Pity Carlos Gutierrez, our secretary of commerce.
He's Cuban-American, and his job is to help sell American products and services around the world. But a few times a year, the Bush administration makes him give speeches about how preventing trade with Cuba, and stopping other Cuban-Americans from giving food or money to their families on the island, will someday bring down Castro and cause Cuba to become a democracy.
In a recent speech, Secretary Gutierrez did it again, accusing those of us wishing to end this farcical policy of doing a "tragic disservice" to the Cuban people. Of course, he has it backwards. It is the policy he defends that disserves the Cuban people; the policy that has never achieved its goals in forty six years; a policy that disserves the America people by costing them jobs and profits, and their constitutional right to travel - to visit Cuba, and meet Cubans on their island and in their homes.
No matter what he says, he and his allies in the Bush administration have lost control of this debate. From Havana to Miami to Washington, the very conditions which have kept the embargo in place for so many years are being transformed.
The Cuban government is ready to break the impasse. Although Cuba will not negotiate changes in its system, the government is not just signaling but it is saying that it wants to talk with the United States.
This is what Raul Castro said in early December:
We take this opportunity to once again state that we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, of course, provided they accept, as we have previously said, our condition as a country that will not tolerate any blemishes on its independence, and as long as said resolution is based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.
Although the U.S. State Department immediately declined the offer to talk, similar messages were sent by Cuban officials to ten Members of the U.S. Congress who traveled to Cuba later in December 2006.
Cuban dissidents oppose the continuation of U.S. restrictions. In an open letter to President Bush, several major Cuban dissident groups have called for an end to U.S. restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. The statement was signed by prominent opposition leaders Martha Beatriz Roque, Elizardo Sánchez, and Vladimiro Roca, all recognized as opponents of the Castro regime. The people who the policy is designed to help don't want it anymore.
Their call has been echoed by hardliners in Miami. In December, the Miami-based Cuban Consensus, a coalition of 20 pro-democracy groups including the Cuban-American National Foundation, issued a statement in opposition to current U.S. travel restrictions because they "violate the fundamental rights of Cubans, damage the Cuban family, and constitute ethical contradictions." A recent poll of Cuban Americans showed an astonishing 72% open to negotiations with any successor Cuban government that was "open to improving relations with the exile community and with the U.S."
This debate is over among the American people. A Gallup Dec. 8-10 (2006) poll found that 67% of Americans favor the United States re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only 27% are opposed. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, seventy-one percent of Independents, and sixty-nine percent of Democrats favor diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Foreign policy experts now see Cuba policy as part of America's larger diplomatic dilemmas in Latin America and elsewhere around the world. As Julia Sweig argues in her essay, "Fidel's Final Victory,"
With U.S. credibility in Latin America and the rest of the world at an all-time low, it is time to put to rest a policy that Fidel's handover of power has already exposed as a complete failure.Congress is ready to act. After years of frustrating progress on changing the policy, the Congress is back in play on Cuba. By the end of January, Members of Congress had already introduced legislation to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba, to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relationship, and to restore educational travel. Where once, Republicans blocked legislation passed in the House and Senate to loosen ties on Cuba from even reaching the White House, it is now possible to see bills ending restrictions on travel and trade landing on the desk of President Bush. This is progress.
Paradoxically, there's just one person left who must have enjoyed the Secretary's speech: Fidel Castro himself. Eighty and ailing, he continues to tie U.S. foreign policy up in knots. For four decades, he has been able to blame the U.S. embargo for everything that went wrong in Cuba. And now Secretary Gutierrez promises that the policy which helped keep Castro in place is likely to outlast him.
Now, really, who is disserving whom?
Sarah Stephens, is the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, and recently published: "In our National Interest: The Top Ten Reasons for Changing U.S. Policy Toward Cuba" (www.thecubatopten.com).