This is a guest note by John McAuliff. McAuliff is Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development and a regular blogger at The Havana Note, where this post originally appeared.
Not long ago I participated in the 50th anniversary conference at Shaw University of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had the honor to meet Taylor Branch, Pulitzer prize winning author of three seminal volumes on the civil rights movement. Our conversation led me to his more recent book, The Clinton Tapes, Wrestling History with the President.
Cuba comes up several times. Following are two excerpts worth careful consideration by the President and Secretary of State:
1993: Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzales has given him a hard time today over the thirty year US embargo against Fidel Castro’s Cuba–calling it illogical, counterproductive, lonely and wrong–but now was not the time to change. (p 92)
1995: The President explained why he had slightly relaxed the thirty-year-old economic embargo against Fidel Castro’s regime by allowing Western Union to open offices in Havana. This would facilitate communication for divided families, he said, along with financial transfers to create good-will on the island, but these very benefits infuriated Cuban American leaders in the United States. Representative Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, had just called to protest, Clinton disclosed, but this was nothing new. They got along well on every other issue, but Menendez “kicks the s__t out of me every two or three days to be harder on Castro, like clockwork, no matter what I do.” To Menendez Clinton always defended his Cuba policies as tougher than either Reagan’s or Bush’s, but he confided on tape that the embargo was a foolish, pandering failure. It had allowed Castro to demonize the United States for decades, propping up his government with an all-purpose excuse for one-party rule. The president said anybody “with half a brain” could see the embargo was counterproductive. It defied wiser policies of engagement that we had pursued with some Communist countries even at the height of the Cold War. It helped no one, did nothing to open Cuba or prepare the nation for life after Castro, and left Clinton straddling the worst of both worlds. His dead-end policy was hostage to bullet-voting Cuban exiles in two swing states–Florida and New Jersey–and yet he never won them over, anyway, because Republicans always found ways to out-posture him in hostility.” (pp 294-5)
Secretary Clinton might reflect on the above as she considers how to respond to the challenge of National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon as reported by AFP.
Clinton told a university audience in Kentucky that the Castros “do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States because they would then lose all their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.”
Alarcon, speaking to reporters after casting his ballot in municipal elections here, said, “If she really thinks that the blockade benefits the Cuban government — which she wants to undermine — the solution is very simple: that they lift it even for a year to see whether it is in our interest or theirs.”
Alarcon said there were things Clinton could do “with a stroke of the pen” to improve relations, such as allowing visits by the wives of two of five Cubans serving prison sentences in the United States for espionage.
Cuba can make it easier for the White House to move by overcoming inertia and interest groups stalling action on imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan Gross. Havana is more likely to take such a step if it believes that Washington is also overcoming inertia and interest groups by allowing freedom of travel and/or ending the counter-factual designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Links and resources
The new poll, confirming old polls, on public support for travel and trade, and the personal interest of 1/3 of Americans to visit Cuba, can be seen here. 58% support reestablishment of full diplomatic relations, 61% favor allowing all US citizens to travel to Cuba, and 57% say American companies should be allowed to do business there.
A fascinating revealing or unfair interview with Yoani Sanchez by Salim Lamrani is now available in English. Read it here, along with Yoani’s response.
Corruption: The true counter-revolution? The full text of the critique by Esteban Morales which appeared on the UNEAC website has been posted by Progresso Weekly.
— John McAuliff