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CUBA - Morris Morley & Chris McGillion

Below is a recent opinion piece on U.S. - Cuba relations which appeared on the editorial page of The Baltimore Sun last Wednesday.


By Morris Morley & Chris McGillion

With the mid-term U.S. congressional elections approaching, one of their casualties can already be identified: any prospect that Washington's Cuba policy might be removed from its Cold War freezer and thawed to serve contemporary U.S. national interests.

The explanation is the electoral clout of a narrow, if declining majority of Florida's Cuban-Americans, and their insistence that political candidates accept their hard-line regarding Havana. Tied to this is the perceived political dependence of both President George W. Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, on Miami.

The president learned this fateful fact two years ago when Miami's votes narrowly edged him into office. Jeb Bush meanwhile scurries to retain the esteem of Cuban-Americans for both himself and his brother, assuring leaders of the exile community in February 2001 that he would press the new administration to maintain a hard-line on Castro. He met this pledge by lobbying for the appointment of Cuban exile Otto Reich--a notorious anti-Communist ideologue and former Reagan official--as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.

According to senior State Department sources, Jeb Bush remains the administration's main channel with the exile community. The inter-connected fate of the Bush brothers has created a powerful new dynamic for U.S.-Cuba policy. Nobody should be under any delusion that Washington's policy toward Cuba is anything but domestic politics writ large. Publicly, U.S. officials defend Cuba policy in terms of Castro's unacceptable behavior, but privately, some concede that what passes for policy is "absurd."

When it comes to Cuba, Washington's double standards aren't novel. By the early 1990s, Castro had met the key preconditions for normalized bilateral relations: the withdrawal of troops from Africa; the termination of his military ties with Moscow; and, the end of support for revolution in Latin America. But to appease the Cuban-American lobby, George Bush Sr. dramatically shifted the goalposts by demanding reforms inside Cuba. This mischievous approach persisted, ensuring that Cuba's modest market liberalization, its courting of foreign investors, and drastic downsizing of its military (from 200,000 in 1994 to around 60,000 today), did not qualify for the 'calibrated response' that President Clinton maintained would greet such reforms.

When State Department officials were queried about Cuba's being excluded from the détente policies that the U.S. was pursuing elsewhere toward the socialist bloc, their routine response was, "it's a matter of domestic politics." President Bush's logic is the same. In May 2001, he expanded U.S. preconditions for removing sanctions, insisting that Castro must first free political prisoners and hold democratic elections. For the past 12 months, Bush has exploited America's post-September 11 trauma to blunt calls for improving relations.

The White House has rebuffed Cuban overtures to assist U.S. drug interdiction efforts, most recently fabricating charges that Cuba was obstructing the drug war. It earlier spurned Havana's offer to facilitate the U.S. detention of Al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantánamo, and sheepishly stood behind invented claims that Cuba had exported biological weapons to "axis of evil" nations.

In a key policy speech before a cheering Miami audience, President Bush poured cold water on private U.S. financing of Cuban agricultural purchases, announced an expansion of propaganda broadcasts to the island, and reaffirmed his intentions to find ways to support anti-Castro forces in Cuba.

In late July, State Department officials lobbied vigorously - but unsuccessfully - against a House vote to lift the Cuba travel ban. Meanwhile, efforts by Bush officials to implicate Cuba in the "terrorist war," have not flagged. One of the most recent attempts has been to designate the island (again devoid of evidence) a "comfort station" for terrorists from around the world.

Since the end of the Cold War, liberal comment on Cuba has allowed optimism to overwhelm sound analysis, interpreting small changes at the margins of U.S.-Cuban relations--such as easing Cuba's ability to import U.S. food and medicines--as harbingers of a major policy shift. Such analyses represent a fundamental misreading of the domestic imperatives that drive Cuba policy. There will be no significant change until the disparate U.S. voices now calling for a new direction--business groups, farmers, the church, humanitarian interest groups--organize themselves into a sharpened constituency capable of challenging Miami's fading domination of the debate.


Morris Morley Interviews

The famed Australian scholar on U.S.-Latin American relations, Morris Morley, the co-author of a new book on U.S.-Cuban policy, “Unfinished Business: America and Cuba Since the End of the Cold War” [Cambridge University Press], and a senior research fellow with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, is currently in Washington, D.C. and available for interviews.

Morley has written and co-authored numerous books on U.S.-Latin American relations, including Imperial State and Revolution: U.S. Policy Toward Cuba 1952-1987, and Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas, 1968-1981.

Based on extensive interviews with Washington policymakers, the overarching thesis of this book is that U.S. policy towards Cuba has continued to operate within an unqualified Cold War framework - that it has little to do with its stated objectives of promoting reforms in Cuba and everything to do with dismantling the Castro regime.

Dr Morley can be reached at COHA's Washington office: (202) 216 9261 or

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