In the Library of Congress there are thick, yellowing volumes whose brittle pages show how the United States governed Cuba a century ago.
These annual reports of the U.S. Army officers who were the military governors of Cuba seem to spare no detail. Color-coded maps of Havana show every road and sewer line, and chart the routes and frequency of Army-organized trash collection, street cleaning, and water delivery. Army engineers, determined to eradicate malaria by eliminating standing water, paved the city. Their drawings depict the new contours of streets, sidewalks, and gutters, and the locations where each experimental variety of paving stone was employed. They diagram the construction of the first segment of Havana’s Malecon, the seafront boulevard that is a vital artery to this day and that still displays the plaque honoring Colonel Leonard Wood, the officer who directed its construction. They are a monument to the can-do spirit.
General William Ludlow, in charge of Havana in 1899, thought very highly of the city’s Cuban mayor and councilmen. He records that he occasionally gave these Cubans “suggestions of certain practical measures according to which it was expected the conduct of affairs would be guided.” U.S. military rule ended in due course, but only after Cubans inserted in their constitution an amendment that lasted until 1934, limiting their power to make economic policy and giving the United States the right to intervene in Cuba at will.
For those who look back on this period, it is a matter of perspective whether one remembers American benevolence or American dominion.
President Bush issued a can-do report of his own on May 6. The product of a U.S. government commission, its 500 pages explain how the United States will bring democracy to Cuba and provide aid to a future “free Cuba.” The report was ably edited by State Department official Jose Cardenas, a former spokesman of the Cuban American National Foundation; it may be controversial, but it is a clear and detailed exposition of how the Administration views Cuba and what it wants to do.
The commission writes a new, ethically remarkable chapter in the history of American economic sanctions with new policies aimed at Cuban families and their welfare. Cuban Americans will now be blocked from visiting relatives in Cuba more than once every three years. They are no longer permitted to send money to cousins, aunts and uncles, to other non-immediate relatives, or to any of the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who are members of the Communist Party, regardless of age or need. Only at the last minute did the commission refrain from cutting from $100 to $75 per month the amount of remittances that can be sent to immediate family.
By allowing only “reasonable” forms of family charity, the commission seeks to avoid the “pacifying effects” of these humanitarian deeds, which are said to benefit the Cuban government. To nab those who would carry prohibited aid to households in Cuba, the Administration will soon direct law enforcement officials to use sting operations and cash rewards for informers.
These and other sanctions on Americans, along with $36 million in aid to Cuban dissidents and “civil society,” and other measures, are intended to hasten a Cuban political transition. Last year, 75 dissidents were sentenced to long jail terms on charges of allegedly receiving U.S. funds to support their political activity. Whether or not one agrees with Cuban officials’ view that such support threatens Cuban security, it is clear that as long as they hold that view, dissidents are in potential danger if it appears that U.S. government funds subsidize their work. The commission surely compounds this difficulty with its expanded funding and with plans to fund religious, humanitarian, and educational programs for political purposes. The report does not discuss this issue. Administration officials simply say that Cubans must make their own choices regarding their political activity and the support they receive.
The commission seeks to “undermine the regime’s succession strategy” — i.e. prevent a socialist succession after Fidel Castro leaves office — by denying visas to certain Cuban officials and by naming a “transition coordinator” at the State Department. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega went further, telling a press conference that “there will not be a succession” from one socialist government to another, and that “the United States, for one, will not accept a succession scenario.” He did not explain how the United States would act to ensure that this goal is met.
In the future, with all these issues sorted out, the Administration envisions a degree of American aid and attention that dwarfs that of a century ago: “decontrol of prices, including energy prices;” evaluation of “design, construction, and maintenance issues associated with primary and secondary roads and bridges;” “retraining of educators” and establishment of a “National Commission on Progress Through Education;” establishment of a “secondary mortgage market system;” training park rangers and forest guards in “management principles used by the United States;” an assurance that “a free Cuba’s economic development will include mining;” a “database for labor inspection reports;” a “cultural preservation project” for architecture, dance, music, and language; and so forth. Anticipating that a humanitarian crisis could accompany political change, the report discusses possible aid for water purification, food supply, child immunization, and even provision of “temporary plastic or PVC material to cover roofs.” The commission assures American taxpayers that financial burdens will be shared internationally.
The commission’s report is intended as a message of “international solidarity with the Cuban people.” It emphasizes repeatedly that U.S. aid would only come at a future Cuban government’s request, and would only follow policies decided upon by Cuba. Yet the report was soon rejected by the very Cubans whom the Administration sees as agents of democratic change.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega and four Catholic bishops expressed “concern” at the U.S. measures, which “affect and threaten the present as well as the future of our nation.” Cuban families are “particularly harmed,” they say, by new “privations and burdens that aggravate their already anguished situation and deepen the separation of those who live in Cuba and the United States.”
A meeting of 200 mainly Protestant leaders, called a “Cuban Pastoral Forum,” resulted in a statement that similarly criticized the measures that “limit even more the relations within the Cuban family, which already suffers from separation.” They commented on the enforcement of remittances regulations through rewards “for informing on relatives and friends.” “What kind of society do they invite us to build,” they ask, “where fear replaces trust and mutual love?”
Cuban dissidents also reacted harshly.
Elizardo Sanchez, the island’s leading human rights monitor, said the report is “totally counterproductive,” represents “interference,” and “violates the fundamental human right of freedom of movement of people, which we call on the existing totalitarian government in Cuba to respect.”
Oswaldo Paya, the organizer of the Varela Project, a pro-reform petition drive, said “it is not appropriate or acceptable for any force outside Cuba to try to design the Cuban transition process.” To him it seemed that the commissioners “looked to their own needs rather than those of Cuba and the peaceful opposition movement.” Another dissident, Manuel Cuesta Morua, said: “The United States has no right to set the pace of a transition in Cuba. It is humiliating.” He referred to the “transition coordinator” that the Administration plans to name as “Paul Bremer the second.”
Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a former commander in Castro’s rebel army who served two decades in Cuban prisons, took refuge in the United States, and became the first Cuban activist abroad to return to the island to engage in civic opposition, called the report “total interference that does not benefit the building of democracy in Cuba.” It “revives the worst interventionist and colonialist language of other eras,” he said, and causes “enormous damage” to Cuba’s political opposition. Referring to the expanded funding for the opposition, he said: “No democratic transition can be had through a dance of millions [of dollars].”
“Outside help needs to come in forms that benefit our mission, not in ways that work against it,” wrote Miriam Leiva, an independent journalist whose husband, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, is serving a 20-year prison sentence. “This plan will not punish Castro; it will punish dissidents and their families.”
Cuban independent journalist Miguel Saludes described the popular reaction to the new limits on family visits and remittances. There is “a deep worry,” he wrote, “among those who in one way or another subsist thanks to the efforts of those who send cash aid from the North.”
For its part, the Cuban government rejected the commission’s report for being full of “lies, rancor, frustrations, and interference in the internal affairs of our country.”
Those who produce the political content on Cuban media may have been less disappointed. They used the report to amplify their speculation about a possible U.S. intervention in Cuba and their daily critique of U.S. action in Iraq.
Cuban officials allege that the United States wants to take military action against Cuba. For evidence, they say the Bush Administration’s regime-change rhetoric, its accusation that Cuba is a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and its assertion that Cuba is researching biological weapons, already amount to an Iraq-style pretext for military action.
Even though the commission proposed no military action, it recommends such sweeping changes that Cuban media asserted that the “transition” it envisions would come at the point of a bayonet. Cuban commentators ridicule the “transitionists” who produced the U.S. plan, then turn to images of violence and prison abuse in Iraq to show their audience how that country’s “transition” is proceeding. At a mass rally in Havana last month, there were posters of an American female soldier holding the leash of a nude Iraqi prisoner; across the top were the words, “This will never happen in Cuba.”
The Cuban government followed the announcement of new U.S. sanctions with highly unpopular measures of its own: it raised the prices of gasoline and myriad household items sold in its chain of dollar stores. It blamed the Bush commission, saying that the new sanctions would reduce foreign exchange income and make belt-tightening necessary. Given Cuba’s chronic foreign exchange crunch and the rising world price of oil, it is possible that the price hikes were planned earlier. But the opportunity to portray them as a necessary response to the new U.S. sanctions was “delivered to Castro on a silver platter,” according to one religious leader.
In Cuba, the commission succeeded in uniting the Cuban government and its domestic opponents in opposition to its recommendations. It remains to be seen whether the new measures succeed as an election-year initiative in the United States. The cuts in remittances and family visits have drawn opposition from Cuban Americans in Miami who tend to separate their support for relatives in Cuba from their opposition to Fidel Castro. Some activists are now trying to use the new sanctions to rally opposition to President Bush in November. If they succeed, the commission will have accomplished a second feat: it will for the first time have turned Miami’s Cuban American moderates into a significant political force.
Find Archived Articles: