[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: The Soft Track to fidel

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Soft Track to fidel

Another interesting column in today's Miami Herald, this one by Marifeli Perez-Stable, vice-president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington DC. According to their website, the Dialogue members are "united by their commitment to democratic principles, free and vigorous discussion, and regional economic cooperation."

In her column, Perez-Stable's believes that the European Union's has a superior handling of policy towards Cuba. However, as I will try to point out, Ms. Perez-Stable is full of inconsistencies, contradictions, and is neither here nor there when it comes to presenting a solution.

Perez-Stable writes:
My preference is the EU path. Since 1996, a so-called Common Position has marked EU policy toward the Cuban regime: no economic cooperation agreement until Havana takes meaningful steps on human rights. When 75 nonviolent opponents were summarily tried and sentenced to long prison terms in 2003, the EU imposed sanctions that boomeranged.

No economic cooperation? Is she getting the EU confused with the US? The sanctions were imposed because Cuba took meaningful steps BACKWARDS awaw from human rights! They broke the so-called "Common Position".

She continues:
As the EU reduced the level of official contacts and invited dissidents to national-holiday parties, Castro cut off all contacts with European embassies. For 18 months, EU diplomats talked to one another and twiddled their thumbs. At Spain's behest, the Common Position was reinstated. Fourteen of the 75 (dissidents) had been freed, and EU representatives have since scheduled regular meetings with the opposition. On May 20, the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society met openly near Havana without interference. Two EU deputies and four Polish journalists were, however, expelled to prevent their attendance.

Where do I begin here?! EU diplomats, while twiddling their thumbs, invited dissidents to national holiday parties in order to establish valuable contacts with the ones that will decide the future of Cuba.

Fourteen dissidents were freed? Yipeeee!! Where are the other 61? And she fails to mention that some of those fourteen released were banished from Cuba.

To even imply that the release of a relative handful of dissidents justified the lifting of the sanctions is beyond absurd to me. You gotta love how she relegates the expulsion of European delegates from the Assembly to a "however" statement at the end of the paragraph.

Marifeli goes on:
At the end of June, the Common Position will be reaffirmed. Its only logic is to maintain an open window (editor's comment: read "capitulation and constructive dialogue") to Cuba -- government officials, civil society and the opposition -- and, thus, be there already when the time comes. The EU has a better knowledge of Cuban society than the United States. That is no small benefit of engagement. Nobody today has any illusions of anything substantive happening while the comandante can still rant. At the same time, the EU will not hesitate to defend human rights. In April, the EU co-sponsored the U.S.-initiated resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemning Cuba's deplorable record.

The U.S. initiated resolution backed by the EU? I thought the EU knew better than the U.S. Actually, she should had specified "Eastern Europeans have a greater knowledge". They lived through communism just 2 decades ago. Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, led the Eastern European lobby to keep the EU sanctions in place and is a stauch supporter of the US policy.

In the 1990s, U.S. policy had two tracks: the embargo and people-to-people contacts. Since 2001, U.S. agricultural producers have carried on hefty, cash-only sales to Cuba. All else is rather somber, particularly regarding travel and remittances. Restrictions in June 2004 constitute an onerous emotional burden on Cuban Americans and their families. While all travel should be legal, that of Cuban Americans should be most of all. Whatever material benefits the regime might reap, nurturing family bonds is priceless.

The so-called soft track -- really, the one Castro fears most -- worked relatively well until Feb. 24, 1996, when the Cuban Air Force struck down two Brothers to the Rescue planes. The four pilots' unjustifiable homicide forced President Clinton to sign into law the harshest version of Helms-Burton, aka Helms-Castro. In 2002, President Bush gave a speech on May 20, Cuban Independence Day, that seemed to suggest a new approach. He said: ``If Cuba's government takes all the necessary steps to ensure that the 2003 elections are certifiably free and fair and if Cuba also begins to adopt meaningful market-based reforms, then -- and only then -- I will work with the U.S. Congress to ease the ban on trade and travel.'' (emphasis mine)

If and if. Then and only then. Those are the key words, Ms. Perez-Stable. None of those ifs have taken place yet.

One can argue about the harshness of the travel restrictions, and I would be inclined to agree to some of it. However, I have to ask Ms. Perez-Stable this: if the so-called soft track was working, how come fidel decides to strike down the Brothers' planes? Was it because there was a scheduled opposition meeting that weekend that he wanted to disrupt? Or was it because of his hatred for the U.S.? Let's not even bring up the sinking of the 13 de marzo tugboat back in 1994.

You see, no amount of person-to-person dialogue, no amount of travel, can eclipse what castro and his regime thinks of the U.S., and sadly enough, of his own people.

Elections for Popular Power, a proto-legislature, are held on a regular basis. What if Washington and the EU had together pressured Havana to allow international observers? Castro would surely have given a frenzied No. The ball, though, would have been on his court, and that's what the United States should strive for but rarely does.

Isn't the purpose of the sanctions and embargo precisely to pressure Havana? The ball's been in fidel's court for quite a while now. Besides, everyone knows those elections are a farce.

She concludes:
Miami is slowly changing. Up to 40 percent of Cuban Americans oppose the embargo or lean in that direction. Though more than half of the community, Cubans who arrived after 1980 -- especially in the past 15 years -- do not yet vote in sufficient numbers but will eventually. Forget Castro. Eleven million Cubans deserve a better policy now. Picking up where Bush left off in 2002 is a start.

Forgetting castro would be nice to do, but impossible since he calls the shots. I agree that Cuba deserves a better policy. A policy that demands immediate reforms and holds castro responsible. A policy that does not negotiate with castro, but works with the dissidents to promote change from within.

That's what President Bush had in mind in 2002. With all due respect, I think Perez-Stable is confused.

Read the entire column here.


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