Friday, June 20, 2008

The EU Lifts Sanctions Against Cuba: Implicit Recognition for the Legitimacy of the Raúl Castro Regime; The US is Left Out in the Cold

The EU today announced that it was lifting sanctions against Cuba. While the practical effects may be enough to notice--the symbolic effects are far greater. The object is to bolster the regime of Raúl Castro while at the same time using this critical passage before the new regime becomes entrenched to flex what muscle the EU has. And it has little. See La Unión Europea acuerda levantar las sanciones contra Cuba: La medida tiene el objetivo de apoyar las medidas emprendidas por Raúl Castro - EE UU y la disidencia critican la decisión. El País, June 20, 2008. Cuba insisted on the elimination of thesanctions as a precondition to further dialog with the EU. "La Habana ha considerado hasta ahora indispensable que Bruselas elimine completamente las sanciones, antes de aceptar las ofertas de diálogo de la UE." Id. For the EU, this is seen as a means to try to convince the Raúl Castro government to open up politically. Id.

The United States did not take the news well--criticizing it as effectively legitimizing a dictatorial regime. So said the President's spokesperson. "Estados Unidos ha considerado poco después de conocer la decisión que da la sensación de que la UE da "legitimidad" a un régimen dictatorial. El portavoz del Departamento de Estado, Tom Casey, ha asegurado que una medida de este tipo "da una legitimidad adicional o da a entender al régimen dictatorial que su continua opresión del pueblo cubano es ahora más aceptable de lo que era antes"." Id. (The United States suggested shortly after it was informed that the EU's decision appeared to lend legitimacy to a dictatorial regime. The spokesperson for the State Department, Tom Casey, assured these measures of this type 'lend additional legitimacy or suggests to the dictatorial regime that their continuing oppression of the Cuban people is more acceptable now than before.'").) Cuban dissidents within Cuba appeared to agree with the Americans. "Por su parte, organizaciones de la oposición interna cubana han manifestado su decepción por el nuevo giro a las relaciones entre la UE y Cuba. Portavoces de los opositores han indicado que la causa de las medidas no ha cambiado, y han agregado que España pone en riesgo su prestigio al encabezar los esfuerzos para levantar las sanciones." Id. ("For their part, Cuban internal opposition organizations felt deceived by the new turn in Cuban EU relations."). See also Maite Rico, "La oposición teme quedar fuera del diálogo," El País, June 21, 2008, at p. 4.

The internal opposition views this move with alarm. They fear that in their hurry to cozy up to Raul Castro the EU will forget about the internal oppostion and leave them without a voice . . .or protector. See La Unión Europea acuerda levantar las sanciones contra Cuba:, supra; Mairte Rico, La oposición, supra. One can understand why. Just recently Fidel Castro himself went after one of the most well known of the dissident bloggers, Yoani Sánchez. Mauricio Vicent, Fuego cruzado sobre Yoani Sánchez, El País, June 21, 2008, at p. 4. The Cuban government had refused her travel permission to go to Spain to receive the Ortega y Gasset award. Id. And her blog site mysteriously suffered a hacker attack in a land in which the Internet is well controlled. Rosa Jiménez Cano, El blog de Yoani Sánchez sufre un ataque hacker, El País, May 5, 2008. Of course, the official reaction to the Yoani Sánchez blog is anachronistic and likely to backfire in today's world. Suppression, as the Cubans should know, makes very bad press, especially at this delicate time of transition. And right now bad press is not what Cuba needs. One would have thought they that hey might have taken a lesson form American business rather than from the antiquated and irrelevant lesson book of Josef Stalin. For example, one might have thought that the Cubans would have surmised by now that the most effective way to suppress a blogger is to drown them out--flooding the internet with a large number of alternative Cuban bloggers describing their own lives might have been far more effective than suppressing a single blogger interested in writing about her everyday life. There might have been far less interest in the media, far more confusion about whose vision is correct and more material for contradiction. The Palestinians, for example, have learned this lesson. And there are always strategic clemencies, something well practiced by other states. But these are the lessons the Cuban regime will have to learn as it emerges from out of its anachronistic Stalinism and into the 21st century, even if an authoritarian one, especially if it means to survive as an engaged actor among the community of nations.

But for now there appear to be only growing pains, both internally and externally. And thus, in part, Cuba's difficulties with the Europeans, and with keeping its own house in order in a way tolerable to the rest of the world. For all that, the Europeans have offered the new regime something of an important lifeline in its efforts to insure the impotence of American machinations during the transition period. The principal credit for this reversal of position, of course, belongs to Spain. There is irony here, of course, in the continuation, in muted form, of that old battle between Spain and the United States for Cuba. Though in truth Cuba is now far more beholden to another--the Chinese. Still, Spain continues to play nanny to and oftentimes unappreciated mother for the last and best jewel of its Colonial Empire. This is, after all, the colonial metropolis that made Fidel Castro possible—sending his father from Galicia to retain domination at the end of the 19th century. Yet, the effort evidences a new confidence in the Raúl Castro government to move forward in ways that were impossible for his brother, given his history and his politics. “Ha habido algunos cambios, vemos signos de transición, y los amigos espanoles nos han transmitido su impresión de los contactos que mantienen con los cubanos. ” Miguel González, La EU revisará en un ano su oferta de diálogo a Cuba, El país, June 21, 2008 at 3 (quoting Dimitrij Rupel, the Slovenian Foreign Minister and the representative of the EU Presidency) (“There have been some changes and we see signs of transition and our Spanish friends have conveyed their impression of contacts made with the Cubans.”).

Not that this will be easy. On the one hand, many of the EU Member States do not share Spain’s “post” colonial love for its former colony. The original document was changed to read less favorably for the Cubans. In addition to a mandatory review of Cuban compliance with European standards of governance by June 2009, the sanctions lifting contains a proviso: “’A partir de esta fecha, el diálogo continuará si el Consejo decide que ha sido eficaz, teniendo encuenta los elementos contenidos en el párrafo Segundo.’ Entre estos elementos están la liberación de los presos politicos y el acceso de organizaciones humanitarias a las cárceles cubanas.” Id. (“’From that date, dialogue will continue only if the Council determines that it efficacious, taking into account the elements contained in the second paragraph.’ Among these elements are the liberation of political prisoners and access to Cuban jails by humanitarian organizations.”).

On the other hand, Castro remains an unappreciative, though attentive, son of the ancient forms of the Spanish Catholic monarchy, whose style, if not the exact substance of which, he is sometimes unconsciously tempted to mimic in a sort of filial devotion to his genetic past. And, of course, he can’t resist the dig, though who can blame him. Though the is a sad irony to the disparaging critique: “A mi edad y en mi estado de salud, uno no sabe qué tiempo va vivir, pero desde ahora deseo consignar mi desprecio por le enorme hipocresía que encierra tal decision. Esto se hace aún más evidente cuando coincide con la brutal medida europea de expulsar los inmigrantes no auterizados precedentes de los paises latinoamericanos.” Fidel Castro Ruz, Estados Unidos, Europa y Derechos Humanos, Reflexiones del Compañero Fidel, Gramna, June 20, 2008 (“At my age and given the state of my health, I don’t know how long I’ll live, but right now I want to register my disdain for the enormous hypocrisy the surrounds that decision. This is even more evident as it coincides with brutal European efforts to expel undocumented immigrants from Latin America.”).

Of course one has to laugh—at least a little—and be sad at the same time. Fidel Castro has begun to publicly hint at the inevitable. And that is sad, though hardly unexpected. As for the rest—substantially dissimulation but all in good fun. There is an enormous hypocrisy that surrounds the European decision, but it hardly has to do with EU immigration policy. The EU and its Member States, after deal with far more repressive regimes—including Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea. One hardly hears a bleep about the Chinese anymore. Cuba, it seems, occupies that special status in European consciousness, which it ironically shares with Israel (and that is a great irony considering Fidel Castro’s position on Israel; and if nothing else it shows that there must be a Supreme Being (or some reasonable factotum) and that She has a great sense of irony), which requires it to act like a “special state.” On the other hand, Fidel Castro had that coming—since he has so successfully argued that Cuba—at least the idea of post Revolutionary Cuba—IS special. The poke at European immigration policy is pathetically manipulative. First, Europe has been among the more forbearing when it comes to immigration policy—and that, in par may explain why Fidel Castro gave in to the urge to make the point. Europe is an easy and very guilt ridden target. I would not have been able to resist myself. Stull, Fidel Castro knows very well that he is on thin ice here. He might, for example, have a chat with his friend Chávez in Venezuela on this score. Hugo Chavez and his more conservative predecessors have ebb in the habit of kicking out “illegal” Columbians in Venezuela from time to time. And of course Chinese policy to North Korean illegal immigration is interesting as well. Not that Cuba has had an immigration problem since the end of colonial rule. More importantly, perhaps, is that the targets of the European policy are more likely the black African migrations than that of Latin America—even in its mulatto and mestizo forms. And here, perversely, Fidel Castro missed a chance to lay a real and very significant punch. For there IS a bit of hypocrisy in European policy. The Spanish don’t mind, for example, Latin American immigrants as much as it fears Muslim and Black African immigration. The former can be absorbed: the latter may be a threat to social cohesion—especially in this anti-assimilationist age. And, of course, this is the issue that has bedeviled Turkish accession to the E.U., now less likely than ever.

Still, Fidel Castro has lived long enough now to be able to feel like Jimmy Carter on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. It was at that moment that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran chose to release the hostages from the American embassy. Europe, too, waited—not long enough to act after the death of Fidel Castro, but long enough to force Fidel Castro to wait from the sidelines. This is not the hypocrisy that Fidel Castro mentions, but instead evidences a certain perverse meanness in small things for which Europe, like the Iranians, are sometimes known.

For all that this is progress. And one likely to add another nail to the coffin of American efforts to destabilize the post Fidel Castro regime. As has become a bad habit for American foreign policy in this part of the world—it is invariably a dollar short and a day late. And worse, it employs all the worst elements of Soviet political (and ideological) warfare—a tactics that has proven in the long term to be ineffective—while the Europeans and the Chinese (of all states) have been employing successfully it seems, a policy of economic incentives to open markets to lift people out of poverty and dependence, coupled with nudge towards greater human rights sensitivities. It is too bad that Castro cannot enjoy this last irony—the world turned upside down.

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