Time to Change the Course of US-Cuba Relations


cuban face.jpg
I am at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this morning joining a panel titled “Cuba and the United States: Historical Perspectives, Political Prospects.” (last night I discovered a new drink, the blackberry mojito)
The conference, “The United States & Cuba: Rethinking Engagement” is sponsored by the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
If you are into Cuba policy, some giants are here including former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, former American Interests Section Director in Havana and Center for International Policy Senior Fellow Wayne Smith, National Security Archive Latin America project director Peter Kornbluh, Lissa Weinman of the World Policy Institute, Kirby Jones of the US-Cuba Trade Association, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, William LeoGrande at American University, Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Al Fox of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, and others.
Cuba matters — but I don’t have the time on the blog this morning to lay out my particular case as I’m speaking shortly.
However, my remarks this morning will build on those from a forum I did recently with the Nixon Center in Washington titled “What Would Nixon Do on Cuba?

This was a great forum featuring Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Julia Sweig, former Bush administration senior National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, and former Colin Powell aide Lawrence Wilkerson.
I’ll also be reflecting on the comments that Brent Scowcroft, co-author of the recently released New America Foundation/Basic Books release, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy, made to me:

My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question.
Cuba is a domestic issue.
In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense.
It doesn’t do anything.
It’s quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death.
We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn’t collapse.
It’s a domestic issue.

Back to DC tonight to watch the “debate”. Tomorrow off to Vienna, Austria.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Time to Change the Course of US-Cuba Relations

  1. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks WharfRat — I liked Chapel Hill….my first time through. Happy to treat you to a meal next round. The conference this morning was not organized by me just FYI. I was just an import.
    Lawrence Wilkerson is speaking tonight at UNC/Chapel Hill if you want to drop in.
    best, steve


  2. WharfRat says:

    Rich, I think part of “protecting vital strategic interests,” or whatever realist claptrap would be appropriate here, means making sure that people with actual experience with regular people in Cuba are summarily excluded. Those are some mighty Anglo-Teutonic names up there, not a Corleone in the lot. But by the end, Michael almost became a legitimate businessman. “Elite pacts,” they say.
    By the way, Steve, I’m a PhD candidate at Chapel Hill. Some local tips: next time you’re passing through, make sure to have dinner at the Lantern. Better yet, next time you’re in town you treat me to the Lantern since my measly TA stipend makes that a once-a-year treat.


  3. rich says:

    Looks like an excellent panel.
    I still say it’d benefit by including contributions from the many cross-cultural exchange groups that’ve flowered over the past 40 years or so, whether Sister Cities, fair trade organizations, faith-based groups, musicians, urban gardeners–or human rights groups. They’ve invested time and energy their whole lives.
    Invite Paul Soglin, ex-Mayor of Madison. That’s him getting an unexpected visit from Fidel Castro—in 1975.
    Had we listened to common sense and Paul Soglin back then, instead of say, Jesse Helms demagoguing as fast as he can just because he had no solution, we’d’ve saved untold volumes of blood and treasure.
    As an aside, anybody catch this article about right-wing ‘settlers’ sudden turn to terrorism to further their political agenda?
    It was only a matter of time. Though it was already underway by slightly more subtle means.


  4. Mr.Murder says:

    This is actually a pretty clear signal that the time for change with Cuba policy is now.
    This is tobacco country, that lobby was always part of the anti Castro sector.
    We went from having a policy that considered you off the reservation when you made any discussion of engagement.
    Now that talk has changed. Engagement with Cuba finally made the plantation circuit.


  5. Zathras says:

    To me, this looks like The Usual Suspects: people who already agree that policy on Cuba needs to be changed radically, and who moreover consider this a high priority relative to other things that might be done in the foreign policy area.
    Now, personally I’m sympathetic to this view, or at least to the first half of it. Notwithstanding my own opinions, though, Cuba policy hasn’t followed the course it has because the foreign policy community’s Usual Suspects have agreed with it for almost two decades now. To make any headway against the inertia that sustains it now, the people and groups who fervently support current policy need to be engaged at a meeting like this. As things stand now, you win the argument in Washington, they win the separate argument in Florida, and the argument they win trumps the argument you win every time.


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