The Washington Post, Post-Global
Posted by Wayne S. Smith on March 5, 2007 4:02 P.M.
Since becoming Acting President of Cuba last July 31, Raul Castro has several times offered to begin a dialogue with the United States. Each time, the offer has been rejected. Speaking to the Council of the Americas on February 21, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez made it abundantly clear that this will not change, that the Bush administration will not deal with the “successor regime” in Cuba. Rather, it will continue efforts to bring down the Cuban government.
Those efforts were begun back in 2003 with the formation of the President’s “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.” As Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega explained it purpose back then: “The president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime and thedismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in office for so long.”
In May of 2004, the Commission issued an almost 500-page report that seemed to conclude the Castro government was near collapse. Just a few more Radio Marti broadcasts and denials of a few more travel licenses and it would all be over. The United States, the report seemed to suggest, would then come in and show the Cubans how to run their country – how to operate their schools and make their trains run on time. So confident was the Bush administration of Castro’s impending
demise that on July 28, 2005, it appointed a transition coordinator for Cuba. As one critic noted at the time: “At least in Iraq they waited until they had invaded and occupied the country before appointing a transition coordinator!”
Even Cubans who had their disagreements with the Cuban government did not want to be told by the U.S. how to run their country. Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba’s leading human rights activist, was quoted in an EFE dispatch as calling the appointment “counterproductive.”
Oswaldo Paya, the dissident leader of the Varela project, objected strongly, saying that “any transition must be coordinated by Cubans and
only by Cubans, and most certainly not by someone appointed by the U.S. government. The very idea is harmful to our cause.”
More than two years after the issuance of the first report, at a ceremony on July 10, 2006, presided over by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, the co-chairs of the Commission, a new report was issued, this one called a “Compact With the Cuban People.” Doubtless in response to the unfavorable reaction in Cuba to the old report, the new one stressed that solutions must come from Cubans on the island. The U.S. simply stood ready to support their initiatives. But having said that, it went on with page after page of recommended actions, from reorganizing the economy and the educational system to the holding of multiparty elections -- always provided of course that the Cubans on the island wished to initiate them!
And the U.S. transition coordinator remained in place!
The original report’s premise that the Castro regime was on theverge of collapse was undiminished. But this simply reflected its divorce from reality, for tahter than collapsing, the Cuban economy is showing strong signs of reinvigoration. It has new and vitally important economic relationships with Venezuela and China. The price of nickel, its principal export, has reached an all-time high. And there are strong signs of a new oil field off the north coast, for which various nations are already bidding for drilling sites. Even the CIA pegged Cuba’s economic growth rate 2005 at 8%. It will almost certainly be higher for 2006. If the oil field comes in, its all over for U.S. policy.
The 2006 “Compact” also sought to rule out a “succession strategy,” i.e. that Raul Castro, the First Vice President, replace Fidel Castro if the latter became incapacitated – as called for by the Cuban Constitution. It called on Cuban citizens and the international community to insist instead on an entirely new government, one elected by the people.
There was no response at all to this call. Yet, when on July 31 Fidel Castro announced that because of a delicate intestinal operation requiring an indefinite period of recuperation, he was signing power over to his brother, who would now be Acting President, there was dancing in the streets of Miami and elation in Washington. The expectation in both was that the revolutionary system in Cuba would quickly collapse. As one exile reveler in Miami put it: “The Cuban people won’t put up with Raul Castro more than two weeks.”
Wrong again! Almost eight months later, Raul; is governing the country smoothly. There has not been a single protest or disruption; rather, the Cuban people have accepted the transition with calm maturity, and there is every indication that they will continue to do so.
In short, the Bush administration’s expectations for regime change have proved strikingly wrong, and its efforts to bring that about through such measures as travel controls and increased Radio and TV Marti broadcasts pathetically ineffective. But it gives no sign of giving up on this failed policy. On the contrary, in his remarks on
February 21, Gutierrez said the U.S. would stand by its present policy and stood ready to “help the Cuba people hasten the day for a transition government, for the moment when the Cuban people demand freedom.”
And when that day comes, he assured them, the U.S. would provide emergency food, water, fuel, electrical power, and medical equipment – and would help them rebuild their economy.
But Cubans may have serious reservations about such offers in view of the Bush administration’s glaring failure to provide just such assistance to its own people – to the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast -- or to rebuild Iraq, or even to restore water and power there. As a Cuban friend put it to me during my last trip to Havana (in February): “The U.S. reputation for nation building goes up in the smoke rising from the ruins of Iraq!”
Wayne S. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is the former Chief of the U.S. interests Section in Havana (1979-82)
George W. Bush is not a trust worthy person. He is a captive of the extreme ultra-right of South Florida.
They have not given up on their goal of returning Cuba to the pre-1959 neocolonial era when U.S. supported corruption and exploitation was everywhere.
Cuba does not need "made in USA freedom." What it needs is to continue to defend the island-nation's sovereignty and national independence.
Talks, yes, but they must be based on mutual respect and not on an imperial-master and vassal relationship.
George W. Bush has rejected talks. Let the Cuban people continue with their lives to make sure that the system they have freely chosen becomes a better one. They should be proud of their accomplishments.
There will be no impositions by an imperial power. The Cuban people will see to that.