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Did Obama Forget About His “Fresh Start” Wth Latin America?


President Obama sounded triumphant notes in his State of the Union (SOTU) address. But he didn’t mention his lack of success in changing policy where it did not work. One such place to look at is Cuba where the fog of unreality has engulfed US- policy for more than half a century. In the policy offices in Washington and on Capital Hill, few seem to notice that attempts to subvert Cuba’s government have not worked. Indeed, return to the Bay of Pigs fiasco of April 1961, the ensuing Missile Crisis that resulted from Cuba’s leaders accepting Soviet nuclear weapons to deter a US invasion threat, and to the failed 50+ years of economic embargo and attempts to isolate Cuba diplomatically.

Each year, Congress allocates money to create mischief on our neighboring island, as if supporting “dissidents” and setting up secret satellite phone and internet groups will somehow bring unhappy Cuban masses onto the streets of their cities to overthrow their government.

The US policy is now almost 54 years old. “Give it time,” shout the hardliners, like Cuban American Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), the disgraced Bob Menendez (D NJ) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtenen. These fanatic anti-Castroites and their lobby have bamboozled the country long enough. It’s time Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry become realists and lift the haze of stupidity that has clouded Washington’s policy brain.

Think of life in Cuba as lived by people in the United States: Cubans go to work and school in the morning, they ride buses, eat lunch, return to their homes, but without having to worry about getting foreclosed or evicted, and more than 90% of them voted their endorsement for the government in their Parliamentary election two weeks ago.

In the light of a government that has endured for 54 years, made significant investments in its people’s health and education and that functions in as routine a fashion as any government in the Hemisphere, why would Washington policy makers continue to fabricate illusions as the basis for US political strategy, in thinking that continued plotting can overthrow a government that provides to its people free medical care, food subsidies, free education from nursery to PhD and many other social benefits?

You don’t see homeless people in Cuba, or barefoot kids playing hooky from school, or beggars on the downtown streets. Why would policy makers continue to behave as if they could knock off a government that provides its people with benefits American don’t enjoy? Non realism rules on Cuba policy as it has from 1959 on.

Over the decades, Latin American and Caribbean countries, pressured by Washington in the early 1960s to break relations with Cuba, have reestablished normal ties, and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) has just chosen President Raul Castro to head that regional organization. Created in Caracas in 2011, CELAC arose as an alternative to the US-dominated Organization of American States. Neither the United States nor Canada belong, but several Latin American heads of state now praise the Castros and strongly support Cuban independence from Washington. The Presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Nicaragua regularly meet with their Cuban counterpart, and discuss Caribbean and Latin American issues.

Obama’s 2009 Trinidad meeting with Latin American and Caribbean head of state, at which he talked of his openness and promised “a fresh start,” now brings dismissive comments from those who attended. He endured heavy Latin American criticism for past US behavior in the region, charges ranging from gross economic exploitation to the consistent backing of military dictatorships in the late 1960s and into the 1970s and 80s. Obama’s fresh US start with Latin America, has thus far led to little that could be called “fresh,” especially with respect to Cuba policy. Indeed, USAID funds subversion in Cuba, which led to the arrest of Alan Gross, who worked for a company that contracted with AID to set up an internet group of “dissidents” under the guise of providing internet connectivity to the Cuban Jewish community.

Gross got caught with expensive and sophisticated equipment and his laptop hard drive in which he had copies of his “trip reports” to Cubathat detailed his subversive dalliances. Cuban state security had infiltrated the dissident groups and a Cuban court convicted the American of having committed crimes against the Cuban state. He received a 15 year sentence.

Obama could easily get Gross released by pardoning the Cuban 5, intelligence agents who infiltrated violent Miami-based exile groups who had begun bombing targets in Havana, and were arrested by the FBI and found guilty of conspiring to commit espionage. Such an act would also open the door to larger negotiations and a restoration of relations.

So when will Obama hear the news? When will he bring “fresh” realism to US-Cuba policy, abandon the half-century US quest to oust Cuba’s government, and restore diplomatic and trade relations with the island? The rest of the world has let go of the Cold War. But it wasn’t really the Cold War or Soviet involvement on the island that first hit Washington’s gut. Cuba’s disobedience, its lack of reverence for US supremacy in the region, its dismissal of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary, and Castro’s expropriation of US corporate property made Havana a target, whose insolence continues to bother the Washington elite. But they’ve co-existed with inconveniences before.

Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are on dvd from cinemalibrestudio.com He is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow.

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