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.

The U.S. Electoral College and Cuba

’08 Electoral College Map (Credit: Wikipedia)

Florida continues to be a critical swing state in the race for president and the likelihood that changes anytime soon is tiny.  So it is no surprise both political parties pander to groups in that state much more than others in order to ensure they don’t alienate people in the interest of winning important Electoral College votes and the executive office.  One of the most powerful groups, of course, is the Cuban population who desperately want to see the end of the Castro regime and want to see regime change happen quickly.  This sometimes makes for odd U.S. policy and statements.

Some of that oddness was highlighted Friday in a commentary posted  on Foreign Policy.  The first was a comment by President Obama that mirrors comments of previous presidents toward Cuba:

I assure you that I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions.

Yes, if Cuba would just choose to fully participate in the global economy they would be so much better off.  Great point by the American executive office holder.  I wonder why they don’t?…Oh, yeah.  It’s because the United States continues to vote against lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba when it is brought up in the United Nations.  If only the President of the United States knew someone who could talk to the President of the United States to change his position on the trade embargo then the President of the United States could say Cuba has joined the global economy.  Too bad William Shatner’s Priceline negotiator died.  Maybe he could have solved this communication problem.  And because the U.S. is the world’s light for democracy, we show it off proudly by voting with the majority on those trade embargo votes.  A worldwide majority typically of…two or three countries.  Versus roughly 185.  I wonder where dictators around the world get their ideas about authoritarianism?

But the main argument of the commentary was the fact the U.S. is at odds with a Catholic Cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and others like him who believe change will come to Cuba but it will be slowly so the church should still do whatever it can, working with the regime, to help whoever possible.  Since the Cardinal has decided to stay in Cuba and do his work there, he does not appear to be as much of an ally as the well-financed exiles throwing stones from Florida.  So the U.S. government goes after him and his kind, as stated:

When the SFRC (Senate Foreign Relations Committee) discovered that USAID and State Department contractors and government-sponsored NGOs were running operations, including websites, against church leaders in 2010-2011, USAID said that the groups were merely “exercising their First Amendment rights”…The State Department and USAID have spent about $200 million on these programs over the past 10 years.

In other words, Cardinal Ortega, stop being Catholic.  Stop doing what Jesus would do.  It makes you look bad when you are helping all those people who need help.  I mean, for God’s sake!  Giving out food and medicine to the needy?  What’s this guy trying to do?  Show up FEMA?  How arrogant!

Ultimately, this all comes back to the Electoral College and the fact only certain states and certain groups within those states have so much say over U.S. policy.  It begs asking the question: what would Cuba and American policy toward Cuba look like if the Electoral College did not exist?  It’s an interesting hypothetical that is impossible to answer.  In all likelihood, the policy would have been the same during the Cold War years.  But would it have changed in the ensuing decades.  No one knows.

But we do know one thing.  If you are a minority group or an underrepresented majority looking to heavily influence U.S. policy in the interest of your people, there is only one thing for you to do.  Move to a swing state where you would actually matter because living anywhere else in this “democracy” doesn’t seem to be as important to the decision makers in government.

New tactic, Occupy Wall Street!  Try Occupying Ohio and see what happens!