Patrick Doherty is Director of the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative. This post first appeared on The Havana Note.
This fascinating story from U.S. News and World Report is the first public signal to the government in Havana that Washington is listening to the messages the Cuban government is sending.
It’s good timing. The Cuba policy space has been very quiet on official U.S. statements–and actions–since the election. While it is clear that the administration and Congress have a lot of other issues to keep them busy and a keen observer can clearly hear the wheels of change turning, visible movement has simply not yet materialized. That can be misinterpreted.
The speaker, though cloaked in anonymity, made two important points with this short article. First, the official said that the new administration in Washington has heard the various statements in recent weeks from the brothers Castro, saying, “I think the statements are important. They’ve registered.” The translation from the original diplomatic is, “we’re serious about diplomatic engagement but we’re a bit swamped right now.” That is a positive, important assurance to Havana.
But there is a second message embedded in the U.S. News article. Here’s how the reporter, Thomas Omestad concluded the article:
The State Department official’s comments also offer a sense of how Cuba’s modest economic reforms–in agriculture and consumer purchasing–are being perceived in official Washington. “The steps have been very small. They’ve been very controlled,” said the official. “They’re looking for ways to signal they’re capable of economic change.”
On the internal scene in Cuba, the official spoke of a “significant desire, and even pressure, on them [Cuban officials] for social and economic reform.” The official added, “The Cuban government has to respond in some fashion.”
What is remarkable about this second quote is that the official never made a segue from economic reform to political reform. That says volumes. Under President Bush, the analysis of the economic reforms would have been to trivialize them and then change the subject to human rights. This speaker did not. Instead, the official said that the Cuban people will be putting pressure on the government to effect social and economic reforms, which tracks much closer to reality than what we’ve heard out of the White House since….well since the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown sank the Clinton administration efforts at dialogue.
Taken together, it looks to me that we’ve got an administration that will stick to its word and engage the Cuba issue seriously.