Response to Washington Post Editorial, “Cuba’s Gesture”

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After a July 7th, 2010 meeting that included President Raúl Castro, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, a representative of the Catholic Church announced that the regime would release 52 “prisoners of conscience” over the next several months. The anti-Castro, island-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation also released its semi-annual report this month which listed a total of 167 prisoners of conscience who were being incarcerated by Havana. This figure is down 20% from its previous report and is the lowest number since the 1959 revolution. The nation’s entire politically-based detainee population could all but disappear as a result of a steady stream of releases ordered by Cuban authorities in the next several months, which could represent a huge and very welcome development.

The pledged releases should demonstrate that the pragmatism associated with Raúl Castro’s rise to power seems to be here to stay and appears to be aimed at small reforms as well as transcending ones. It may not be a small coincidence that the announcement of the release of detainees came on the heels of the U.S. House Agricultural Committee’s approval of lifting the ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba as well as increasing and simplifying U.S.-Cuban cash-only food sales (H.R. 4645) to the island.

Unfortunately, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been poisoned by a formula of toxic quid pro quo initiatives exchanged between Washington and Havana ever since the U.S. embargo first went into effect in October 1960. President Obama’s shallow linkage of any major lifting of current U.S. anti-Cuban sanctions with significant political concessions by Havana is neither “wise” nor therapeutic, but the same tired catalogue of specious reasoning and shabby Miami-aimed and electorally-driven political opportunism. Representative of this pitiable art form can be consistently found on the editorial page (as distinguished from its admirable news columns) of the Washington Post. The unremitting trashing of Havana is no way to field a winning ball team or to conduct a mature foreign policy.

The chief lobber on hemispheric affairs is Jackson Diehl, whose benighted rants against Castro’s Cuba bring with them no lucid end-games but only mean-spirited, ultra-formulaic arm twisting and petty tormenting. These have nothing to do with honorable diplomacy aimed at resolving conflicts before they dangerously worsen. Shame on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her non-productive Latin American team on serving the nation refried Bush-era regional policy. Adopting a more flexible and constructive ad hoc approach toward Cuba—such as that reflected by H.R. 4645—would make so much more sense than the continuation of the Post’s and the Obama administration’s monochromatic posturing.

The Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) commented on the issue in a most intelligent manner when he said: “We have tried to isolate Cuba for more than fifty years, and it has not worked. As it has in other countries, perhaps increasing trade with Cuba will encourage democratic progress.”

Rather than brandishing the rancid thesis of damning every act by the Cuban government with a pinch of pepper moistened by brine, Washington would do well by taking the Cuban authorities at face value and, armed with cautious optimism, accept Cuba’s possibly-earnest gestures and, at least for a while, take them to heart.