By Wayne S. Smith
August 6, 2005
The Bush administration assures us that the insurgency in Iraq is in its last throes, even as the attacks increase and casualties climb. It also assures us that the Castro regime is in its last throes, thanks to the new measures against it put forward by the President’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in May of 2004.
So confident is it apparently of Castro’s impending ouster or demise that on July 28 it appointed a transition coordinator for Cuba, with duties, we must assume, similar to Jerry Bremer’s, the earlier transition coordinator for Iraq. Since Bremer is now out of a job, we might have expected � But no, they appointed Caleb McCarry, described as a long-time expert in Latin American affairs.
The Cuban government, of course, denounced the appointment. But so did a number of dissidents. Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba’s leading human rights activist, for example, was quoted in an EFE dispatch from Havana as calling it “counterproductive.” Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman of the social-democratic organization Arco Progresista, was quoted as describing the naming of a transition coordinator as “an attack against our national sovereignty � and an act contrary to international law.”
I had interviewed Oswaldo Pay�, the dissident leader of the Varela Project, when I was in Havana in June and found him strongly opposed to the whole idea. “Any transition,” he said, “must be coordinated by Cubans and only by Cubans, most certainly not by someone appointed by the U.S. government! The very idea is harmful to our cause.”
In Iraq, the U.S. at least waited until it had successfully invaded and occupied the country before appointing a transition coordinator. Appointing one now for Cuba seems a wee mite premature.
Except in the delusional imaginings of the Bush administration, the Castro regime is nowhere near being in its “last throes.” It has a new economic relationship with China that will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help it increase nickel production. There is also the new alliance with Venezuela which guarantees Cuba low-cost oil. And Venezuela is paying more for the thousands of Cuban medical personnel now working there than Cuba earns from tourism—which, by the way, is booming. And finally, it has brought in a new oil field off its north coast—with the likelihood of another even larger one nearby.
The U.S. embargo hasn’t worked, hasn’t brought Castro down, in its 45 years of existence. It won’t work any better now.
Does the Bush administration have other measures to bring to bear? Well, it speaks enthusiastically of Radio and TV Marti. But Radio Marti has been broadcasting to Cuba for some 20 years without any discernible effect. TV Marti still isn’t seen, despite now being transmitted from a plane circling off the north coast. And even if it were seen, it wouldn’t have any more impact than Radio Marti. Both reflect the exile view and mind-set, which are totally out of sync and rejected by Cubans on the island.
The Bush administration also speaks of increased assistance to the dissidents, as though that might lead to the regime’s ouster. But that also is delusional. The dissidents are few in number and have little following—nothing like the strength needed to confront the government. And as indicated by the statements quoted above, most do not even see that as their role. They hope, at most, to widen the parameters for such things as freedom of speech and assembly, and to push for other reforms.
Most of the dissidents actually oppose U.S. policy. “The more you threaten,” human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez says, “the more defensive the Cuban government’s reaction and the greater its insistence on internal discipline. That defeats our purpose.”
There is, to be sure, one small group, led by Marta Beatriz Roque, which seems virtually to operate out of the U.S. Interests Section and to call for continued U.S. sanctions. But this has weakened rather than strengthened their position on the island, for most Cubans, including other dissidents with whom I spoke, see them as little more than tools of the Bush administration.
“What this group is doing,” Pay� said, “rubs off on all of us and weakens the dissident movement as a whole.”
What we have here, then, is a failed policy. The goal is regime change, but the tools are in no way up to that task. Meanwhile, the policy bars Cuban-Americans from visiting their families except once every three years. It restricts academic exchanges between the two countries and restricts U.S. farm sales. But none of those measures harm or pressure Castro; they only harm us. And yet we stick to them, stick to this failed policy. Which is what McCarry is now called upon to coordinate: a thoroughly failed policy.
Wayne S. Smith is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel