It speaks volumes about the moment United States Cuba policy is in that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus holds a hearing and invites three strong, articulate voices for a new Cuba policy and only two of the old guard clinging to underwhelming rhetoric of Fidel the communist and constructing painful rhetorical stretches about Cuba’s support for terrorism.
That’s just what happened today in Dirksen 215. On the realist side of the equation were Col. Larry Wilkerson, co-chair of New America Foundation’s U.S.-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative; Mr. David McClure, president of the Montana Farm Bureau; and Sgt. Carlos Lazo, Iraq war veteran and Cuban emigre. Representing the “stay the course” community, Mr. Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba and Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami.
Take a look at Col. Wilkerson’s testimony here. It’s a clear-eyed, realist case for gradual rapprochement with Cuba.
At least in this forum, the reality of modern-day Cuba is overcoming the static caricatures of the Cold War. Senators like Baucus, recently returned from Cuba, are leading the way. Cuba is ahead of the United States in access to health care, is breaking new barriers in biomedical and pharmaceutical research, and is sending doctors around the world to help countries like Pakistan and South Africa. Cuba is a major tourism destination for the rest of the world, so much so that the supply of hotel rooms cannot keep up with demand. Even Israel, which regularly votes with the U.S. in the UN against Cuba, has companies investing in Cuban citrus farms.
Senator Grassley, the ranking member on the committee, is a fascinating study in the changing mood, at least in the Senate. Grassley said today, “Given the current leadership situation in Cuba, now is perhaps an appropriate time to review the status of our bilateral relationship.” Of course, he’s talking about the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul. Grassley is no ideologue. He’s a realist from an agricultural state and Cuba is a big new market. Change is on the way.
But perhaps the most important indicator of the changing tide on Cuba policy on Capitol Hill was a verbal altercation between Mr. Calzon and Col. Wilkerson after the hearing had concluded. Mr. Calzon walked over to Col. Wilkerson’s side of the table and the conversation escalated to a polite shouting match.
The content of the argument itself was insignificant (it was about Colin Powell’s view of U.S. policy towards Cuba). What is significant is that a few years ago, Mr. Calzon would have ignored Col. Wilkerson. Today his side’s control of Cuba policy is not so certain.
— Patrick Doherty