Guest Post by Patrick Doherty: Smoke Signals from State Send Assurances


Fidel and Raul Castro.jpg
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.
–Patrick Doherty


7 comments on “Guest Post by Patrick Doherty: Smoke Signals from State Send Assurances

  1. ... says:

    any relation to tony blair? lol… i guess he meant – military engagement – the only type of engagement the usa knows in latin america…


  2. Cee says:

    No dealing with Castro without a good relationship with Chavez.
    Someone won’t permit it.
    US intelligence czar warns about Venezuela
    WASHINGTON, Feb 13, 2009
    Venezuela serves as a bridge for Iran’s influence in Latin America and continues to harbor leftist rebels from Colombia, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the US Senate Thursday.
    “Blair urged greater US engagement in Latin America.


  3. rich says:

    Great post. It’ll be interesting to think about how the intellects of Obama and Castro choose to handle relations over the next 8 years. Some enormous opportunities to transition both the US and Cuba to a different stance, but the high stakes risks dictate it’ll happen quietly, slowly and in the wake of other unrelated actions, and with a minimum of fuss and holler.
    OT — Judd Gregg withdrew because of his involvement with Jack Abramoff corruption, or the fact that his staff worked closely with Abramoff. Daschle lobbied, sure; but Gregg was too closely involved to have deniability, even if he can’t be nailed for the way he wielded his power.
    Even if it were possible for Gregg’s Senate staff to pull off their work for Abramoff without Judd Gregg’s sign-off, the issue would’ve been brought up in confirmation.
    Amazing Gregg can withdraw without the obvious connection to Commerce being drawn: Gregg oversaw the Marianas and any trade & labor issues there as Chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary.
    “Being a conservative true believer helped Gregg win elections, but he also had the benefit of his family name. Gregg’s father was a former Governor of New Hampshire in the early 1950s. And Gregg’s father had appointed Louis Wyman (Robert Coughlin’s grandfather) as New Hampshire’s Attorney General. Wyman and Gregg the elder were supporters of Joe McCarthy-like witch hunts and the anti-communist hysteria of the day. In fact they were responsible for some of the worse Civil Liberty violations in New Hampshire history as they passed and enforced New Hampshire’s Subversive Activities Law. Judd Gregg and Robert Coughlin came from the same wacko conservative stock.”
    . . .
    “Gregg’s former chief of staff, Joel Maioli, was reported to have been involved in another Abramoff-related shenanigan.
    “New Hamphire author and journalist Jack McEnany reported that “former Republican State Committee executive director, and convicted phone jammer, Chuck McGee, has claimed under oath that Sen. Judd Gregg’s chief of staff, Joel Maiola, personally delivered checks totaling $15,000 from the Mississippi Choctaw and Agua Calienti tribes to the NH Republican State Committee office a week before the 2002 election.”
    McEnany notes that “this was the exact amount paid by the NH GOP to the now-defunct Republican Marketplace to affect the phone jamming scheme. The tribes were clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.”
    —-The link details several other close ties between Gregg staff and Jack Abramoff’s illegal activities. Can’t all be a coincidence. Neither is it an accident that nothing has been said about Gregg’s Abramoff’s ties in the wake of his nomination to Commerce. At the time, a spokesman denied Gregg even knew Abramoff; this is certainly false, as Gregg golfed with Abramoff in Scotland–Abramoff knew everybody, kept his emails, and you can guess (or recall) who paid for that golfing trip.


  4. ... says:

    patrick doherty – thanks for the article and i hope your right for everyones sake, including leos!


  5. leo says:

    Being of Irish origins I just love rain, fog, and snow, but if I could travel to Havana, hear good jazz, and get good drinks… I’d jump at the chance.


  6. Ben Rosengart says:

    danl — I don’t read it that way. The subtleties of language and
    silence have always been important in diplomatic discourse.
    Especially in the delicate matter of rapprochement between
    former enemies.


  7. danl says:

    What does it say about the US-Cuba relationship (and the state of thinking here) when were are dissecting what people DON’T say to provide hints about this administration’s policy? Ridiculous.


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