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.

Interesting Release From the State Department

A short press release was issued by the State Department today regarding a very small amount of funding ($1.5 million) going toward the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for the countries of Jordan, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  The statement has some interesting tidbits but one short sentence in this statement was particularly fascinating:

Other donors will fund the OECD project in Egypt.

Hmm.  Looks like someone isn’t too interested in U.S. support anymore.  The reason for others donating to Egypt and not the U.S. was not given but I’m assuming the Egyptians have decided they have received enough ‘help’ from America over the past few decades and aren’t too keen on wanting much more.  In fact, this could be the big difference between Libya accepting these funds and Egypt wanting them to come from other countries.  The U.S. at least denounced Libya’s brutal dictator, Gaddafi, more profoundly (even while working with him) compared to America’s almost unending support for former Egyptian dictator, Mubarak.  The Egyptian people clearly have long memories when it comes to who helped keep the previous regime in power and do not want that same U.S. intervention in the new political era.

Another point of this release is worth noting:

(One aspect of the project will focus on) helping to increase women’s participation in policy making as well as reaching out to other underrepresented groups and potential change-makers.

Improving the standing of women is certainly a noble cause and worth commending.  Helping underrepresented groups…well that depends.  We’ve done that in the past in the interest of working with the group most likely to play ball with the U.S. regardless of how ferocious they might be.  Take Saddam Hussein.  His relationship with the U.S. prior to the Gulf War is no secret at this point and he was a minority in his country.  Obviously, he was not underrepresented once he was in power but this is about who we support when they are minorities in their homelands.  As a Sunni Muslim, Hussein was a part of roughly one-third of the Iraqi population while Shia Muslims make up most of the remaining majority.  We supported a minority group in Iraq and many people paid dearly for that, ourselves included in the end.  Let’s hope for better judgement on who we support in that respect.

One last irony in this statement is the State Department’s concern for making sure the governments in these countries are open and their actions are transparent to their people.  Really?!  So I guess the U.S. government really had no problem with those Wikileaks releases over the past few years because they are all for openness and transparency in governing.

Correction.  They are for ‘openness and transparency’ by the U.S. government’s definition and not by the actual definition of those words.