Point of View Columns

Cuba Si! Finally!

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War also granted the people of Cuba independence. However, from that day until January 1, 1959, the United States continued to alternatively treat Cuba as a colony, protectorate, playground and private plantation. Ironically, when Cuba achieved true independence; that is when the real conflict between Cuba and the United States began.

When Cuba achieved its true independence, first from Spain and then from the United States, the United States acted like a spoiled child that had been deprived of a favorite toy or plaything. And, despite the fact that this country has a long history of embracing its former enemies (England, Germany, Japan and Vietnam come to mind), there has been something about Cuba that has precluded reconciliation for over a half century.

The British committed war crimes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Thousands of American men, women and children were murdered, abused and subjected to incredible hardship as part of the military policy of the British. Yet Great Britain has become America’s closest ally and it is considered poor taste to reference past crimes.

During the Civil War that was started by the treasonous Confederate States of America. Over one million people died in that war – which represented 3 per cent of the country’s population at that time (that number would be over nine million today). At the conclusion of the war, even though a supporter of the CSA killed the President of the United States, even though the CSA was clearly guilty of war crimes like the death camp in Andersonville and the slaughter of black troops at Fort Pillow, despite all of these offenses (and many more) there were no mass war crime trials attempts at systemic punishment.

Despite all the justification for retribution there was Reconstruction instead. Despite the horrific results of the Civil War the former CSA states are allowed to fly their flag of rebellion and celebrate their treason without fear of punishment to this very day.

Total American casualties in World War II exceeded one million with over 400,000 members of the military killed. Yet, within a few years of the cessation of hostilities the United States helped to rebuild Japan and Germany, their defeated foes. Within 15 years Americans were buying Toyotas and Volkswagens and all was forgiven.

Over 200,000 members of the American military were killed or wounded in the Vietnam War. Today members of the American military wear clothing made in Vietnam and American tourists travel to Vietnam for holidays on a daily basis.

The People’s Republic of China is unapologetically communist. With a population of over one billion people it is clearly, and obviously, the largest communist country in the world. Yet China is also one of America’s largest trading partners and an embargo against that country would be unthinkable.

Although the current Cuban government has never attacked the United States (although the U.S. has attacked Cuba, i.e. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961) an embargo has been in place for over 50 years. The level of American governmental hostility and animosity directed against Cuba has the feel of a David and Goliath scenario except that this David has neither stone nor slingshot and this Goliath possesses nuclear weapons and the largest economy in the history of the planet.

There are so many reasons why the characterization of Cuba as an enemy of the United States is wrong and illogical. And that is why it is a sign of long overdue progress that, due to the leadership of President Obama, the commencement of diplomatic relations and the resumption of trade with Cuba has begun.

Progress long overdue is still progress.

Point of View Columns

Alone at the Summit

The news from the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia is not that men patronize prostitutes. It is not that Secret Service men patronize prostitutes – even while they are supposed to be protecting the President of the United States. There are enough big head-little head commentaries in that story to fill several columns.

The big news is that President Obama found himself shackled to an ancient Cold War policy towards Cuba that left him, and the United States, alone at the Summit of the Americas. Indeed, it was unnerving and disappointing to see an undeniably brilliant man advocating an undeniably stupid policy.

Virtually every country in attendance at the Summit of the Americas recognizes Cuba and engages in diplomatic and trade relations with that country. Virtually every country in attendance, that would be every country in the Western Hemisphere, has gone on record as refusing to attend another Summit of the Americas Conference is Cuba is not in attendance. And there was the President Obama vetoing the prospect of the Republic of Cuba participating in the next Summit.

This raises the question; will the United States boycott the next Summit? Will the United States also demand that Cuba be ejected from the United Nations? Will the United States withdraw from the U.N. if its demands are not met?

Questions cascade from Colombia that have nothing to do with who is protecting the President of the United States. One has to wonder if this is just the first time that the guardians of the presidency have been caught.

One also has to wonder as to what it is about Cuba that keeps the United States frozen in a time of finned Cadillacs and charcoal filter cigarettes while the world has moved on. Over 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam and the U.S. has diplomatic and robust trade relations with that country. The leadership of the Soviet Union threatened to “bury” the United States, and its historical descendant, the Russian Republic, is a part of full diplomatic and economic linkages.

The People’s Republic of China is a communist country, its booming economy notwithstanding. Yet the United States would never think of terminating diplomatic relations with China – communism be damned.

Yet, the United States still does not have an embassy in Cuba. Travel to Cuba by American citizens is still wrapped in layers of red tape and rigmarole. Trade relations are subject to draconian regulations and restrictions meant to strangle the Cuban economy. All the while, almost every nation in the world recognizes Cuba as an independent country and engages in diplomatic and trade relations with that country.

Consider the fact that Spain, the country which claimed Cuba as its colony for three centuries and fought a vicious counterrevolutionary campaign against the Cuban people has a full and complete diplomatic and financial relationship with Cuba. So what is the matter with the United States?

A cursory review of history will indicate that for the first half of the twentieth century the United States subjected Cuba to political interference and economic intervention. This interference and intervention led to tremendous financial advantage for American businesses and even the American mafia. At no point did American policy ever sound even a faint note of concern for democracy or human rights in Cuba.

Since the Cuban revolution, Cuban emigrants to the United States, most of whom held privileged positions in the “old Cuba”, have ranted and raved about the horrors of Cuba under the post revolutionary rule. To an unbiased ear, they sound like for beneficiaries of privilege who long for “the good old days”.

And all the while the Cuban people have higher literacy rates and lower infant mortality rates than were ever enjoyed during the heyday of American sponsored Cuban dictators. Indeed, as this column is written, every Cuban citizen has a primary care physician, something that Americans only dream and fight about.

The shame of it is that President Obama and the United States are fighting a battle that is frozen in the amber of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The entire planet has moved on. Los Cubanos, those Cuban emigrants who froth at the mouth at the mere mention of Fidel Castro, are now old men harboring the fragments of dreams that belong only to old men.

If there was ever a time to move on when it comes to Cuban-American relations, now is the time. There is nothing noble about holding to policies that perpetuate injustice that is now over 100 years old. There is everything noble about moving forward to a future that adapts to reality. We have done it with Vietnam, Russia and China, why not Cuba?

Point of View Columns

Egypt – Obama’s Bitter Harvest

That President Obama inherited a perfect storm of economic catastrophes is without question. The collapse of the stock market, the evaporation of the housing market and the evisceration of over 8 million jobs from the American workplace has all been sadly documented.

It is not without value to point out that the witless and venal policies of the prior administration of President George W. Bush contributed greatly to this catastrophe.
The fact that the Obama Administration has begun to stem the damning tide of disaster is a testament to the ability to think strategically and plan for success rather than simply react with empty rhetoric.

Every president of the United States inherits the results of prior policies. They take credit for the successes and are roundly criticized for the failures. Fairness is never part of the political equation and we should give President Obama credit for adhering to the “never complain” part of Benjamin Disraeli’s famous quote.

And now there is Egypt – and Tunisia – and Yemen – and……..? The cause of the turmoil that swallowed up the decades-old regime in Tunisia didn’t begin overnight or during the Obama administration (or the Bush Administration, for that matter).

The fuel for the civil conflagration in Cairo has been gathering in Egypt for over thirty years. The regime in Yemen is tottering only now, but its foundation has always been hollow.

The common thread in these countries is a record of American financial and military support for the ruling regimes. The support has been forthcoming to the tune of billions of dollars – in exchange for “strategic alliances”.

The American policies in support of Israel, against terrorism and in support of the wars against Iraq and in Afghanistan have been buttressed by these and other dubious alliances. But there is a problem.

In signing over blank check after blank check to oppressive regimes (sometimes with only fig leaves of fake democracy), the United States has gained strategic partners but has lost credibility with the people who have had to suffer under the dictator’s boot.

Instead, this country has supported bloated and sclerotic regimes. Like gangsters from any era, they have drained national treasuries of money and depleted the national reserves of hope. And all the while they have done far too little to provide for a better way of life for their people.

This has been a bipartisan global disaster as Republican and Democratic presidents have followed this bizarre and benighted policy over the years and around the world. It didn’t work in Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti or Chile, and it isn’t working in Egypt, Yemen or Afghanistan.

It is truly ironic that a country projecting itself as a beacon of freedom has paid for the extinguishing of freedom’s flames in too many countries. In Cairo and Alexandria these flames are now consuming the rickety and aged structures of a regime that has outlived its time. The bearers of these torches may not be so inclined to forgive and forget American complicity in their misery.

The Obama Administration must now work on parallel tracks. There are the immediate infernos in Egypt that must be attended. The United States cannot sit by. It is a daunting task to be sure.

But it is also important for President Obama to get it right going forward. The policy of paying for strategic support and turning a blind eye to injustice was doomed from the start.

At some point people who are denied progress and change through peaceful means will resort to violent means. And in many instances that violence will be directed not only against the oppressor but also against the paymaster.

To make sure that Americans do not continue to reap the bitter harvest that comes from supporting dictators, plutocrats and oppressors the Obama Administration must find a new way of going forward.

Just like the economy, the old ways just won’t work anymore.