David Jessop | [url=http://www.JamaicaObserver.com]http://www.JamaicaObserver.com[/url]
For much of the past few weeks, the attention of the world has been focused on the ever-darkening clouds over Iraq. This has largely obscured news that the US Administration has decided to further increase its pressure on Cuba.
On May 20, the US president, George Bush, announced new measures aimed at trying to tighten the 44 year-old US trade embargo with the aim of forcing ‘rapid and peaceful change’ in Cuba.
The ‘Initiative for a New Cuba’ seeks to have the US determine the basis on which Cuba undertakes political and economic reform, conducts elections, opens its economy and ends political discrimination. In return for Cuba adopting US policy, President Bush suggested that the US will ease its ban on trade and travel between the United States and Cuba.
There can be few other US policy failures so long-lived as that relating to Cuba. Nevertheless and despite the obvious lack of success, US administrations, concerned about political funding and votes in South Florida and New Jersey, have continued to pursue an approach that has been widely discredited.
Unfortunately, the pressure of US domestic politics is now driving not only US policy towards Cuba, but is causing all international dialogue with Havana to be skewed. As a consequence, exchanges on vital issues such as human rights, development assistance, freedom of travel, security co-operation, investment and trade have all become politicised, and differences, where they exist, are now more difficult to resolve.
Today, US policy towards Cuba seems to have been ceded to a small group of ultra-conservative Cuban-Americans who now occupy senior positions within the National Security Council and key departments of the US Administration. These individuals, many of whom are responsible also for US policy towards the Caribbean and Latin America, believe that only through the steady ratcheting up of confrontation can Cuba’s future, or, it seems, that of any other hemispheric nation, be changed to suit US thinking.
To understand what is now envisaged for Cuba and the future role that the US sees for itself there, one only has to look at the recommendations put forward by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. This body was mandated by President Bush to identify the means by which the Cuban people can ‘bring about an expeditious end to the Castro dictatorship’.
It is this document that has now been endorsed as policy. It suggests ways to empower politically, Cuban civil society; extend the flow of information within Cuba; deny financial and energy resources to the Cuban Government; develop an international propaganda campaign against Cuba; find new ways to encourage other nations and international organisations to challenge Cuba; and ensure that the present system is not continued after the death of President Castro.
The document also sets out in considerable detail the ways in which the US should implement this strategy and, by extension, the ways in which US companies might eventually control virtually every key aspect of the Cuban economy.
Cuba is no more a paradise than many other countries. It is a Communist society and as such is very different in organisation and control, but not in culture, from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite this, it is nowhere near as monolithic as many outside imagine. Its views are nuanced and frequently led by nationalism. There is strong internal debate, albeit within a single party, and it is flexible on everything but the key matters of political principle on which it will not compromise.
It has provided extensive social rights for its people and can speak on many international issues with a moral authority that is lacking in much of the developed world. This is why so many developing nations continue to respect its government.
However, its record on some internal issues, including dissent, remains questionable. The arrest and trial of dissidents over the last year have caused rifts with many nations, including the EU. On May 13, Europe again censured Cuba for human rights abuses relating to the trial and detention of human rights activists and journalists ‘arrested while peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and assembly’ - principles that the EU said it strongly defends.
For its part, Cuba argues that some of these dissidents were being paid by the US to ferment dissent with the objective of provoking turmoil. Cuban officials suggest the US intent was to bring about a refugee crisis, a situation that would result in a US naval blockade.
The resulting heightened military profile that Cuba would have then had to adopt would, they believe, have led to a subsequent US military response, retaliation and the possibility of war. For this reason they suggest the present Cuban policy on dissidents is driven by strategic concerns, national security and the dangers of instability around the time of a US presidential election.
In the past few days, the new US policy began to be implemented. In what appears to be an attempt to weaken growing Caribbean interest in trade and investment with Cuba while sending a warning to Jamaica over other issues, Washington notified the Jamaican resort group SuperClubs that it intended enforcing the US Helms Burton legislation in respect of their tourism investments in Cuba. The decision suggests that the US Administration may be choosing to send a chill through nations such as those in the Caribbean, with the possible objective, as with Europe, of eventually striking deals that will lead to a more critical political stance on Cuba.
Such a policy is alienating nations that should be friends. Moreover, such threats or promises of deals will not affect China which has now deepened its relationship with Cuba to levels close to those once enjoyed with the former Soviet Union. Russia, too, has begun to look at a closer relationship with Havana.
The present United States Administration seems driven by a fundamentalist belief that if its policies and culture are right for its own people they are, by extension, appropriate for adoption by everyone else in the world.
Despite what is now being proposed for Cuba, a moment will come when generations younger than those who changed its history will be able to choose their own leaders and the ways in which they want to move forward. Until then, the best way to ensure stability is to increase contact and dialogue through business, tourism and culture.