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The Dumbest Policy | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Dumbest Policy

As if the military, political, and moral fallout from George Bush's regime change in Iraq isn't enough, the White House has now announced its intentions "to bring an end" to the Castro government in Cuba.  

Last week's release of a 500-page report of the Presidential "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba"-appointed by a year ago under a barrage of pressure from Cuban-American hardliners in the politically pivotal sub-state of Miami-marks a new escalation in the 45-year effort to roll back the Cuban revolution.

Peter Kornbluh, a regular contributor to The Nation who follows Cuba policy at the non-profit National Security Archive, compares Bush's new initiative to "an Operation Mongoose without the CIA covert sabotage and assassination efforts." The Commission, he notes, is adopting what the report describes as "a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime."  

The Commission's recommendations, which Bush has adopted, add $45 million dollars to the budget for "hastening change" in Cuba.  Among the new operations: a White House plan to send a C-130 plane on a mission to circle Cuba and beam the signals of TV and Radio Marti onto the island; a major expansion of propaganda operations to discredit and isolate Castro, i.e. spreading the specious and threatening charge that Cuba has the capacity to make biological weapons; escalating the political operations of the US interest section on the island; and further efforts to squeeze Cuba economically by curtailing the ability of US citizens, including Cuban-Americans, to travel to, and spend money on, the island.

That last component not only violates the rights of US citizens--last year both the House and the Senate voted to lift the ban on free travel to Cuba, only to have Bush's Congressional allies, Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, strip the legislation of that clause in committee--but hurts the very families in Miami whose votes Bush hopes to win in 2004. Under Bush's punitive rules, Cuban-Americans will only be able visit their relatives once every three years, instead of once a year, as is the case under the already draconian travel policies.

The new Bush policy means that Cuban-Americans will be prevented from seeing elderly parents still on the island for interminable periods of time and that relatives in Cuba will have to go without the emotional, financial and material support these already limited visits bring.  

According to Silvia Wilhelm, who runs Puentes Cubanos, a non-profit group in Miami promoting exchanges with Cuba, these measures will only hurt ordinary Cubans, not the Castro government. "It will determine, in some cases, the people who will survive or perish," she says. "In the name of democracy, I might add." Even Cuba's leading dissidents--including Oswaldo Paya and Elizardo Sanchez, two of the island's best-known democracy activists--have rejected Bush's initiative. Paya has said that it is up to the Cubans, not the US, to design a post-Castro transition.

The Administration's new initiative, according to a recent editorial in the Financial Times, "combines ideology with the narrowest political short-termism." And, as is the case in every electoral cycle, it immediately transforms Cuba into a game of political kickball. John Kerry, who also wants votes in Miami, supports continuing the embargo, but favors lifting the restrictions on travel as a less threatening and more promising approach to bringing US influence to bear on an eventual post-Castro transition of power.  

With brother Jeb in the background, Bush is taking the low road. For now his new Cuba policy will be associated with Secretary of State Colin Powell who chaired the Commission. But this just gives more weight to Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, who seems to understand the folly of Washington's approach. In an interview in next month's GQ Magazine, he describes the embargo and efforts to isolate Castro as "the dumbest policy on the face of the earth. Its crazy," he said. We couldn't agree more.

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