Research: Commentary

Cuba shaping up as Iraq II

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 26, 2004 | Article

By Wayne Smith

The path by which the Bush administration led us into the nightmarish Iraqi quagmire is strewn with arrogance, flawed assumptions, faulty intelligence and downright lies. It seems determined to make the same mistakes all over again with Cuba.

The administration listened all too trustingly to a small group of Iraqi exiles. We see the result. A disaster.

Now the administration is listening to another tiny knot of hard-line exiles in Miami. Just a little more economic pressure and Fidel Castro will be gone, the latter are saying. The Bush administration will then have a great victory. As Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega assured Congress on Oct. 2 of last year: "The president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in office for so long."

On May 6, President Bush announced new measures to achieve that goal and supposedly assist the Cuban people after the Castro regime is no more. As one reads over the recommendations (all 500 pages of them), one has the sense that in the minds of the authors at least, the U.S. occupation of Cuba has already begun.

A U.S. "Transition Coordinator" is to be appointed to run the show, as Paul Bremer has run it in Iraq. He'll oversee economic reconstruction, setting up the right kind of schools, making sure the trains run on time and all such matters. We can be sure that contracts for Bechtel and Halliburton are already planned.

Just as the administration ignored the United Nations Security Council and trampled international conventions (such as the Geneva Convention) in pursuing its misadventure in Iraq, so too is it following that pattern in Cuba. One of its principal instruments for putting an end to the Castro regime, it says, is aid to the internal dissidents. When one government assists organized groups in another country in efforts to oust their government, that is blatant intervention in the second country's internal affairs, and in this case a clear violation of the Charter of the Organization of American States, even if the means remain peaceful.

And who can be sure they will? Already, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of the exiles from whom the administration is taking its cues, is urging that consideration be given to assassinating Castro, and other Florida politicians are calling for use of force.

What do the dissidents inside Cuba, those the new measures are supposed to assist, think of this? Well, their principal leaders have denounced the new measures and made it clear they want nothing to do with them.

Oswaldo Paya, the chairman of the Varela Project, a free speech/human rights initiative, says they are "unhelpful and unwelcome." Elizardo Sanchez, head of the National Commission for Human Rights, describes them as "counterproductive meddling." And Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of a coalition of social democratic forces, insists: "The United States has absolutely no right to define the how, what or when, or the pace and timing of the democratic transition in Cuba."

When measures are denounced by those they are supposed to support, it is a sure sign that they aren't likely to work. And what has been the reaction of other Cubans — those who aren't dissidents? More than a million demonstrated against the new measures a few days ago.

Perhaps the demonstrations weren't spontaneous. Few things in Cuba are. But on the other hand, put yourself in the place of the average Cuban looking at those pictures of the Iraqi prisoners being abused by American soldiers. Would you be enthusiastic over the idea of a Bush-appointed "transition coordinator" for Cuba? Probably not. Cubans want change, yes, but not an American-run transition. Our reputation for nation-building isn't very high at the moment.

It is also clear that the great majority of the Cuban-American community also oppose the measures. No wonder. They are the ones who will suffer most. Now they will only be able to visit their families in Cuba every three years, rather than once a year. The range of relatives to whom they can send money is also reduced. And for what? Does anyone think such restrictions will bring down the Castro government? Not likely.

Finally, the administration is going to have military aircraft transmit radio and television programming to Cuba from international airspace. That will be expensive and also violates the International Communications Convention. Nor will it have any significant effect. Radio Marti has been broadcasting for some 20 years with only occasional jamming. It has not changed Cuban public opinion one iota in all that time.

For all its bluster, the administration's revamped Cuba policy is even more clearly foredoomed than the Iraqi policy. The latter is fast losing support across the United States. The Cuba policy retains only that of a tiny group of hard-line exiles in Florida. The will of the majority at some point soon will prevail.

Original article available here.

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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