A Look at State Department Testimony to the Senate on Cuba

The State Department gave a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week on Cuba that was a mostly vague testimony but a few interesting points were included.

The first point is the overall brashness of American foreign policy statements toward Cuba.  For example:

Our programs in Cuba provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, support the documentation of human rights abuses, and promote the free flow of information to, from, and within the island.

Isn’t it ironic the U.S. government talks about documenting human rights abuses by an opposing government on the same island that houses the Guantanamo Bay prison?  The statement mentions activists “exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms” but does not make any distinction as to what these rights are.  I’m assuming the right to be held without trial indefinitely must be included as a “right” and a “freedom” considering the source.  And humanitarian assistance?  What about Cuba sending their doctors around the world to help in times of disaster?  There’s an important difference here.  Cuba’s doctors are typically sent to help after a natural disaster or to the poorest areas.  The State Department’s assistance goes to “political prisoners and their families.”  Draw your own conclusions as to which is more noble.  And finally, I’m assuming the “free flow of information” is any information that solely supports the overthrow of the Castro regime because anything else would be threatening to American political ideas. In other words, “free, but some restrictions may apply.”

Another interesting statement:

Our policy also recognizes the importance of engaging with the pro-democracy and human rights activists who have been working for years to expand the political and civil rights of all Cubans.

Well, that depends, as I mentioned previously.  If the activist is following the orders of Washington, they are fine.  If they are trying to enact change without Washington’s approval, they are not fine and, in fact, might even be seen as a threat.  So much for the enemy of my enemy being a friend.

One last point that seems even more important as time passes:

Although the Cuban government severely restricts the ability of Cubans to access the internet, cell phones were legalized in Cuba in 2008, and since then cell phone usage has more than doubled, enhancing the connectivity of Cuban civil society. Activists can now report human rights abuses by SMS and on Twitter.

After the world watched the Arab Spring unfold last year and noticed the effect the Internet had on those movements, the approach toward Cuba and the trade embargo should have been an easy decision.  Just open the flood gates for trade and better the livelihood of Cubans so they can then increase their access to information technology.  If we are acknowledging abuses are occurring and the Internet is helping expose them, why are we afraid of dropping the trade embargo?  If anything, dropping it should speed the rate of change in Cuba by our own logic and it is impossible to ignore what happened in the Middle East in early 2011.

Yet, the policy persists for reasons that no longer have logic reinforcing them.

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