While I think that post-Fidel Cuba is going to look a lot like Fidel’s Cuba unless the US opens the spigots to travel and trade, Jimmy Carter‘s perspective on US-Cuba relations is useful to read. He thinks that we have undermined any chance of organic democratic movements taking hold inside Cuba.
Perhaps — but I think that the complete and utter failure of decades long American sanctions are harming our interests — regardless of how liberal or illiberal the Cuban government is.
Compare it to what Robert Hutchings has recently said on Cuba. Hutchings is former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council in this Bush administration and is now Diplomat-in-Residence at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.
First, Carter’s thoughts as shared with the Wall Street Journal:
WSJ.com: Is there enough grass roots interest in Cuba to spark a democracy after Fidel Castro’s regime ends?
President Carter: I think so. There is a small identifiable group working on that, which I describe in the book. The main thing is that the U.S. has been so heavy-handed that it makes it seem that anyone who criticizes Castro is in bed with the Bush administration and is being disloyal. If we had kept unlimited travel to Cuba and pursued diplomatic relations, we would have had democracy there by now. But when you condemn people and impose a punitive embargo on the people who live there, it turns them against the U.S. It also lets him [Mr. Castro] blame his own problems on the ogre in the north.
WSJ.com: In this book you express support for opening channels to Cuba. If the Democrats win in 2008, will this become a reality?
President Carter: Absolutely. There is a majority right now in the House and Senate that approves removing restrictions on commerce and travel. It’s only because of the threat of a Bush veto that this hasn’t happened. There aren’t enough votes to override it.
In a Q&A that WWS News (of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) recently did with Robert Hutchings, he posits that Latin America is waiting for some sign that American foreign policy is going to move on a more positive course — and that a more enlightened approach in US-Cuba relations is perceived to be one of the key tests.
From the interview:
WWS: What do you think the number one prioirty should be on the part of the United States for helping Latin America?
Hutchings: I think to promote hemispheric free trade and to help solidify fragile democracies. The forces of globalization, though positive in many ways, have conspired to make many of these countries less stable and more vulnerable, and we could wake up in a few years time and find a much more volatile region. I’m not arguing for putting Latin America as number one on our list of priorities, but at least back somewhere on the list.
WWS: Is there anything beyond free trade that you believe would be helpful?
Hutchings: One thing we heard in all three stops was that U.S. policy toward post-Castro Cuba will be an important test. I think there was a fear of some reversion to American meddling in Cuban affairs, allowing Miami-based interests to take over that aspect of our foreign policy, which would put the United States at odds with other countries within the region.
Hutchings is on target — and while I don’t want to speak for him, I think he would probably subscribe to the notion that modifying the vector of US-Cuba relations is probably the “lowest hanging fruit” in American foreign policy. For remarkably little effort, the US could both send the world a signal that we are on a more rational global course as well as build as a template for ‘engagement’ over ‘isolation’ in the terms we set with problematic countries we are trying to constructively influence.
— Steve Clemons