What people think seemingly has little effect on ending what Cubans say is the longest and cruelest economic blockade in human history. Polls show overall U.S. disapproval, Cuban-Americans included. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected the blockade. The prestigious Atlantic Council NGO recently disapproved. Former high-profile blockade defenders in Florida, notably gubernatorial candidate Charley Crist and Cuban-American sugar baron Alfonso Fajul, changed their thinking. U.S. food producers, Illinois corn producers most recently, have called for new regulatory arrangements allowing exports to expand.
Even President Obama, fundraising in Miami in November 2013, lectured Cuba’s enemies. “[T]he notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today … doesn’t make sense.” Yet those in charge don’t budge.
Nevertheless, Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s U.S. department, was in Washington on May 16 to discuss unspecified topics with Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. AFP news noted that previous bi-national contacts, technically oriented, “are not comparable to Vidal’s visit to Washington, which constitutes high-level diplomatic dialogue.”
Then a real breakthrough seemed to materialize. According to a report, “44 former high U.S. government officials on May 19 … sent an open letter to President Barack Obama asking for an improvement in Washington’s relations with Cuba.” They included John Negroponte, former Director of National Intelligence, Deputy Secretary of State, and veteran ambassador, including at the United Nations.
Joining him were five former deputy or assistant secretaries of state, two former heads of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a former NATO supreme commander who once headed the U.S. Southern Command, an ex – U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, three former cabinet members, several former ambassadors, and David Rockefeller. Financiers, businesspersons, and NGO heads signed on.
In fact, the letter conveyed interventionist recommendations as to new ways to make the blockade effective. “Now more than ever,” it claimed, “the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own destiny by building on the U.S. policy reforms that have already been started” by the Obama administration. The United States should “deepen contacts between the U.S. and Cuban society [and] help Cubans increase their self-reliance and independence.” “[T]his window of opportunity may not remain open indefinitely,” the letter cautioned. Now “public opinion on Cuba policy has shifted toward greater engagement with the Cuban people.” And, “the U.S. is finding itself increasingly isolated internationally in its Cuba policy.”
Rather than engage with Cubans through ending the blockade, or bow to international opinion, the signatories remain faithful to old U.S. purposes. They urged the President to take executive actions, because “In the current political climate little can be done legislatively.” The 1996 Helms Burton Law did leave the fate of the blockade up to Congress.
The President is urged to “Expand and safeguard travel to Cuba for all Americans,“ specifically “licensed travel to include exchanges by professional organizations including those specializing in law, real estate and land titling, [also] financial services and credit.” “NGOs and academic institutions” having gained “expanded travel” could “open Cuban bank accounts with funds to support their educational programs in Cuba.” Travel suggestions are lacking for other Americans.
Obama should, “Allow unlimited remittances to non-family members for the purpose of supporting independent activity in Cuba,” also grant “new licenses for the provision of professional services to independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”
The long list of recommendations includes: U.S. loans “directly to small farmers, cooperatives, self-employed individuals, and micro-enterprises in Cuba,” sales of “telecommunications hardware,” and scholarships for “exceptional Cuban students.”
The President should authorize “the import and export of certain goods and services between the U.S. private sector and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.” Presidential discretion would be used for implementing this far-reaching proposal which presumably would exempt it from congressional authority.
Miami-area Congressperson Joe Garcia, former head of the counter-revolutionary Cuban American National Foundation, commented. “The president’s policy of allowing more travel and remittances to Cuba,” he said, “has produced more change in Cuba in the last five years than the previous 50 years.“ He thus articulated the establishment notion evident in this letter that a dependent Cuban people aren’t capable of shaping their own destiny, and shouldn’t have tried.
Former high officials of the national government fashioned the letter. They were reacting, one assumes, to the threat of a near-by social revolution, one reverberating through the centers of U.S. power for half a century. The list of names below the letter documents where parties primarily responsible for U.S. counter-revolutionary policies may be found. That would be in and around Washington, not in southern Florida where Cuban exiles, who supplied the proxy warriors, often take most of the heat for the blockade’s long duration.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.