The announcement earlier this week that the U.S. would allow cell phones, pre-paid cell phone accounts, and possibly other related items to be shipped to Cuba, is not extraordinary or innovative. It reminded me of that old, yet well-known cell phone commercial of the fellow walking to odd locations with his cell phone to test if he still had a signal. Every so often he would say “can you hear me now” in to the receiver. You could hear but are people listening? Just as the Republican Party needs to undergo a period of political transition, so too should U.S./Cuba policy since no one is listening.
With regards to our priorities in the Americas, Cuba has been relegated to a very low-level throughout this Administration. From a substantive standpoint, this is quite understandable. The expansion of free-trade, curbing illegal immigration, defending the homeland, and working with regional partners to crack down on drug smugglers are much more pressing issues. And on these matters there have been some notable successes.
For example, cultivating strong relations with Brazil have kept Venezuela, to a point, in check. Our support for Colombia in its fight against terrorism has yielded many solid victories. Despite the bureaucratic bungling of the politically anemic Organization of American States (OAS), thanks to U.S. leadership regional coordination in the war on terrorism is much improved. Several Latin American countries have contributed troops to fight terror in the Middle East, while the U.S.-Central America Security Dialogue holds great promise as a model for future, related engagements throughout the hemisphere.
Yet despite these and other successes, a state sponsor of terrorism sits smack dab in the heart of the Caribbean. From this island hub spreads a unique network of anti-Americanism networks throughout the Western Hemisphere. It is the intellectual capital for Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Axis Movement. It fuels leftist parties and terrorist groups throughout the region that destabilize democracies, at best, or as usually, try to overrun them. Rather than stop radicals, it cooperates to countries like Iran and Syria. The Cuban Communist Party maintains strong ties with China and China reciprocates with a strong presence in Cuba. Cuba steals U.S. military secrets, sells them to our enemies.
Cuba is no friend of the U.S. or of freedom. Pick a problem in the region, any problem, and it will inevitably lead back to Cuba and Cuban Communist Party or intelligence officials. Rather than deal with this political hydra head-on, we have focused on a marginal approach with human rights and supporting opposition groups on the island. We have reacted to changes on the island, for example, with cell phone shipments. That is all well enough and good, but it cannot form the almost exclusive basis of our foreign policy. Focus on a country’s human rights conditions, a foreign policy does not make when dealing with a state sponsor of terror so close to our shores. But that is what we have done and, as a result, the Cuba successes the last decade are few.
While the U.S. supports, as we should, the plight of all people to live in freedom, U.S. interests come first in this equation. In the case of Cuba it just so happens that we can do both, but we have sacrificed the former for the latter. The result is a reactionary, defensive position. Rather than commit to change, we tinker at the margin. Following are some action items, most proscribed by U.S. law, that should be pursued in the very short time left in the Bush Administration:
1. Put U.S. Interests First, Change the Mindset of the U.S. Bureaucracy
If we want to effectively isolate the Cuban government and help the Cuban people, expanding Track I elements is key. Opponents of sanctions ridicule their effectiveness, but in reality, even the disheveled application to date has been successful. The cold fact remains that Cuba needs us, we do not need Cuba. And Cuba is tinkering at the margin to come in to compliance with U.S. pre-conditions for normalization of relations. There several items that are required by law that have yet to be fully engaged on the front, we should focus more on these, less on Track II. The bureaucracy needs that mind shift as well. Sanctions are a tool, not a policy, but even this tool can be improved by working with regional partners, conditioning foreign assistance, and expanding diplomatic measures with regional, European, and other allies with an interest in Cuba.
2. No Fidel or Raul, Start Saying it
U.S. law clearly states that the U.S. will not recognize a transition government with either Fidel Castro or Raul Castro. Every time we appear to challenge the current system, without saying clearly that we will not accept Fidel or Raul, we muzzle any potential opposition from within the system. How can we expect people to oppose the regime, and I mean those with the ways and means to do so, if we do not clearly state that neither Fidel or Raul are an option for the future?
3. Cuba Must Allow International Inspectors at Alleged Biological Weapon Facilities
For years defectors have stated, with great specificity, that Cuba has a biological weapons program. Cuba has a very robust biopharmaceuticals industry and in 2002, then Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that “we are concerned that such technology could support biological warfare” program in places such as Cuba. The left and opponents of current U.S. policy ridicule even the possibility of this issue, but no matter. In today’s world, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a serious issue and we must talk frankly, candidly, and openly about it. If Cuba has nothing to hide, then it should have no problem with having international inspectors visiting the island.
4. Condition Regional U.S. Foreign Assistance and Trade in Return for Cooperation on Cuba
U.S. taxpayers underwrite foreign policy and assistance programs. They deserve a better return on their investment. Our regional partners need to choose between coddling the Communist Party of Cuba or enjoying access to the U.S. market and, in some cases, receiving U.S. taxpayer monies in the form of foreign assistance programs.
5. Establish a Framework for a Reconciliation/Tribunal Process for Crimes Against Humanity
It may not be a popular subject, but no one in Cuba is going to do a thing to challenge the establishment if there is no framework for dealing with crimes committed by regime officials against the people. One of the unspoken but truly remarkable successes in Iraq is the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal processes. Despite all the reams of suggestions and ideas by the White House Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba for help in a post-Castro Cuba, there is not one single sheet of paper focused on this important matter. A panel should be established, maybe headed up by current or former Supreme Court Justices, to provide a template for such a process in a future free Cuba. The work product will lay a necessary foundation for rule of law in a free Cuba.
6. Overcome Cuban Jamming of U.S. Radio and TV Broadcasts
Information is power and the people on the island need more of it. If the Falun Gong and Iranian-American exiles living in the U.S. could overcome jamming of signals using commercial off the shelf technology in China and Iran, sprinkled with a little ingenuity, there is no excuse why it has taken close to six years to improve the broadcast of Radio and TV Marti to Cuba after Congress has appropriated millions. If we must, work with the major news outlets to prepare daily news feeds in place of U.S. Government broadcasts. The U.S. media will like the exposure and, maybe, we’ll get more media coverage about the reality of Cuba.
7. Send Thousands of Pre-Loaded iPods to Cuba
In addition to improving television and radio broadcasting, use some of the millions of dollars appropriated for Cuba programs to export to Cuba pre-loaded iPods. Do not pack them with political speeches, rather, export one of our most powerful tools, our music culture – a major hook for Cuba youth who despite the Communist Party censors, crave it. Also, load some of the local talent, blocked by the censors, so that Cuba’s youth can better learn more about its own people. If you do not want to spend the money on them, ask for corporate donations. I am certain Apple would relish the free advertising that iPods would generate by Cuban youths wearing the well-known white ear pieces throughout the island.
Allowing cell phones in Cuba is all well and good, but does little to address more important issues that directly impact the U.S. The aforementioned action items, and other measures, can be undertaken, with minimal effort, if the political will exists to see them through. Once the Cuba issue is addressed and freedom returns to the island, the hub-and-spoke system fueled by the regime throughout the Americas should begin to self-destruct or, at least, feel ever so exposed when its primary foil is gone and characters like Hugo Chavez are left to fend for themselves.