Cuba Questions and E-Engagement?

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castro.jpg
(Pondering a post-Castro Cuba)
I’ve just spent one day in Mexico City, my first time. Mostly, I was with a group of academics and public intellectuals mostly from ITAM in Mexico City, the University of Texas in Austin, and the University of Havana in Cuba. There was a Canadian from the University of Ottawa and a couple of us from Washington.
The topic of the day was whether or not there are opportunities for e-engagement given the significant constraints that exist not only in the legal and political dimensions of US-Cuban relations but also financial and logistical.
It was interesting and useful to meet Cuban academics to get a sense of what they think is happening inside Cuba and what a post-Castro world might look like.
But I found it remarkable that even in this rather small conference, most of the Cuban academics needed to go through a pro forma articulation of their objections to an imperial America, and on several occasions, Guantanamo surfaced. Though I have my own problems with the detention of enemy combatants by the US at Guantanamo, that subject has little to do with thinking through new contours of policy interaction through the web without violating American or Cuban laws.
It’s interesting to note that a meeting of Americans, Mexicans, and Cubans that took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City in February 2006 — just down the street from where we were — was wrecked by American Treasury Department officials who told the Sheraton to expel Cubans who were staying there. The Sheraton did this and threw the Cubans out on to the street because the US-based hotel chain didn’t want to be punished for violating laws forbidding commercial exchange with the Cuban government.
There may be details of the case of which I am not aware, but hosting traveling Cubans in a third country is not engaging in financial transactions with the Cuban government. This was a bizarre case of serious American imperial over-extension into Mexico. So, when the Cubans got my dander up by accusing Americans of hyper-imperialism while not balancing with a critique of their own thuggish leader, I bit my tongue and tried to make the case that none of this mattered when it came to thinking whether there were e-engagement possibilities that we had flown to Mexico to consider.
But I have to admit that I was ticked off that the US pushed this extra-territorial sanction on an American hotel in Mexico — thus convincing Cubans that their critique of America was valid from their view — and also creating a crisis in Mexico. ITAM in Mexico seemed to always use the Sheraton Hotel for other international meetings and has now decided that it will never do so again. There was a huge debate inside Mexico — and in Mexican courts — as to whether the Hotel had violated Mexican law by discriminating against the Cuban visitors and expelling them after their reservations had been accepted. The end result is that in the end the Mexican government did not require that the Hotel be shut down permanently – but it was costly for the Sheraton and costly for the American image in Mexico.
And keep in mind that the US government has said scarce little about the turnover to the Chinese government of electronic data that Yahoo and Google have accumulated which the Chinese government has then used to jail those who think, even in “draft form“, about democracy.
American government inconsistency is staggering.
There was an imposition of “off the record” rules on the morning of the meeting I attended, which irritated me — as reporting some of the comments made by the parties at this session would have been useful in making this eclectic gathering matter beyond the sleepy conference room in which we met.
One of the key constraints on virtual communications between Cubans and Americans is not money or availability of web portals — though those are factors — but also internal political controls and harassment. These academics can’t fix that problem on their own, but to not acknowledge that free exchange is not only not encouraged in Cuba but also sometimes punished makes any discussion of the political dimensions of this problem surreal.
Likewise, I find it reprehensible that the US Department of the Treasury has included “co-authorship” of academic papers as an actionable offense under the OFAC laws (Office of Foreign Assets Control). Scientists, historians, literature and culture experts, political scientists, and the like are not permitted to co-author papers together, even when there are no remittances involved. America does grant licenses for some American universities to host and even provide limited forms of compensation to visiting Cuban academics, and journalists and others within certain classifications in the cultural, academic, and official government realms can get licenses to legally travel to Cuba from the US.
What various administrations that have been tangling with Fidel Castro for a couple of generations have tried to do is to strangle off his access to hard currency. Despite the fact that Castro has survived the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and at least the first term and a half of the G.W. Bush administration, America hasn’t revised much its tactics toward Cuba.
I think engagement is what helps the forces of liberalization, but I’m not interested today in a more cosmic comment about the idiocy of maintaining failed decades-long isolation and humiliation strategies that have bolstered Castro more than eroded his support and ability to control his nation.
I am interested that this administration — or any other Republican or Democratic administration — isn’t promoting robust intellectual exchange, co-authorship of papers, and attempting to inculcate Cuba’s academics and universities with the importance of empirical research and the benefits that come from a more empowered civil society — that must have successful academic institutions as one of the key pillars.
Some who read this post will accuse me of being naive about Cuba in arguing that getting the pipelines for exchange right is very important, particularly in considering post-Castro possibilities.
George Bush will — any day now — be issuing a second report from the Cuba Transition Commission, which issued its first report in 2001.
If Bush has a problem with travel and financial remittances, fine. But if Bush wants to lay the groundwork in part for other possibilities, then drop this ridiculous restriction about co-authorship of academic papers. And add a provision that encourages e-exchange, chat room development, and blogger networking and communication. Establish “free spaces” that permit robust debate about the current state of domestic Cuban affairs, US-Cuba relations, and the domestic state of American affairs. After all, America did expel Cubans from a hotel in Mexico and also collects information on nearly every domestic phone call in the United States.
Cubans might have a few things to say about that, and their revulsion (like my own) to unchecked executive power might help empower them to be more critical of their own government.
As one of the commentators in the conference I attended yesterday said — and I will violate rules to report this — “America, Cuba, and Mexico, all have dirty laundry, but we must deal with the fact that many of our fellow citizens in Cuba and many in Mexico want to get into America despite its many problems and inconsistencies. We must be honest about this reality.”
Well, America needs to use that soft leverage of exchange, which can be handled through bits on the net to begin with, in positive ways that promote big thinking about a post-Castro Cuba.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

22 comments on “Cuba Questions and E-Engagement?

  1. Charles Morris says:

    Fidel Castro has ruined Cuba. He has destroyed the island. When the Castro brothers are no longer around , it will be a wonderful day for the people of Cuba. If you think the United States is bad and you are from the United States, just try living in another country and , if you have any sense at all, you will discover that the United States is by far- by far -the greatest country in the world and the greatest country that ever will be. I thank God I was born in the United States and if you have any sense, you will to.

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  2. Joe B says:

    “Posted by Joe at May 17, 2006 12:50 AM” asks if another commentator is from the Soviet Union.
    What year is this? It was my understanding that the Soviet Union fell back in 1991, nearly 15 years ago.
    Go to Google and look up the “Belavezha Accords.” The accords were signed by the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine on Dec. 8,1991.
    On Dec 21,1991, the “Alma-Ata Protocol” was signed by all the soviet republics except Georgia.
    On Dec. 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the president of the USSR, declairing the office extinct.
    So fellow Joe, if you are going to use analogies, at least put a little effort into it other than worn out Soviet Union line.
    Which will last longer ? The worn out line of Soviet Union or America’s failed policy of “Do as I say, not as I do” towards Cuba. i.e. Respect for human rights, honest democratic elections, and so on.
    Nearly 50 years of trade embargo and what has America have to show for it. Nothing. Not a damn thing. It’s the most self-rightous country on earth. To bad it doesn’t look in the mirror more often. Maybe it wouldn’t be so willing to demonize others if they saw Satan staring at them in the mirror.

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  3. Joe says:

    I like these self righteous comments from those who depict Americans as different than themelves. Which blessed country are you from, China? England? perhaps the Soviet Union or their fine compassionate friends, Vietnam? The only exempt nation would be those hypocrite Swiss, play both sides, they don’t care.Tell me what fine nation you are from? We’ll go over its recent history.

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  4. YUCA says:

    Yes indeed Mr. Brown… wealthy Cuban/Americans that contribute generously to the Republican party are helping to elect these crooks.
    But as a Cuban/American, I can tell you that the not-so-wealthy older generation is very loyal to the Republican party even when they know they’re voting against their own domestic interests.. Out of fear, they fall for that right-wing anti-communist mantra that has worked so well all these years, regardless of the obvious outcome for Cuba. And then, they turn around and travel illegally, and jump through all kinds of hoops to send money, food, medicine and clothes to their family members. And there is nothing you can say or do to change their minds.
    There are quite a few groups in this country, that I can think of, that fall for the same methods of political manipulation. And there is nothing you can say or do to change their minds.

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  5. Chris Brown says:

    For the first time since the 1500s for 45 plus years Cuba has maintained itself free from foreign colonial occupation (except for the USA Guantanamo military base). Say what you will about Castro, but he is still very popular in Cuba.
    The dumb asses that now, and have, controlled the USA government, through the ridiculous embargo, terrorism, and sabotage, have actually enhanced Castro’s popularity.
    As Strauss instructed, to control a given population one must always present an enemy. USA policy continually provides Castro with a bona fide enemy to present to the Cuban people.
    Cubans have repeatedly told me that they wished they enjoyed freedom to travel and a more liberal economic system, but that they understood that the present system is necessary as long as the “bloqueo” and USA aggression continues.
    Maraslacious has it exactly right in his comment above. USA policy has, and continues to be, driven by the wealthy Cuban exile oligarchs in Florida and New Jersey who are very generous with their campaign donations.

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  6. YUCA says:

    I knew that it was just too good to be true. I kept reading through all of these intelligent comments, and then- BAM!- someone leaves a bit of patriotic drool.
    The US is not sanctioning Castro, they are sanctioning the people. The US was not sanctioning Sadam either, they were sanctioning the people while our Western banks were setting up blind accounts for him, and turning a blind eye to profiting companies and individuals, right under our noses.
    Just as the “thugs” like Sadam, Mobutu etc. have done for decades, (Castro not on this list) they exploit the resources of their own countries at the expense of their own people, WITH the backup of the Western corporations and politicians.
    While the Cubans have seen extremely hard times, it is an evolving socialist country where, despite the forces against them, they have managed to educate and provide free medical and dental care for everyone. Can we say the same for all of the hard-working, “free” people of the US?. What good are your Gucci jeans and your Coach purses if you can’t afford an MRI?
    And really, why are people crying about Castro being the only one on the ballot during Cuban election day? Don’t we have a little something close to that to help us make up our minds? Like…… Diebold?
    And why would the US and other Western countries not revise international trade and banking laws, and suspend sanctions on the poor people of the world? Is it because it wouldn’t be in the best interest of all of the kleptocrats’ ability to exercise tighter control of their business ventures ? Aren’t there trillions and trillions of American dollars sitting in offshore accounts avoiding taxation, and staying out of the circulation of our economy. Aren’t we aiding in the destruction of our very own capitalistic system?
    Are we too busy shopping to see this?
    Oh! I forgot about Cuba already…. Does Castro really want the embargo to end????

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  7. stars and stripes forever says:

    Half, terrorism is a tactic, and OUR so called “terrorists” are actually freedom fighters! FREEDOM, what don’t you get about freeing the Cubans from a dictatorship. We shall use any tactic necessary to subvert governments that enslave their peoples and bring them their longed for freedom. God Bless America!

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  8. Half says:

    Naive about Cuba? Not so much.
    Naive about the US? Si!
    “the idiocy of maintaining failed decades-long isolation and humiliation strategies”
    There’s been more, much more to our ‘policy’ toward Cuba than mere ‘isolation and humiliation.’
    As you must know, Steve, outright terrorism, whether directly by US agents or by hosting terrorists here in the US has been a key part of our ‘Cuba policy.’

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  9. starve the beast says:

    I’m with tokekeyyo tom. Roll back the size of government and zero the deficit once again. Grover Norquist has the plan in hand. Yippee, Phase 2 of Take Our Country Back!

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  10. TokyoTom says:

    The common thread linking the good comments above is that narrow, special interests have managed to hijack our foreign policy on Cuba for their own purposes, but to the larger cost of all of us. The continued boycott makes no sense on a national cost-benefit basis, and is totally counterproductive to our foreign policy interests. However, Americans don`t pay that much attention to foreign policy, which allows it to be easily hijacked for special or private purposes, masked by appeals to patriotism that fool most of us, and on which there is little for individual politicians to gain by bucking the conventional line.
    Cuba and Iran are cases in point, and there are many more. To be fair, these problems are endemic in our political system, not only concerning foreign affairs but domestic policy as well, and have grown as the size of the government has grown.
    What is different these days is that with political control of the Presidency and Congress, the Republicans have gone totally off the deep end in an orgy of influence-peddling, with policies dressed up with patriotism that serve narrow private and partisan interests. For this, the Republicans have treated 9/11 as a Godsend, since under a War Presidency, practically anything can be justified through fear-mongering, and critics are easily bashed and cowed.
    For the health of the Union, we need some political balance ASAP between the President and the Congress. Sadly, Republicans have proven themselves unable to resist the temptations of unfettered power. We need some fetters, and fast. Then, we need to work to role back the size of government, so that whatever influence-peddling there is will not be as pernicious.

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  11. rapier says:

    Let me just say this, Helms Burton. The day Fidel dies the old deeds come out of the safe deposit boxes in Florida and the game is on. Cubans don’t own Cuba, Cuban Americans do. It’s property rights don’t you know.
    Fidel has invited the comming disaster by not allowing a ligitimate government to form. There is almost no way to overstate how ugly this will become.

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  12. Frank says:

    The Cuba/USA policy is the poster child for our failed foreign policy. Every sense of how to win friends and influence people, is discarded, and this nonsense protocol, applied against a nation only 80 miles from our shores, only serves to amplify the gross hypocrosy and stupidity of it all. The buffoonish pique we expressed in that hotel conference, reflects the worst kind of character trait a nation could display to the world. Indeed, it was an imperialistic display of temperment, and am ashamed of my country for being so arrogant.

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  13. Carroll says:

    “American government inconsistency is staggering.”
    HELLO!….can we all agree that THIS is the bottom line in our relations with various countries?
    And WHY is that do you suppose? Can it be our “policy” is based on political pandering to the Cuban EXILE community for Cuba or the Jewish ISRAELI community for the ME or the corp$ for China? HUH..HUH?
    Geeezzz..if we ever CLEANED out our corrupt congress would we have anything to go on and on about?
    God forbid we actually cut out the tumor..we wouldn’t be able to sit around and whine about the symptoms.

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  14. Dan Kervick says:

    *”Some who read this post will accuse me of being naive about Cuba in arguing that getting the pipelines for exchange right is very important, particularly in considering post-Castro possibilities.”*
    I don’t think that you are being naive, Steve, but perhaps a bit elitist. You criticize the Bush administration for inconsistency in its treatment of the Cuban and Chinese governments. But in your own argument I believe you are taking your eye of the fundamental problem, and falling into a trap of special pleading for a policy of inconsistency on behalf of your own interests, and the interests of others in your class.
    You do allude to the key point, before turning away from it:
    *”I think engagement is what helps the forces of liberalization, but I’m not interested today in a more cosmic comment about the idiocy of maintaining failed decades-long isolation and humiliation strategies that have bolstered Castro more than eroded his support and ability to control his nation.”*
    But then go on to develop an unconvincing argument for a more selective liberalization:
    *”If Bush has a problem with travel and financial remittances, fine. But if Bush wants to lay the groundwork in part for other possibilities, then drop this ridiculous restriction about co-authorship of academic papers. And add a provision that encourages e-exchange, chat room development, and blogger networking and communication. Establish “free spaces” that permit robust debate about the current state of domestic Cuban affairs, US-Cuba relations, and the domestic state of American affairs.”*
    Since you personally, and also the New America Foundation, are in the blogging and paper-writing business, it is not surprising that you feel the restrictions on intellectual and cultural exchanges more acutely than other sorts of restrictions, and chafe under them.
    But just as the restrictions in the intellectual sphere interfere with your own work and desires, and the work and desires of your Cuban intellectual colleagues, so restrictions in every other area of exchange interfere with the well-being of many other Americans and Cubans. *Many* people have had their prospects stunted or thwarted by these restrictions. It is very unfortunate that you cannot blog or co-author papers with Cuban intellectuals. But it is just as unfortunate that America’s automobile workers cannot sell the cars they make to Cubans desperately in need of cars, or that Cubans cannot sell their sugar and high-quality biotechnology and pharmaceutical products to the American market.
    The basis for the distinction you draw between commercial and intellectual exchange is that there is often no money involved in the latter. But surely not every exchange of something of value requires a monetary transaction. I disagree that the main point of the trade restrictions is to deprive Castro of hard currency. The main point is, and has always been, to deprive the Cuban *people* of hard currency and any other things of value we can keep from them – in other words, to deprive them of a higher overall quality of life. And the point of *that* is to undermine the Cuban regime domestically and internationally by thwarting its ability to provide a good life for its people. To one who supports this policy, restricting intellectual and cultural exchange makes just as much sense as restricting agricultural exchanges. One should either oppose the whole policy, or accept both kinds of restrictions.
    So it strikes me as a bit elitist to suggest that cultural life and the life of the mind are pure and non-monetary and “special”, and therefore there should be special exceptions made for these kinds of exchanges. I also found this comment a bit cryptic:
    *”I am interested that this administration — or any other Republican or Democratic administration — isn’t promoting robust intellectual exchange, co-authorship of papers, and attempting to inculcate Cuba’s academics and universities with the importance of empirical research and the benefits that come from a more empowered civil society — that must have successful academic institutions as one of the key pillars.”*
    This sounds like a bit of a reach, and also condescending. Are you saying that the justification for intellectual exchange is the need to *teach* Cubans the value of empirical research? Are Cuban intellectuals and academics – many of whome are world-class scientists – unaware of the value of science and empirical research? Are you saying that Cubans are intellectually benighted people who need to be lifted by being exposed to the cognitive glories of American-style think tanks?
    Insofar as the progressive goal for Cuba is to help it achieve its potential, optimize the prospects for post-Castro Cuba, and lay a foundation for better relations between our two countries, then *all* of these trade restrictions are a burden. Instead of falling into the trap of special pleading for people in your own line of work, Steve, and reinforcing class divisions among people engaged in agricultural, industrial and intellectual work, I think you should take a more clear and consistent stance against the sanctions in their totality.
    Don’t shy away from the “cosmic comments”.

    Reply

  15. ckrantz says:

    Steve, assuming it was politically possible what would happen if all sanctions where dropped and american direct investment was allowed in cuba? It seems somewhat hypocritical to be able to trade with china and vietnam but not cuba.

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  16. vaughan says:

    I didn’t know about most of this. Crazy that you can’t co-author a paper with a Cuban. Talk about walking all over the First Amendment. Seriously, is that really constitutional?
    This is so screwed up. Seems to me cultural exchanges were very helpful in bringing down the Berlin wall.

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  17. Den Valdron says:

    I find it ironic that, given the adventures in Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia in the 70’s and 80’s, support for Latin American revolutionary movements in the 60’s, and (largely false) allegations about Cuban intervention in central America in the 80’s, that the Cubans would complain of American-Hyper-Imperialism.
    Honestly, no one has invaded or attacked as many countries as you guys have. But the Cubans? They’re definitely up there as happy ideologues or dedicated mercenaries. It’s sort of like the pot calling Satan’s coal-chute black.
    They do indeed have a point, but they could bear to be a little embarrassed about their own history.
    Anyway, be that as it may, I think that America’s Cuba policy for the last 45 years or so illustrates something very important about the American national character.
    For want of a better term, I suppose I’d describe it as: Undying Psychotic Hatred.
    I mean, its there.
    There’s a lot written about the American ‘character’, the capacity for generosity, for mercy, for openness.
    But there is also a lot of evidence to describe America as a hate-based society of virulence to give the Nazi’s pause.
    Consider, for instance, America’s genocidal and astoundingly brutal treatment of its aboriginal Indian populations.
    Or consider the vicious hatred embodied in the treatment of blacks, particularly after reconstruction and with the enactment of Jim Crow laws and wholesale social terrorism through organized and semi-organized terms.
    The 45 year embargo on Cuba, one which includes a worldwide nuclear crisis, one attempted invasion, several planned invasions, 36 assassination attempts, various covert actions including biological warfare, speaks to a constancy and relentlessness of hatred which many outside America find astonishing.
    Is Castro a thug? Sure. So was Ferdinand Marcos, Trujillo, Duvalier, Galtieri, Mobutu, Stroessner, Pinochet, the Somoza’s, the Shah of Iran and many, many more. Arguably, some or all of these guys were much worse thugs than Castro. Many of them left their countries much worse off than Castro. So its not his thuggishness.
    I think that what it is, what really brings out the blood-meanness is resistance.
    As with George W. Bush, loyalty/slavery is all. Disobedience brings fury.

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  18. maraslacious says:

    Infantile, nothing, you commie sympathizer. Do you know that with the proper amount of anti-Cuban rhetoric an American political party can win Florida in the Presidential elections and therefore win the Presidency. Cuba plays a central role in American politics, and Cubans elect our president. God Bless America!

    Reply

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