The Cuba-U.S. deal still stinks a month later

As a Russian spy ship docks in Cuba, Cuban-American author Carlos Alberto Montaner has added his voice, and influential pen, to those of us who do not understand the U.S.-Cuba deal, and specifically the timing.  Why now?

Mr. Montaner believes that President Obama made five big mistakes.  I would like to focus on the third and fifth mistakes:

The damage that Obama has done to the democratic opposition. 

Perhaps it is the gravest of all. 

For decades, the message sent by the more credible dissidents to the dictatorship was very clear: “Let us sit down to talk and, among Cubans, let us find a democratic solution. The problem is between us, not between Washington and Havana.”

To that approach (which, with different shadings, was that of Gustavo Arcos, the Cuban Democratic Platform, and Oswaldo Payá) the regime responded with repression and accusations that it was a CIA ploy. But that outcome, as in Eastern Europe, as in Pinochet's Chile, as in 1990 Nicaragua, was the best for everyone, including the United States, and it was the obvious road for anyone who might inherit the Castro brothers' power, both of them on their final stage for biological reasons.

Nevertheless, to achieve this, Washington had to remain firm and refer the dictatorship to the opposition side whenever, directly or indirectly, the possibility of reconciliation was insinuated. The problem was between Cubans and had to be solved between Cubans. This was well understood by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the two U.S. presidents of the post-Soviet era, and this is what Obama has just invalidated irresponsibly, denying the opposition any chance to be an important actor in the forging of the island's future.

Why engage in democratic reforms, Castro's heirs will say, if we have been accepted as we are? Didn't Roberta Jacobson say, on behalf of the U.S. government, that Washington held no hopes that the Castros would permit freedoms? 

On Dec. 30, 2014, exactly 13 days after the reconciliation was announced, the Cuban political police detained several dozen intellectuals and artists who attempted to carry out a performance on Revolution Square. What incentive is left for Washington to induce respect for human rights if Washington has made most of the concessions unilaterally?

This was expressed clearly by a high-ranking intelligence officer, Jesús Arboleya, a Cuban diplomat, expert in Cuba's relations with the U.S. and Canada, in an interview with El Nuevo Día of Puerto Rico on Dec. 30, 2014. The newspaper asked him if he feared Obama's new policy.

“If in the past, when they had all the power to impose their values, [that policy] didn't work, why should it work beginning now?” was his answer.

The dictatorship is euphoric. It feels that it has carte blanche to crush the democrats without paying the least price. Lacking all sensitivity, Obama has contributed to weakening the opposition.

Fifth mistake

One of a legal nature. 

The United States is a republic directed by the delegates of society, selected through democratic elections. Among them, the President is the principal representative of the popular will, but not the only one. There is a legislative power that shares many functions with the White House, and there is a Constitution, interpreted by the judiciary power, by which everyone must abide. As we all know, the essence of the republic is the division of power to avoid a dictatorship and to force the leadership to find formulas for consensus.

It is possible that the surveys will reflect that a majority in U.S. society will circumstantially support a reconciliation with the Cuban dictatorship -- as in 1939 a majority supported neutrality vis-à-vis the Nazis -- but that factor has only a relative importance. The United States, I insist, is a republic observant of the law and a representative democracy. That's what matters, and it has little to do with surveys or the decisions made by an assembly of citizens.

We understand from news reports that dissidents met with U.S. representatives in Cuba on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, the U.S. representation has no leverage because we've agreed to lift the embargo after normalizing relations. It should be pointed out that only the Congress can lift the embargo, so this may get very interesting down the road.  I don't believe that the Obama administration has the votes today!

For years, the dissidents in Cuba counted on the U.S. to put pressure on the Cuban government by holding on to the embargo.  It was the one weapon that mattered.

At the moment, the dissidents in Cuba have nowhere to turn, specially now that the Obama administration has decided to line up with the communist regime running the island.

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