MIAMI – It seemed that it would never happen. The very idea that top diplomats from Cuba and the United States would sit across a table in Havana as equals and carry on a civilized dialogue about reestablishing relations after more than fifty years is the stuff of dreams for many–and of nightmares for hard-line exiles.
For more than five decades U.S. policy toward the island’s government aimed at regime change, first through military means (the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose) and always through economic strangulation, subversion, and diplomatic isolation (with the partial exception of the Carter years). That this policy has been an utter failure has been evident for a long time.
Virtually the entire community of nations as represented in the United Nations, including U.S. allies, knew it was folly. Many top U.S. officials have had the same view, but publicly they remained silent in order to keep their jobs. Once out of government, it was another story.
Even a U.S. president, Bill Clinton, declared himself unable to change Cuba policy without the seal of approval from Miami exiles. Thus it took courage for Barack Obama to initiate this stunning policy change. It also took six long years for Obama to do what he always knew was the right thing: establish diplomatic relations and advocate for Congress to end the embargo. It helps that Obama doesn’t have to win any more elections or worry about the political impact of all this in the key state of Florida.
The anti-Cuban lobby turned out to not be invincible after all, but it took a very special context to hand it a major defeat. The lobby was indeed powerful (ask Al Gore) and still has clout. With the support of the bellicose Republican bunch that now controls Congress, the lobby will go all out and likely succeed in preventing the end of the embargo any time soon.
From the vantage point of Miami, one of the most salient elements surrounding the talks is the way they were portrayed to different publics in this city and the contrast between the general tenor of media coverage in Miami compared to that in the rest of the country and the world.
In Miami, it seems the success or failure of the talks is being judged by the extent to which engagement will produce regime change by new means. Coverage and opinions in the Spanish language media were, predictably, hostile to the very idea of the talks. The two main themes are that by talking with Cuba without preconditions the Obama administration is “betraying the exiles and surrendering to the Castro regime.”
More interesting is the editorial approach of the Miami Herald. While straining to sound balanced and reasonable, the Herald’s editorial starts from the assumption that the point of the talks should be regime change.
“Anyone who believed that a mutual decision by the United States and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations would produce immediate changes is bound to be disappointed by the results of the first round of face-to-face talks between top diplomats for the two countries…
“Last week’s talks in Havana, led on the U.S. side by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, produced no breakthroughs on those issues that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, care about the most – namely, human rights…”
Given the history, who in his right mind could believe that talks about opening embassies in the countries’ respective capitals would immediately lead to the kind of changes the Herald is calling for? Insane. Laughable. Absurd. Welcome to Miami’s separate reality.
The Herald also makes a big point of the fact that the U.S. representative “put the issue of human rights in Cuba on the table.” Somehow, it neglected to mention that the Cuban representative countered by putting the issue of human rights in the United States, including recent police killing of unarmed citizens, mostly black, on the same table.
In another part of the editorial, the Herald states that “U.S. lawmakers who harbor doubts about the wisdom of the White House’s decision should demand that the Cuban government put something substantial on the table before agreeing to drop what’s left of the Cuban embargo.”
There is not much difference between such a demand and the policy in place for more than five decades. In other words, it’s a non-starter, a guaranteed dead end. The same old failed policy. If there is one thing the Cuban government has systematically demonstrated over the years is that it will not yield to blackmail or trade sovereignty for economic gain.
The unstated and unquestionable assumption underlying the Herald’s take is that the United States holds the moral high ground in the relation between the two states. For that to be the case, over the last five decades Cuba would have had to arm a brigade of Black Panthers and other American revolutionaries to invade this country, organize repeated attempts to assassinate a U.S. president, try to economically strangle the United States (including interfering with American dealings with other countries), and attempt to isolate it diplomatically. In fact, it was the other way around.
Given the Herald’s peculiar lens, it’s no wonder the paper stresses disappointment when assessing the recent talks. Back in the world of reality, however, the consensus is that despite differences and disagreements, the talks were basically successful in what they were intended to accomplish, moving forward the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations. And that, in and of itself, is a very good thing.
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