Monday, November 19, 2007

C-Span Debates US-Cuba Policy

Don't miss out on today's C-Span coverage of US-Cuba Policy. It includes a September 17th Heritage Foundation speech by US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez beginning at 5:37pm EST. In the Gutierrez speech, Cuba's policy towards the US is summed up as:

"Anything that can hurt the U.S. That has been their policy for over 48 years, and that has been more important than putting a focus on the plight of the people in Cuba."

C-Span's special coverage of US-Cuba policy begins at 7pm EST, and is scheduled until 10pm. The program is scheduled to include several interviews and video from Cuba.


[Update: Nov. 20, 2007]

The three hour program on C-Span yesterday was incredibly informative. It is a program that would best serve those who would like to learn more about the debate on US policy towards Cuba, and its principle actors. It is also the kind of program that is sorely needed in Miami, but has been denied to its English and, especially, Spanish-speaking audience. The program included an excellent and lengthy interview with GaryMarx, Chicago Tribune reporter on Latin America and the Caribbean. Marx and his family lived in Cuba for about five years (2002-20o7) until his press credentials were not renewed earlier this year by the Cuban Government, and had to leave the island. According to Marx, the director of the Cuban International Press Center told him:

"This is nothing personal, this is business. Our overseas image is very important to us. We weighed your positive stories against your negative stories. There are too many negative stories. We think we can do better with someone else."

According to John Dinges, reporter on Latin America,:

"Reading Gary Marx's voluminous catalogue of stories from his five years living and writing in Cuba, one is struck--as Fidel once was--that this is a tremendously thorough journalist who not only understands a lot about Cuba but has a good deal of affection for the country."

Also in Dinges' article, AFP's Havana correspondent, Marie Sanz, said:

"Gary Marx is a very balanced reporter... He went everywhere on the island. He's not an arrogant American. He is unusual in that he is full of empathy for the Cuban common man."

The Marx interview was a very honest view about Cuba. As an American journalist in Cuba, Marx talked about how he felt living in a police state, and about the feeling of being constantly watched and mindful of his conversations, even at home. Marx revealed that he did not allow his children to be enrolled in public schooling in Havana because of the political indoctrination and its suppression of individual creativity on its students. On the flip-side, Marx, living in Havana for five years, fell in love with the country and its people, and considers Cuba his "second home." He hopes one day to return to the island.

The other highlight of the C-Span program was the debate between Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Jim McGovern. Both speakers clarified their positions well on US policy towards Cuba, and showed the public the depth of disagreement on current policy. Rep. McGovern was mostly opposed to the US embargo based on its travel restrictions and ineffectiveness over nearly 50 years, while Rep. Diaz-Balart supported the embargo based on the accusation that Cuba is a state-sponsor of terror, and a country that "kills Americans."

Rep. Diaz-Balart's argument is easily refuted by the research collected at the Center for International Policy (CIP). US State Department reports accusing Cuba of giving refuge to members from ETA, FARC or ELN are also easily dismissed. According to the latest article from CIP:

"...the Spanish government had no concerns about ETA members residing in Cuba. They are there as the result of earlier agreements. Spain has no evidence that any are involved in terrorist activities and regards the question of their presence in Cuba as a matter strictly between the Spanish and Cuban governments which is being handled satisfactorily."

The same applies to FARC and ELN:

"... conversations with the Colombian embassies in Washington and Havana last year indicated that they are there with the acquiescence of the Colombian government, which continues to see Cuba's efforts to broker a peace process in Colombia as 'helpful and constructive.'"

Also, Rep. Diaz-Balart misrepresented the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996 as a case of terrorism. There's important background on the incident to consider, but constantly ignored or denied in Miami. When the UN's Special Rapporteur on Cuba presented his report to the General Assembly on the shootdown, he posed two questions:

"The high command of the Cuban Army was aware that shooting down the aircraft would add a new obstacle to the already difficult relations between Cuba and the United States. One can thus legitimately ask who in the Cuban Government has an interest in causing incidents that create such obstacles, and why. At the same time, one can also legitimately ask why the United States authorities did not take effective measures to halt additional flights by these aircraft which could be expected to have tragic consequences. One possible reason is the existence of groups in Miami whose relevance depends on the continued existence of confrontational policy between the two countries. "

Babalu Blog's Henry Gomez has his own thoughts on the debate, with a lengthy rebuttal to Rep. Jim McGovern. Gomez's argument is based on the assumption that "the original goal of the embargo was to punish Cuba for those unlawful expropriations" more than 45 years ago(!), and which over the years has included "additional criteria" towards the Cuban government. Gomez doesn't mention the actual economic restrictions over the years and their consequences (material and psychological) placed on a nation (not just the government) only 90 miles away, who once depended heavily on its northern neighbor economically.

[Once yesterday's program is available online, it will be posted.]

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