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August 01, 2006

Bush post-Castro policy: your handy primer
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While we wait to see whether Castro is still with us, spend the day with this handy-dandy 90-page Bush Administration compendium/blueprint on what is going on in Cuba and how we can "help the Cuban people hasten and ensure a geniune democratic transition."

I'll be the first to admit that I missed it when the Administration reconstituted the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba last fall, as well as its timely Report to the President this July.  Now's the time to catch up.

Cuba is not my area of expertise, to put it mildly; so I read the document through the lens of someone who watched the Central and Eastern European transitions from communism quite closely; who did human rights work in the 1990s; and who has seen the sausage factory where reports like this are written one too many times.

I come away with a few thoughts -- call them X Things To Watch in the US Response:

1.  Time Warp.  The US continues to have a problem of seeing Cuba and its geopolitics as they were 20-30 years ago -- intensified by the exile community's tendency to0 live in the past and the Administration's need to paint things in Cold War era terms.  I was surprised to read the following:

Cuba’s ever-deepening relationship with Venezuela parallels the earlier failed relationship with the Soviet Union, only this time not as the junior partner: Fidel Castro is calling the shots.

Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't.  The Soviet Union was far away, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis it ran out of appetite and then resources with which to cause trouble from Cuba.  Chavez isn't going to have either of those problems any time soon -- nor does he face the cultural barriers Moscow did, nor is he going to be draining Cuba of its doctors, etc. and sending them to Africa.  Seeing Chavez through a Communist haze actually understates and misidentifies the problem (and the extent to which our own policies have created and sustained it, and are likely to keep doing so in the kind of transition these folks envisage).

2.  Iraq redux.  A Chicago Tribune editorial on the plan pointed out that "More than one critic has observed that it reads like a blueprint to rebuild a country that has been invaded, not a plan to help a sovereign nation."  I winced in several places just going through the executive summary, at descriptions of how the US will help "Cubans create a stable, open environment where free and fair elections can take place" including, among other things, "helping prepare Cuba’s military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy."  Could we actually accomplish this, even supposing Cubans really wanted us to?

3.  Welcomed with flowers.  That, of course, is the really big, ugly question.  How able is this over-extended and exhausted Administration to go with the flow, reacting with subtlety, restraint and even grace as post-Castro Cubans look around, test the waters under a supposedly China-reform-model-minded Raoul Castro, and consider what comes next?  Are American authorities and the Cuban-American community able to extend a model that looksl ike something Cubans might like, rather than a well-meaning but heavy-handed version of the Yanqui tutelage Fidel was always warning them against?  Can we avoid giving Fidel a self-fulfilling prophecy as his final legacy? There is little subtle in the report's recommendations -- tighter controls on remittances to ordinary Cubans, more public braying about funding Cuban democracy groups -- and little consideration of how the US supports Cubans in the transition time before they decide that what they want is US-style elections.

Anyway, read the report.  We won't be able to say we weren't warned...


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If DA does not have a Cuba expert writing for it now, I suggest it find one. Cuba will go right to the top of our hot issues list as soon as Castro finally passes from the scene, and will remain there long after the Bush administration leaves office.

America is going to establish Democracy in Cuba? Isn't that how Castro came to power in the first place?

Only the Cuban people can establish a Cuban democracy in Cuba. I'm afraid I do not believe the Americans are well-meaning; their intention is to sweep Cuba into a vassal-state relationship. Do not let the Americans in;Cubans should decide for Cubans.

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