sábado, 13 de agosto de 2011

Harper can't ignore Cuba

By Peter McKenna, Ottawa Citizen

 As Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits powerhouse Brazil and the tiny Central American country of Costa Rica - which shares a bilateral free trade agreement with us - he shies away from the less ideologically acceptable countries of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
But at a time when Harper claims to be pursuing an invigorated policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), he is ignoring Canada's natural advantages in Cuba - one of the region's most important countries. Needless to say, this doesn't make any foreign policy sense.
Significantly, Canadian-Cuban relations during the Harper years have suffered and now appear to be locked in a diplomatic holding pattern. To an outside observer, it looks as if a neo-conservative ideology, supported by lethargy in the Pearson Building in Ottawa, has taken the place of pragmatism and common sense.
Put simply, official Canadian policy toward Cuba is now curiously mimicking the failed U.S. approach of the former George W. Bush presidency - precisely when the Barack Obama administration is initiating a more moderate and more practical Cuba policy.
To begin, the prime minister and the mandarinate seem unaware of Cuba's importance in the region. For example, there are more than 30,000 Cuban health professionals now working throughout the Americas (more than all of the G8 countries combined). Additionally, Cuba is the elected leader of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement, was elected to the UN Human Rights Council with the support of 135 nations (five more than Canada), and was elected to be a member of the Rio Group of nations at a Latin American and Caribbean summit (to which Canada and the United States were conspicuously not invited).
As a symbol of its international support, the October 2010 UN General Assembly vote condemning the U.S. trade embargo (187-2) spoke volumes about Cuba's international legitimacy and world standing.
Cuba, in sum, punches far above its international weight class. It has full diplomatic relations with almost every country in the Americas, and has hosted a slew of presidential visits over the last two years. Even Mexico's foreign secretary found time to visit Havana in 2010. Why then has Canada not even sent its foreign affairs minister to visit Cuba in more than a decade?
We should also remember that Canada has an enviable position in Cuba: two-way trade exceeds $1.5 billion, more than 900,000 Canadian tourists visit annually, Toronto-based Sherritt International is the largest single foreign investor in the country, and Ottawa has had a long and storied relationship with the island.
Most Cubans recall fondly that the only countries in the Western hemisphere not to break diplomatic ties with Cuba in the early 1960s were Canada and Mexico. And, no less important, the Cubans respect us enormously - as is symbolized by the two million Cubans who participate annually in the Terry Fox run. Yet the Harper government has consistently ignored that goodwill and neglected the bilateral relationship's huge potential.
Curiously, the Obama White House is moving to tap whatever potential exists. To be sure, U.S. food exports to Cuba have increased to more than $710 million U.S. in 2010, and have already surpassed Canadian exports to the island. Obama himself has also moved to improve the terms of travel for Cuban-Americans, increased the number of U.S. airports offering charter flights to Cuba, and permitted cash remittances to Cuba to increase markedly.
The Canadian government's approach to Cuba, by comparison, is out of sync. The Harper government is spurning our natural advantages, needlessly sharpening its rhetoric, and pursuing a (failed) policy similar to that of the former Bush administration - all at a time when the Obama presidency is looking to change the tenor of U.S.-Cuba relations. Regrettably, Ottawa doesn't seem to be aware of what is happening on the Cuba file. More important, if the Harper government does not revitalize our engagement policy with the Cubans, Canada faces the very real prospect of jeopardizing its long-standing bilateral advantages and ceding those to the United States and others (including the Chinese).
Finally, the key to Canada actually opening the door to the wider hemisphere is clearly not through Costa Rica, but by fostering closer relations with Havana. But if we fail to cultivate closer ties with the Cubans, our vaunted "Americas Strategy" is necessarily doomed to failure.
Peter McKenna is professor of political studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown and the co-author of Canada-Cuba Relations: the Other Good Neighbor Policy.

lunes, 8 de agosto de 2011

The Cuban Five and the US Supreme Court

By Arnold August

Talking about Supreme Court, how about a little history. On June 15, 2009 the US Supreme Court announced its decision to reject the request for a revision of the Cuban Five case. This demand for a review was carried out by millions of people from all walks of life around the world, a record number of “Friends of the Court” petitions and thousands of personalities and elected officials from every continent. Many of these pleas also came from within the USA itself.
The US brags about its political systems as being based on the separation of powers between the Executive (President and Vice-President), the Legislature and the Judiciary and a resulting built-in checks and balances system. This is supposedly a superior form of democracy based on checks and balances to avoid abuse of power by one or the other of the three branches forming the US government. In the US Constitution Article II Section 2 states that the US president has “the power to grant reprieves and pardons...” Every indication is that President Obama, far from using his constitutional powers to free the Cuban Five, made it clear to the Supreme Court judges that they should rule against revision.
This has obviously been a political case right from day one. It is even further revealed by the Supreme Court’s decision and the shameless refusal of the judges to publicly explain to the world the basis of their ruling. Of course the judges are not obliged to divulge it according to the American legal system. However, in a case such as this one which the whole world and many governments are watching, a public explanation was necessary. We are perhaps witnessing one of the greatest ironies in the current international political scene. The Cuban Five are cruelly and politically persecuted for their peaceful anti-terrorist motivations and activities. The reason? They are acting on behalf of and supporting the Cuban government. One of the main charges that Washington levies against Cuba is lack of democracy, that it is does not, amongst other characteristics exhibit a political system similar to the American one which would include checks and balances. The Cuban system is in fact one unified revolutionary peoples’ political power, from the top down and from the bottom up including the judiciary, each enjoying its own respective fields of competence. The relationship and inter-action of all the different Cuban state levels between themselves including the judiciary and all of these institutions in turn with the citizens, is a feature of the Cuban type of democracy. There is no need to get into a debate as to whether the Cuban system is more democratic than the American model. However, if one takes into account this latest Supreme Court episode of US democracy in action on the one hand and my direct experience and study of the Cuban political system on the other hand, Cuba has no “democracy” lessons to take at all from the USA.

domingo, 7 de agosto de 2011

Gross: What Happened Between March and August?

by Arnold August

On August fifth it was announced that the fifteen­-year sentence arising out of the March fourth Provincial Court trial against Alan Gross, a US AID contractor, was upheld by the Cuban Supreme Court. The American citizen appealed the decision of the Provincial Court in Cuba's highest level of the judiciary on June 22, the result of which was made public on August fifth.
Regarding this issue, since March fourth to date the international media, especially based in Miami, Washington and Madrid, are concentrating on Havana, the Gross trials and legal challenges.
For those who may be puzzled by the Supreme Court decision, it would be useful to examine briefly what has happened in the United States — not Cuba — between March fourth to date in order to perhaps shed some light onto the Supreme Court's confirmation of the lower court's resolution. In this five-month period, the Obama Administration has on many occasions repeated its policy of interfering in the internal affairs of Cuba under the guise of "democracy promotion".  For example, the Congress has recently ratified once again the decision to spend 20$ million in the next year explicitly dedicated to subversion in Cuba, including the type of activities that Gross had carried out and for which he has been arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced. On many occasions the Obama Administration in collaboration with their mercenaries on and off the island did not reduce, but rather reinforced, their provocative activities against the sovereignty of Cuba, one of the legal principles violated by Gross as a US agent contractor.
While Obama visited Chile on March 21, 2011, not long after the original trial and sentencing of Gross, the US President spoke about the need to defend "democracy and human rights within our  borders [USA and Chile], let us recommit to defending them across our hemisphere.... And yes, that includes the people of Cuba."
How do readers think that the Cuban government and judiciary had taken this? By adding insult to injury, Obama stated in an interview to a Chilean newspaper as a prelude to his visit to Santiago de Chile that "The Chilean experience, and more particularly its successful transition to democracy and its sustained, growing economy, is a model for the region and the world."
When the news was released on August fifth regarding the Cuban Supreme Court decision, it was the same day that those  of us who follow the news through Telesúr and other alternative media were able to bear witness to how the Chilean police violently attacked the students and professors demanding education, economic and political rights. There were according to official sources 874 arrests and hundreds wounded. Is this the example that Obama meant of Chile being a model of democracy and economic development for Cuba? The scenes of Chilean state brutality resembled more the emblematic steps (Escalinata) of the University of Havana before the January 1, 1959 Triumph of the Revolution, when the US-backed Batista dictatorship unleashed their forces so many times against the youth, professors and workers. Many students were killed in these assaults in Havana, but so far at the time of writing in any case, there has been no deaths in Chile during the course of the current confrontations.
Despite the demands to Obama from around the world declared by Nobel Prize winners, individual parliamentarians, parliaments and personalities for the release of the Cuban Five, what has Obama done between March fourth and today? He has done nothing, and we are heading into a most crucial period for the soon-to-be concluded Habeus Corpus process for Gerardo Hernández Nodelo, with nothing yet positive in sight at this time. The Cuban Five are imprisoned since 1998 because they attempted to curb US-backed terrorist interference in the internal affairs of Cuba.
Given all these provocations and  repeated confirmations from the White House and the US Congress that they have every intention to continue their program of attempting to subvert Cuba's constitutional order, how else can the Cuban government and judicial authorities react? They have no choice but to make it clear that they will continue to defend their sovereignty as it is the right of every country to do so, big or small.
Alan Gross and his family should blame their own government for their predicament. The White House got him into it in the first place. By carrying out the same policies against Cuba since March fourth to date, it has given no reason for the Cuban judiciary to decide otherwise.