20% of that number would likely be affected by the Administration’s crackdown on travel, i.e. by denial of licenses under the new and more stringent guidelines. The resulting two to three percent reduction ( if that) in Cuban tourist revenues might be inconvenient, but it certainly would not result in “the end of the Castro regime.”

Treasury Secretary John Snow’s speech in Miami on February 9 was symptomatic of the Administration’s effort to use travel reduction as a weapon. He spoke of “cracking down” and “cutting off American dollars headed to Castro” by making it illegal for Americans to deal with a series of Cuban-owned travel agencies without a license. But in fact, all American travel providers already must have licenses to deal with those companies, so despite its tough tone, the speech in fact changed little at all.

And there are definite limits as to how far the Administration can go in limiting travel. The great majority of those who travel are Cuban-Americans going back to visit families. They have made it clear that they want to continue that practice. Any effort to prevent them from doing so would risk a strong counter reaction from the Cuban-American community itself - exactly the community President Bush is supposedly courting with his “get rid of Castro” rhetoric.

Even so, the Administration has recently hinted at the possibility of reducing remittances to families in Cuba and cutting back on the number of charter flights to reduce travel. [4] But the result of that would be that people would simply then travel through Nassau, Jamaica and Mexico. And if the Administration tried to cut back on the remittances Cuban-Americans send to their families on the island, those here would simply revert to sending the money in through “mules,” or couriers, as they did in years past. The amount of travel or money going in would not be drastically reduced. The Administration would, in effect, incur the wrath of the great majority in the Cuban-American community to little avail.

—International Support. Second, the State Department announcement suggests that the end of the Castro regime will be hastened by “encouraging international solidarity.”

The idea, supposedly, is that we get other nations to join with us in trying to force Castro from power. But this is simply wishful thinking. Other nations, and especially those belonging to the European Union, do increasingly criticize the Castro government for its repressive actions against its own citizens, notably the massive arrest of the dissidents and the execution of the three would-be hijackers back in March of last year. But they have not joined - and will not join—with us in a trade embargo against Cuba. On the contrary, at last November’s Ibero-American Summit, Latin American governments, joined by Spain and Portugal, condemned “extraterritorial laws and measures that are contrary to international law” and therefore called on the U.S. to end enforcement of the Helms-Burton law (the same one to which the Bush Administration says we must adhere in rejecting “a successor regime.”) And, of course, the vote against the U.S. embargo becomes more and more lopsided every year. This past year, the vote in the General Assembly was 179 against the embargo, only three in favor. Only Israel and the Marshall Islands voted with the U.S. - and Israel is one of the most active states in trading with and investing in Cuba! In other words, it votes with us, but does not cooperate with our embargo.

Few if any cooperate with our embargo. Even fewer will join us in efforts to oust the Castro government. As indicated above, this violates international norms, represents blatant intervention in the internal affairs of another state, and is exactly the kind of extraterritorial measure rejected by the Ibero-American Summit.

Cuba’s relations with most of the Latin American states, moreover, have actually improved. They do not wish to emulate its political or economic system, but having suffered the consequences of the neo-liberal economic theories encouraged by the United States, and resenting what they see as its high-handed unilateralism, they feel a certain sympathy for Cuba’s defiance of the Colossus of the North. Thus, U.S. efforts to bring an end to the Castro regime are likely to excite more support for Cuba than for the U.S., especially as they directly contradict the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs - a sacrosanct principle for the Latin Americans.

—Support for Dissidents. Third, and finally, the Administration cites “support for the opposition” as a key means of bringing down the Castro regime. But this also is wishful thinking. In their efforts to expand the parameters for freedom of expression and civil rights in Cuba, the dissidents deserve our moral support and expressions of solidarity. But they do not have and are not likely to have the strength or following even to think of bringing down the government. Nor, as most, including the dissidents themselves, see it, is that their role. Thus, when the Bush Administration says it will use them to bring down the Cuban government, it places them in a false position. And it does them a distinct disservice, making them thus appear, wrongly, as the paid agents of a foreign government working for the overthrow of their own. This places them not only in a false position, but in one that is most dangerous. It was precisely this perception that helped lead, however unfairly and unfortunately, to the massive arrests of the dissidents last March.

Wayne Smith has discussed this dilemma with Vladimiro Roca, Oswaldo Paya, Elizardo Sanchez and other dissidents during recent visits to Cuba. He found that all had deep reservations about the Bush Administration’s approach. All specifically questioned the efficacy of a commission designed to plan a transition in Cuba. “Such a plan is up to the Cuban people,” Roca said, “not to the United States.”

All said they would accept no assistance whatever from the United States and, as Paya put it, “most of that money will stay in the pockets of people in Miami, but the very fact that it is on the books encourages the Cuban government to accuse us, unfairly, of receiving assistance from a foreign power. U.S. talk of assistance, in short, doesn’t help us; it harms us.”

Obviously. Unfortunately, that seems not to have dawned on the Bush Administration or its minions in the State Department.

Unrealistic Expectations?

If none of its policy instruments is capable of bringing about regime change, on what does the Administration base its expectation that the Castro regime is coming to an end? Again, largely, it would appear, on wishful thinking. As Mr. Franco put it at the Iowa University Conference: “The President is convinced that given growing economic problems in Cuba and increasing opposition, the Castro regime is entering its final phase.”

Cuba faces serious economic problems to be sure, resulting largely from the fact that in response to the Helms-Burton Act and other factors, it put the brakes to a reform process begun in 1993 and has never reactivated that process. The reforms had turned the economy around, i.e., stimulated impressive growth. In not going forward with them, Castro appears to be trying to maintain a certain ideological purity, or, phrased another way, to give control priority over economic pragmatism. But rather than allow continued economic deterioration, one must assume he would at some point turn again to reforms. As one elderly Cuban put it recently in a conversation with Wayne Smith: “Things cannot go on the way they are. Either we have the biological solution [i.e. Castro dies] or things get so bad that he has no alternative to revived reforms. I expect the latter, a new reform process.”

There is as yet no indication that Castro is moving in that direction. The point is, however, that between collapse and reform, Castro is more likely to choose the latter.

Castro is now 77 and of course is not immortal. As one reads the papers prepared by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies on a “democratic transition” in Cuba, and listens to the statements of Administration spokesmen such as Otto Reich (special presidential envoy for the Western Hemisphere), Adolfo Franco and Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, it is clear that their expectation is that a regime friendly to the United States will emerge and invite the U.S. to help rebuild and refashion Cuba - in its own image, they would probably hope - exactly the kind of golden vision painted for the Administration by the Iraqi exiles before the U.S. invasion ran head-on into reality.

What is far more likely is that Castro would be replaced by a transitional collective leadership drawn from the present power structure. Raul Castro might well be called President, but he would likely serve more as a chairman of the board. And the board would likely include men such as Ricardo Alarcon (now the President of the National Assembly), Carlos Laje (who now directs the economy from within the Politburo), and Army General Colome Ibarra. Indeed, the transitional leadership might include two or three of Cuba’s top generals, for the Army would be the key institution. The crucial thing is that this transitional leadership, if it wished to retain the support of the Cuban people, would have to move ahead rapidly with reforms. Castro has the moral authority to hold out against them, but no one else in the leadership does. And the Cuban people do want change—and an economy that works again.

All things being equal, this transitional leadership would probably be inclined to have a constructive relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, the hostile attitude of the Bush Administration almost precludes that, especially since the Administration has made it clear that a “successor regime” would also be unacceptable - and this would be exactly that - a successor regime.

In a Blind Alley?

And so, the Bush Administration’s Cuba policy would seem to leave us in a blind alley. We have virtually abandoned efforts at problem-solving through dialogue. The Administration’s objective, rather, is to get rid of the Castro regime. But none of its means of doing so is even remotely capable of achieving that objective. At the same time, the more hostile and threatening our posture, the greater the tensions between the two countries and the greater the likelihood of some kind of unfortunate incident. And if we go by what the Administration says, that hostility - that determination to bring about regime change - will most likely continue even after Castro passes from the scene. Thus, it is a policy which leads no where but which by again ignoring international norms is likely to cause the United States new problems - especially in Latin America.

Finally, this is a policy designed by and put forward by a distinct minority. Polls indicate the majority of American citizens want to reduce or eliminate controls on travel to Cuba, not increase them. Indeed, clear majorities in the House and Senate, reflecting the will of the American people, voted to do exactly that this past fall, only to have the resulting amendments stripped out in blatant violation of the established procedural rules. And why does the majority wish to neutralize travel controls? Because they understand that we are likely to accomplish far more in terms of encouraging a more open society in Cuba by reducing tensions and increasing contacts between the two countries. As some in the Congress put it, if the confrontational tactics of the Bush Administration did not actually provoke the arrest of the dissidents last March, the crackdown was a vivid demonstration of the failure of those tactics.

Indeed, this is a policy not even supported by the majority in the Cuban-American community. Polls there indicate some 55% believe the embargo is a failed policy and that we should be looking for a new one. An even larger percentage express determination to continue to travel to Cuba to see their families.

The Cuba policy now being put forward by the President, in short, is one without public support. It is applauded by only a handful of people in Miami and a few of their representatives in Washington. More than anything else, it represents a perversion of democracy.

End Notes

[1.] Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, U.S. Department of State, forwarded on January 22, 2004.

[2] See, for example, OAS Charter, Chapter II, Article 3 (a) International law is the standard of conduct of States in their reciprocal relations; (b) International order consists essentially of respect for the personality, sovereignty and independence of States, and the faithful fulfillment of obligations derived from treaties and other sources of international law; (e) Every state has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it, and has the duty to abstain from intervening in the affairs of another state. Subject to the foregoing, the American States shall cooperate fully among themselves, independently of the nature of their political, economic and social systems [emphasis added].

As pointed out by lawyers at the OAS, moreover, although Cuban membership in the OAS was suspended at the Punta del Este Conference in January of 1962, for legal purposes, Cuba remains a member, and is therefore due the same obligations for non-interference in its internal affairs as other members.

[3] Mr. Adolfo Franco, during his luncheon address at the Symposium “Whither Goes Cuba? Prospects for Economic and Social Development” at the University of Iowa, February 6, 2004.

[4] See an article in The Miami Herald on February 16 entitled “Money”, by David Ovale


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