Herald: U.S. and Cuba Need To Talk
The momentum coming out of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad has created a buzz about what comes next in U.S.-Cuba relations, with much speculation focusing on a prisoner swap. Such talk not only is premature but ill-considered. Trading criminals convicted in an open and fair judicial process for dissidents whose activities would not be considered a crime in any democratic society is not a fair deal.
Indeed, no single action is likely to produce a big change in U.S.-Cuba relations overnight, but that does not foreclose the possibility of improvement. At this point, however, neither side knows what is possible, and that is the candid conversation that the administration of President Barack Obama must have with Cuban leaders before it embarks on any concrete negotiation. If the way to progress appears open, it should be guided by the following considerations:
• Avoid preconditions. Getting started is hard enough without making peremptory demands. The normalization of relations with Vietnam, it should be recalled, was achieved without calling for changes in the country's political or economic system.
Just because something worked in Vietnam or anywhere else doesn't mean it's going to work in Cuba. History has proven this.
• Focus on confidence-building measures at the outset. The Obama administration has already eased travel and gift restrictions for Americans with relatives on the island. Cuba can reciprocate by reducing the amount of money it pockets from remittances and thus denies to the intended recipients.
Wishful thinking that Cuba would cave in. fidel already pretty much said so.
• Don't expect too much. Improving diplomatic relations would be a major accomplishment, but real normalization is a process that will require years, if not decades to complete.
• Ask other leaders in Latin America to do their part. Cuba is more likely to respond to pressure to change its human-rights posture if the push comes from other leaders in the region like Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Chile's Michelle Bachelet than from Washington. Now is the time for them to weigh in and make a difference if they mean what they say about wanting to end Cuba's isolation in the hemisphere.
Also agree. But I'm not holding my breath here, either. Lula and Bachelet aren't exactly on my favorite persons list for not standing up to the Cuban regime. If they were to change their attitudes, who knows?
• Finally, and perhaps most important, consult those individuals who have been harmed the most over the years. This includes both the dissident community in Cuba (which opposes the spies-for political prisoners idea) and exiles who have a stake in the future of Cuba. Polls show that a majority of Cuban Americans are open to talking with a Castro-led Cuba. However, bad faith by the Cuban government and a naive approach by U.S. negotiators could stop the momentum in its tracks.
The last sentence pretty much describes the last few decades.
No one should be blind to the many obstacles that lie ahead, but there is reason to hope that Cuba may be ready to turn the page. In the past, Fidel Castro has offered to talk without preconditions, but only in the last few days has Raúl Castro volunteered that the most important issues for many Cuban Americans -- human rights, freedom of the press and political prisoners -- would be on the table. Whether Cuba's president has room to maneuver with Big Brother looking over his shoulder remains an imponderable, but it's worth finding out.
For half a century, the United States and Cuba have been separated by far more than the 90-mile stretch of the Florida Straits. Politically, the two countries remain oceans apart, separated by deep-seated suspicion and mutual hostility. The estrangement has always seemed a bit unnatural, given the ties of history and geography that connect the two countries, but it must be recognized that it is based on real differences and real grievances.
It would be an error to believe that differences will be overcome easily, if that is possible at all. It would be a tragedy not to try.