McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted on Sat, May. 02, 2009
Commentary: Welcome change in U.S.-Cuba policy, but not far enough
Louis A. Perez Jr. | The Progressive Media Project
May 01, 2009 02:33:25 PM
We are witnessing a welcome change in U.S.-Cuba relations, but it does not go far enough.
President Obama has rescinded most restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged the old, unbending and hostile policy toward Cuba has failed.
At the Summit of the Americas, the president talked of "a new beginning with Cuba," adding he was "prepared to have (his) administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues."
And Congress is now preparing legislation to end travel restrictions to Cuba.
The impetus for change is gathering momentum, and originates from some of the most unlikely sources.
No less a person than Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, bemoaned the persistence of a "static, reactive" policy that "does not advance or promote the best interests of the United States or of the Cuban people."
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisted on the need to "re-evaluate a complex relationship marked by misunderstanding, suspicion and open hostility."
The disavowal of an untenable policy, however, does not necessarily mean the renunciation of the unrealized purpose, which has always been about toppling the Cuban government, or in Lugar's words – the more common euphemism – about "bringing democracy to the Cuban people."
Policy approaches often change, to be sure, but assumptions rarely do, and with Cuba they never do.
Obama's "new beginning" possesses a wearisome familiarity: the United States as self-appointed arbiter professing to act in behalf of the well-being of the Cuban people, to bestow upon the Cubans the liberty they are apparently unable to achieve for themselves.
In a recent interview with CNN, Obama demanded "changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted."
These remarks could just as easily have been uttered by William McKinley, Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush.
There is a pathology at work here, of course, one profoundly inscribed in the assumption that Americans have a moral entitlement to determine Cuban needs.
With its announcement of new family travel regulations, the White House proclaimed the "promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba is in the national interest of the United States."
Only in Cuba?
Why is it not in the national interest of the United States to promote democracy and human rights as a condition of relations with Vietnam?
Or Saudi Arabia?
For the United States to keep using the embargo to insert itself in Cuban internal affairs makes a mockery of the very position Obama adopted at the recent Summit: "The United States' policy should not be interference in other countries."
A policy of enlightened self-interest would seek to eliminate the perception of the United States as a threat to Cuban sovereignty, thereby denying to those in Cuba who would use U.S. hostility as pretext to limit public debate and restrict political dissent.
A policy of enlightened self-interest would engage Cuba in normal political and economic interactions, and thereby contribute to the creation of space in which Cubans themselves could proceed to address their most pressing issues, on their terms, within the logic of their own history, and act accordingly.
Most importantly, a policy of enlightened self-interest would show respect for the Cuban people by acting on the premise that Cubans themselves know what is in their best interest.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Louis A. Perez Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His most recent book is "Cuba in the American Imagination" (UNC Press, 2008). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2009, Louis A. Perez Jr.