weapon against Cuba: global pressure
Andres Oppenheimer. Posted
on Sun, Jun. 06, 2004 in The
The most convincing part of likely Democratic
candidate John Kerry's newly announced Cuba
policy, unveiled in a telephone interview
with The Herald on Friday, is that he would
have a better chance than President Bush
to mount an international campaign to push
for a political opening on the island.
Granted, that's not the part of the interview
that will make the biggest headlines. Most
media attention will probably focus on Sen.
Kerry's statements that he supports the
U.S. embargo against Cuba but opposes the
Bush administration's restrictions on travel
and remittances to Cuba.
But, while President Bush's aides will
almost surely respond that sunbathers on
Varadero beach will not topple Cuba's dictatorship,
Kerry's strongest weapon to woo the Cuban
exile vote may lie in drawing attention
to the Bush administration's greatest liability
on the issue: its lack of international
support to launch almost any diplomatic
initiative to bring about change on the
''I want to work with the international
community to increase political and diplomatic
pressure on the [Fidel] Castro regime to
release all political prisoners, support
civil society and begin a process of genuine
political reform,'' Kerry said.
What does that mean? I asked.
''We've had a number of years in which
the international community has refused
to really be part of our efforts to deal
with Castro,'' he said. "I think American
credibility is so difficult abroad with
respect to Iraq and other areas, that it
will be very complicated for this administration
to get any kind of cooperation.''
KERRY IS RIGHT
On that point, there is little doubt that
Kerry is right. The Bush administration's
war with Iraq, as well as its opposition
to the International Criminal Court, the
Kyoto clean air treaty and several other
international agreements -- as well as the
recent reports and pictures of prisoner
abuse in Iraq by American soldiers -- has
turned much of the world against the United
So when Bush rightly calls for stronger
international reaction to Cuba's execution
of three people who were trying to escape
the island last year or the 25-year prison
sentences for 75 pro-democracy activists,
few abroad listen. Cuba's diplomatic isolation
is not even discussed at international meetings.
I saw that first-hand last week, at the
58-country summit of Latin America and the
European Union in Guadalajara, Mexico. The
summit -- attended by the heads of state
of Germany, France, Spain and most Latin
American countries -- rightly condemned
the U.S. humiliation of prisoners in Iraq
and spent much of its time discussing a
clause lashing out against Washington for
its trade embargo on Cuba.
Yet, incredibly, the summit participants
didn't even mention the killing of 104 prisoners
in Honduras that same week, nor the executions
in Cuba, nor the fact that Castro has sentenced
peaceful opponents to decades in prison
for things such as possessing a typewriter
or distributing leaflets.
When I asked a democratic South American
president whether the summit shouldn't criticize
human rights abuses everywhere, he shrugged
and said, "Iraq changed everything.''
Kerry showed little enthusiasm when I asked
him if he would seek greater international
backing for the Varela Project, the petition
signed by more than 30,000 Cubans on the
island to hold a referendum on whether to
hold free elections.
While he has supported the Varela Project
in the past, Kerry told me that it ''has
gotten a lot of people in trouble, . . .
and it brought down the hammer in a way
that I think wound up being counterproductive.''
Kerry added that he would try to ''open
possibilities'' toward change through greater
''face-to-face contacts'' between U.S. travelers
My conclusion: Kerry is right about international
diplomatic pressure and wrong about not
being more upbeat about the Varela Project,
especially when the European Union has embraced
Much like we are seeing now in Venezuela,
or like we saw in the 1989 plebiscite against
dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile,
or in the 1990 elections against the Sandinista
regime in Nicaragua, the most effective
tool against an authoritarian regime may
be an active internal opposition with a
concrete petition, like the Varela Project.
Without it, Kerry's international diplomatic
offensive would have nothing concrete to
press the Cuban dictatorship about.