By Colin Vaida
Recent international developments in the Middle East, Ukraine and Russia have left US foreign policy in disarray. The renewed military interaction in Iraq, the continued war in Ukraine, the worrisome conflict in Syria, and the Israel-Palestine conflict have flooded media outlets and airwaves with a rash of destruction and loss of life. These international events cast doubt on the status of US influence and action, and garner mass media attention. Closer to home, and much further out of the limelight, the US government and the Obama administration continue to make errors in a seemingly unimportant foreign relationship with Cuba. It is easy to trivialize a country that continues to be stuck in Cold War era politics, especially when world events demonstrate incredibly serious issues. With limited economic resources, 50 year old cars in the streets and dilapidated infrastructure, Cuba may seem like a trivial country that had its day forty years ago.
Cuba, a nation of 11 million 90 miles from Florida, however, presents a much more important foreign policy directive than many might think. The Cuban regime is not the only government still stuck in the Cold War. The United States continues to develop and implement covert schemes to incite political unrest against the Cuban government. Rather than create dialogue between two countries that could mutually benefit from a change in policy, the two continue to act like it’s the 1960s. It is important to acknowledge that the Cuban regime continues to be an oppressive force that actively denies its citizens political and economic rights. However, regime type does not stop the US from having strong diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The US reacts on interest and not on ideology and principle, as it claims in the case with Cuba. An embargo that is decades old continues to be in place and continues to drive away a country that could play a crucial role in perceptions of American foreign policy abroad. The US end goal of democratization in Cuba maybe an appropriate ideal, but the policy that is being implemented continues to alienate the regime and country. Ultimately, the US could seize the opportunity to mend relations as a sign of American intentions and actions elsewhere in the world.
A recent Associated Press story indicated that for the second time this year, the US government has attempted to incite political unrest in the island nation of Cuba. In April the AP discovered US attempts to establish social media site, ZunZuneo, in an attempt to open political discourse. In August the AP discovered that the Obama Administration through the guise of United States Aid and International Development (USAID) sent Latin American youth to Cuba in attempt to seek out and train political activists. The program in one instance used an HIV prevention workshop as a front to provide tools and information for political dissent. The use of USAID jeopardizes the legitimacy of the US development agency worldwide and continues to put nongovernmental agencies under stronger scrutiny in Cuba. All of this, while the US government continues to ignore the plight of American lawyer and contractor Alan Gross. In conjunction with the US government and USAID, Gross attempted to provide Cubans with access to technology and the Internet. Gross was arrested in 2009 and continues to suffer in a Cuban prison with little action and movement from either government.
These failures continue to stack against the Obama administration and demonstrate the inability for effective and conducive foreign policy. Beyond Obama, strong interests in South Florida continue to dictate foreign policy initiatives and notions with Cuba. Congressional leaders in Florida like Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen continue to lobby a hard line against Cuba and its political regime. The Cuban-American voting bloc in South Florida is strong and maintains sway and influence through their representatives. Balart has already stated his support for the failed USAID program, “Pro-democracy activities must be undertaken with discretion because the most innocuous acts are ‘crimes’ in totalitarian states.” Though this sentiment may be accurate, US intervention and policy is inconsistent and the Obama administration and the government has the opportunity to make relations with Cuba a win.
At the very least, it should be the duty of the U.S. government to remove Alan Gross out of prison. He was employed by the US government and should be protected and removed by the US government through effective diplomacy. Additionally, local politics in Florida should not dictate a beneficial slow reopening of a country that would benefit from American investment and trade. In an ideal world the Cold War covert operations would cease and relations with Cuba could begin to normalize. The promotion and proliferation of cultural exchange that would have a pro-democracy impact, seems like an effective way to lead.
Image Source: Council on Foreign Relations