The Cuban Mirage

For many of the anti-Castro exiles dancing along Miami’s Calle Ocho on Monday, July 31, the announcement of a temporary transfer of power by aging revolutionary Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raúl, marked the happiest of moments as well as the end of a troubled epoch in their lives. While Cuba awaits Fidel’s recovery from gastrointestinal surgery, the rest of the world is left contemplating what will occur if he fails to recuperate, or if he decides not to return to his position as the maximum leader. As Cuba’s closest neighbor and the world’s professed patron of democratization, the United States would seem to be the most likely candidate to aid in the island nation’s transition into its post-Castro era.

Unfortunately, however, Washington has recklessly used its policy towards Cuba as a legislative Christmas tree, under which anti-Castro Miami hardliners are able to place gifts of political patronage. Private campaign donations of a few million dollars to both Republican and Democratic candidates are exchanged for hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds which Miami hardliners obtain as backing for pet anti-Castro projects such as Radio and TV Martí, and scores of other pork barrel entitlements. All told, in its attempt to “aid” Cubans by slavishly following the goading of Miami ideologues, the U.S. has devoted billions of dollars in public funds to bring about a variety of outlandish projects, directed at vilifying Castro’s regime.

Continued Cold War Mentality

State Department advocates maintain that the additional suffering that Cubans are forced to endure under the U.S. embargo is part of a greater plan for democratization from which the island population will ultimately benefit. In keeping with this theory, Washington has chosen to release its new strategy to guide Cubans down the ‘right’ path to democracy. The July 7 Report to President Bush is the second by the Commission for Assistance to Free Cuba (CAFC) since it was established in 2003. The Commission, which is entirely made up of high level bureaucrats, sanitized Cuban-Americans close to the White House and Cold War apostles, like Caleb McCarry, espouses a monochromatic tabloid ideology when it comes to Cuba, inspired by a clutch of ultras like Otto Reich, John Negroponte, John Bolton and Roger Noriega. The body has the specific purpose of designing and implementing a rightwing capitalistic democracy in Cuba. CAFC is currently co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and its members include officials from over 24 departments of the federal government. McCarry, a longtime activist and a former employee of the CIA-surrogate agency, the National Endowment for Democracy, has been designated the “Transition Coordinator,” in charge of the daily operations of the Commission. It should be noted that his new position hardly marked an abrupt departure from his tough anti-Castro role, since he previously held a staff position with such an arch Castro basher, former as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-SC).

Despite its presumptuous nature, the report depicts an accurate, but often superficial, portrayal of the difficulties average Cubans face under the current regime, which includes sanitation problems, dilapidated housing and poverty. Yale Professor and Cuban specialist, Dr. Lillian Guerra agrees with the Commission’s assessment in this respect, adding that in the district of Santos Suar, the sewage problem has become so exacerbated that the streets flood two to three times a week. However, Guerra, along with many other scholars, disagrees with the Commission’s evaluation of where these problems stem, and feels that the report is thoroughly misguided on its projected cure-all and dismantling approach.

Cuban Confusion

In the opening paragraph of its report, CAFC laments Cuba’s long history of dictatorial rule; “first under Fulgencio Batista, and then Batista’s totalitarian successor Fidel Castro” but neglects to acknowledge that President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t flinch over Batista’s consolidation of power and tyrannical repression. While providing scant evidence, the report emphasizes that, “the United States is a natural ally of Cuba.” But Dr. Guerra argues that the connections made, “show terrible ignorance, on the part of many Americans and Cuban-Americans, of how they are perceived today and how their actions were perceived in the past.” Yet another example of this misinterpretation is the Commission’s assumption that Cubans desire a more democratic government and free market system, which would, among other things, entail the abdication of their coveted social programs and free public services. Contrary to Washington’s hopes and Miami’s anti-Castro assurances, many Cubans posses, at the very least, the same “Pink Tide” left-leaning sentiments as the new governments of South America. In fact, even in the United States, Cuban-Americans, whatever may be their feelings on Castro, tend to support left-leaning social welfare policies, even if they may cast their vote in favor of a single foreign policy issue ­ anti-Castro retribution.

Diagnosis without a Cure

Not only is the assumption maintained by the Commission that “Cuba has no greater friend than the United States” misguided in its pandering pretense, but also the report provides some questionable solutions to the problems it addresses. It mocks the dispatch of doctors abroad by the Cuban government in its longstanding campaign of medical diplomats and the report claims this has resulted in a domestic shortage of health personnel and has forced the government to draft teenagers to prepare for medical school. The Commission goes on to provide ways to combat malnutrition and infectious disease, which are not among the major problems now facing the Cuban people. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, estimates of key health indicators in Cuba are equivalent to those found in western European welfare societies. The healthcare system in Cuba has eliminated or curbed many serious infectious diseases, supports 12 medical schools and has one of the lowest AIDS infection rates in Latin America. Rapid privatization and subsequent inflation, brought by an enforced free market, would be far more likely to present a legitimate problem for the “Transition Government” than would be posed by any infectious diseases.

Dangerous Presumption

The Bush-appointed Commission also highlights a number of housing safety issues that are being faced currently in Cuban cities, but once again it fails to address the causes or an suggest and appropriate cure. Shortages in construction materials, in part brought on by the embargo, have prevented citizens from making the most basic home repairs. Consequently, many Cubans are forced to live in battered shells of their once palatial homes. For example, in 2001, Havana had 60 barrios containing 21,552 condemned homes. Concerning this issue, the CAFC report offers minimal insight and does little to quell the apprehensions over the safety and adequacy of housing, many of which are shared by Cubans across the island. Dr. Guerra fears that the report perpetuates the “idea that the transitional government would have the authority to declare housing in the region unlivable, creating an excuse to kick people out of their homes. If this situation is allowed to come to pass, we are not going to see the Cuban people welcoming outsiders into their community, but rather a critical mass of residents who could potentially panic at the loss of their housing.” Rather than address such contentious issues, the commission report only focuses on the transition government’s potential changes. It overlooks the fact that many development organizations, like the Canadian group IDRC, have been attempting to cope with Cuba’s housing woes since the 1990s.

Orwellian Logic

The notion that the transition government will be imbued with the benefits of Washington’s presence is not necessarily welcomed in Cuba. As most area specialists stress, Cubans are likely to be resistant to any government that does not answer to their demands for complete sovereignty. Even under the gross shortages and hard times that characterized a major part of the Fidel Castro regime, many Cubans have developed a love-hate relationship with their leader and have learned to adapt to the shortcomings of the island’s complex system. The most outlandish assumption made by the CAFC report, therefore, is the idea that Cuban sovereignty can be so easily discounted. The Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artist (ENCASA) reacted to the report’s heady impositions on Cuban sovereignty by calling them “Orwellian” and declaring, “a state that respects the sovereignty of another nation and its people does not produce a detailed script for the political future of that nation and that people.” Despite these frustrations, the Bush administration’s actions come as little surprise. Policy makers have shown great audacity to instinctively embrace unipolar initiatives, which Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clark claim in their book, America Alone, has led to a crisis of international legitimacy. Counterproductive steps in Cuba, coupled with the foreign policy disasters in Iraq, reflect the ease with which U.S. government authorities guide themselves and much of the Cuban-American community down a destructive path, enticed by money, fear and power.

Cuba Libre — Voluntad Propia

The Bush administration along with the Cuban exile community in Miami contends that a Cuba led by either Castro brother, is a future that should be feared. However, fear grounds for many Cubans at the hands of the U.S. government, which repeatedly has plotted to impede the sovereignty of their nation, openly offers asylum to a wanted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, sanctions a judicial atrocity in the case of the Cuban Five ­ which featured an unprincipled judge, who was more a political activist than a respectable member of the bench. Despite repeated open-ended invitations from Fidel Castro to begin a process that could lead to normalized relations; the United States refuses to acknowledge Castro’s Cuba as anything other than a mortal enemy and on an almost annual basis it intensifies injunctions against the island. First through the Torricelli Bill and Helms-Burton Act, and now through the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba, the United States steadily tries to undermine the ability of the average Cuban to maintain contact with the outside world. At this pivotal moment in hemispheric politics, one must wonder if the Cuban people, when determining their future, will reflect on Washington’s diplomatic sins that have plagued their island for so many years by raising some questions about the bona fides of the genera of “democracy” being so generously imposed by the Bush administration.

EMILY KIRKSEY is a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.