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Opening a Dialogue with Cuba

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Message Antonio Martinez
Opening a Dialogue with Cuba

U.S. Cuba Relations in the midst of Castro's illness and visit this past weekend 12/15/06 by U.S. Congressional Delegation


December 18, 2006
Opening a Dialogue with Cuba
Tony Martinez

This weekend, a bipartisan delegation of ten Members of Congress traveled to Cuba to meet with Cubans and assess the situation on the island. This was the highest level delegation of American elected officials to visit the island and led by Congressmen William Delahunt (D-MA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Asides from the difficulties that exist in Cuba and the millions of Cuban Americans and Americans in general who suffer from our own flawed policies with Cuba, one can only wish the delegation success on the long road ahead. In addition to the usual talks regarding the promising U.S. food and agricultural sales to Cuba (now over $2 Billion since 2000) were discussions about future relations of both countries. If the United States wants to do something immediately that will be both humanitarian and well received on both sides, lift the family travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban Americans. That cruel policy only hurts families, and promotes more pain and suffering on them. No pre-conditions are required to be humanitarian and compassionate.

On December 2nd, celebrations in Havana commemorating the landing of Fidel Castro's guerilla incursion in 1957 to topple the former Batista regime, the acting leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, publicly expressed a willingness to open a dialogue with the United States, which the Bush Administration regretfully, shot down. Raul Castro wants to talk with us with no preconditions for the talks. He wants to talk with us and have us set aside a tortured and tragic history of poor relations with millions of Cubans on both sides who have been adversely affected by the policies of both countries, not to mention the billions lost in economic opportunity. The Bush Administration has said that we will only talk when Cuba frees all political prisoners and holds free democratic elections. But we have provided public funding to those prisoners, directly and indirectly; we broadcast television and radio programming into Cuba which is ultimately jammed; we embargo Cuba; we deny Americans normal travel and trade with Cuba; and we are demanding that Cuba, a sovereign nation, summarily change its political system at our command as a precondition in order to first have a conversation. These are not very promising positions in order to begin a dialogue.

The definition of dialogue is a conversation between two or more parties. Some can argue that tension and conflict in the world has been increased by our failure to engage in conversations with other countries, especially with those who are our adversaries for one reason or another. Having a conversation with your adversary does not diminish your position. After more than 48 years of failed policies and actions with Cuba, why not begin anew and have a conversation with Cuba that has been long overdue. For the millions of affected Cubans and Cuban Americans, it is time for a change.

How can Cuba and the United States have a meaningful conversation with each other? For one thing, each country can take steps to create an environment upon which a meaningful conversation can occur. However, before we can get there, where is each side now in the areas of controversy and dispute? Among the most critical human issues right now in both countries, the United States and Cuba each hold political prisoners, wanted men, and fugitives of the other. Cuba has jailed several hundred Cubans who are political dissidents, and many of them who received funding and support directly or indirectly from U.S. taxpayer resources. We jailed five Cuban nationals for spying on us, when they were really here spying on Cuban Americans who were planning to resort to violence to change things in Cuba. Cuba is haven to a number of American fugitives who fled from justice here. We are currently detaining a Cuban exile Venezuelan national who has admitted to being involved with killing and violence related to Cuba. We won't release him because he once worked for the U.S. government. There is enough on both sides to point to. Ask a Cuban official to release prisoners to improve relations, they will tell you it's a non-starter and an issue of national security for them. When they have released political prisoners in the past, it has got them nothing in return from the United States and our fundamental policies do not change with Cuba. And as long as it is the policy of our government to provide funding and resources to individuals and groups in Cuba for the purpose to destabilize and overthrow their government, what is the point?

So, what can be done to have a truly meaningful conversation - remove the thorny issue of prisoners from the table, not as a precondition to anything, but simply to remove an issue that is required in order to have a meaningful dialogue and improve relations between both countries. This is a no-brainer. Cuba agrees to release its several hundred political prisoners with the proviso that they may be allowed to emigrate abroad or remain in Cuba with the understanding that they will not receive funds from the U.S. government directly or indirectly. The U.S. agrees to pardon and release the five convicted Cuban national spies and return them to Cuba. We further agree as a matter of policy that the U.S. government will no longer fund and provide taxpayer resources to any individual or group to destabilize and overthrow the Cuban government. Let's face it, if a foreign government provided funds and resources to you for the purpose of overthrowing our government, you would be in deep trouble or behind bars too. The Cuban government does not need our meddling to let the Cuban people know what it already knows about the flaws and failures of their system. They have to figure it out, not have us as a nation to figure it out for them. Besides, the record shows that we are not effective with such policies. Finally, each side can agree that on the subject of fugitives and wanted persons, face to face discussions should commence on how to resolve this in order to bring those fugitives and wanted persons to face justice in a courtroom under the rule of law.

What about a transition to democracy in Cuba ? The seeds of democracy are already there in Cuba. The seeds are reflected in the general discontent of the Cuban people with their living and economic conditions. When Mr. Castro dies, his successors will have to confront these challenges head-on and will no longer be able to rely upon the charismatic figure to sustain their system. Mr. Castro's successors will be focused on their political survival. In the United States, the seeds of democracy are the Cuban American people themselves. Fifty percent of the Cuban island population have relatives living in the United States. People are the seeds of ideas and the true currency of democracy. It is time to allow a true flow and exchange to take place. Cubans on the island will ultimately decide the future of the Cuban nation though. We need to respect that. We also need to respect that a transition does not mean that the transition will look like what we in the United States think a transition should be.

The task to undue 47 years of distrust, fear, anger, resentment, and revenge will not be easy. If we are ever going to play a meaningful role as a nation in the future of Cuba, it will be by us working to reconcile the two sides of the Cuban family, those two million here in the U.S. with the eleven million in Cuba, who all have been made the worse by the current policies of both countries. When each side takes a step like freeing political prisoners as described above, an environment for change will have been created and given a great stimulus to talk and most importantly, provide much needed relief to those prisoners and their families who suffer this firsthand. If each country truly cares about the plight of those political prisoners, each knows what it can do right now to move forward towards resolution of the crisis. It is time to begin lifting the fog of war that both countries are caught in. Only a dialogue can do that.

In the peaceful resolution of great conflicts, what is required by both parties is a willingness and the maturity to transcend that conflict's history. That can only begin first with a conversation, a dialogue. Let the United States and Cuban dialogue begin and each country do its part to facilitate an authentic dialogue.

Tony Martinez is an Attorney and a former Board member of the Latin American Working Group in Washington DC .
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Tony Martinez is an Attorney and Former Board Member of the Latin American Working Group in Washington DC
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