Friday, June 26, 2015

Carlos M. Gutierrez Has a New Hypothesis (Part 1)

Carlos M. Gutierrez, former Commerce Secretary under George W. Bush, recently wrote a surprising op-ed admitting a reversal of his previous position on U.S.-Cuba policy. Basically, Gutierrez's reversal comes from a significant change in his assumption about the Cuban government: from hopeless enemy to potential ally. The reversal has been most disappointing to Cuban exile hard-liners who once admired Gutierrez as a model of Cuba exile intransigence in the highest positions of power. But, the reality is that Gutierrez is one example of the constantly changing face of the hard-line which has historically adapted to conditions set by the U.S. government.

This past Tuesday, the New York Times (or "Granma North" as the boys at Babalu Blog like to call it) published an op-ed by Carlos M. Gutierrez, former Commerce Secretary for George W. Bush, where he explained his "cautiously optimistic" support for Pres. Obama's new Cuba policy. In a nutshell, Gutierrez wrote he is "hopeful the Cuban government will allow its citizens to take full advantage of [American] assistance" to "support a new generation of Cuban-born entrepreneurs and Cuban-run small businesses." There are two assumptions operating here. One is the idea of the transformative power of "free markets" which Gutierrez writes he has seen operate in other parts of the world to help "raise living standards." And the other assumption concerns his newfound hope with the Cuban government now slowly improving economic ties with the Obama administration. That significant "glimmer of hope" he writes about is the result of a recent change in mindset.

Under the previous administration, Gutierrez strongly defended the decades-old hard-line position of the US embargo, along with restrictions on travel and remittances (which he described as a hardship worth sacrificing over). Gutierrez would reiterate that history has only shown the Cuban government does not want improved ties with the US, and instead was a sworn "anti-American" enemy like other tyrannies around the world. As Commerce Secretary, Gutierrez proudly took on the task as co-Chair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), a government-led program designed for regime change on the island. During this period, Gutierrez was convinced that this policy of sanctions would pressure Cubans to make necessary changes on the island.

When President Obama finally reversed course on this policy last December, Gutierrez remained adamant that this new policy was a mistake. He foresaw that the Cuban government would eventually block efforts to improve economic ties because "everything we have seen from the Cubans over the last 50 years is that they will not allow business to succeed." But, as months of negotiations passed between the two countries, Gutierrez seems to have had a change of heart. In video interviews conducted late last month, Gutierrez admitted that his low expectations had been surpassed, and that he never anticipated negotiations "to get this far." And, now that we've come this far "we should continue" with this new Cuba policy "and see where it takes us because [the U.S. has] nothing to lose" [NTN24 video interview]. Most importantly, Gutierrez questioned a hypothesis he long held: "My hypothesis has always been that Cuba never wanted the embargo to be lifted... and so [now] we have to prove if that hypothesis is incorrect, that [perhaps] Cuba DOES want closer ties with the U.S. Because until now it has appeared they didn't want [closer ties], and it suited them to have the U.S. as an enemy" [@6:24 in video interview].

Its fascinating to see how a few events helped Carlos M. Gutierrez to change his perception of the Cuban government and U.S.-Cuba policy. From pessimistic hard-liner under the Bush administration to optimistic advocate during the Obama administration. Many will be wondering how this change in mindset occurred with a man who not long ago defended sanctions against Cuba for many years. And in Miami, many hard-line Cuban exiles who once admired his previous position will be left baffled. And, some will be accusing him of betrayal.

[Also check out a similar articles on Gutierrez's policy turnaround from the Cuba Central blog and the Miami New Times.]

[Photo courtesy of Albright Stonebridge Group. Carlos M. Gutierrez is currently co-Chairman at Albright Stonebridge Group, a global advisory firm in Washington D.C. He joined ASG in April 2013, and became co-Chair in February 2014.]