30 April 2009

Obama Continues to Disappoint

'We're interested in a dialogue with Cuba, but I think the international community wants to see some steps from Havana to see, to gauge how serious the government there is,'' state department spokesman Robert Wood said.

Wrong. The international community the United Nations represents wants the U.S. government to end its Economic Embargo against Cuba, not to play footies over telecommunications.

And I'm quite sure that Brazil, India, and China, to name a few, are smart enough to see that our increasing remittances is more of the same effort to humiliate the Cuban government and drive a wedge between Cubans and their government.

Canada, England, I'm not so sure.

I don't know if taking down the Embargo is the right thing to do, but misrepresenting the will of other nations is not.

25 April 2009

Guantanamo Bay as a Signifying Event

In the U.S.A., we often see images of failed buildings throughout the Cuban government's share of the island, which are as often used to signify the Communist Party's incompetence.

But what, then, do the images from Guantanamo Bay signify about the U.S. government? What has the USG done with its share of the island?

Matthew Alexander, who led the U.S. "interrogations team that located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," confirms what we have all suspected:

As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Our policy of torture and abuse is Al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool. These same insurgents have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of our troops in Iraq, not to mention Iraqi civilians. Torture and abuse are counterproductive in the long term and, ultimately, cost us more lives than they save.

And his reply to Dick Cheney:
The fact that Osama bin Laden is still alive is proof that waterboarding does not work. The more important fact, however, is that our policy of torture and abuse has cost us American lives.

But maybe Osama bin Laden was not Dick Cheney's first priority. Frank Rich:

... Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

If only out of respect for the nobility of the Declaration on Human Rights, President Obama needs to drop the Human Rights complaint against Cuba.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

14 April 2009

Obama's First Mistake on Cuba

Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Michelle Obama,

I am embarrassed and profoundly disappointed by your husband’s decision to frame his changes in our Cuba policy in terms of Human Rights, while exacerbating the grotesque, social inequality on the island by allowing an increase in remittances to Cubans privileged enough to have relatives in America.

I write to you because the professional people informing him on this issue are obviously a lost cause.

There are two important facts they ignore or do not sufficiently consider: (1) Only a small percentage of black Cubans have familial connections to the USA.

And (2), except for those black Cubans working within Cuba's security apparatus, of those black Cubans without a connection to a hard currency, i.e. the overwhelming majority, they are by and large working the physically hardest and lowest paying jobs in the country.

For example, as of April 2009, a government seamstress must sew 400 pairs of pants per day to earn nine CUban Pesos (CUP), twenty-four of which are required to buy one CUban Convertible (CUC), the currency to which the remittances will likely be converted since dollars won't buy most consumer goods.

In other words, it will take the Cuban seamstress about eight thousand days to earn what her no-doubt white counter-part with a familial connection to the US may now receive from one relative’s visit.

Or put another way, the Cuban Cuban seamstress will have to sow 3.5 million pairs of pants to earn as much as what her American-connected counter-part can receive in one day.

Clearly, the President’s new policy is not one that is consistent with a nation that values rewarding work over idleness, but nor is it consistent with one that values equality.

So to whatever extent President Obama genuinely believes his new remittance and travel policies will help the Cuban people, his good intentions will be lost on those black Cubans who will in turn see white Cubans get richer simply because they have generous relatives in America.

But what is aggravating about the new policy is that NSC advisor Dan Restrepo knows damn well that these changes (specifically, (1) our attempts to leap the Cuban government to reach “Cuban society” with the remittances, (2) our use of Human Rights vocabulary to frame the issue--astonishingly, enough, while at the same time and according to Brandon Neely having committed a fair share of despicable HR violations on that very island!--and (3) our changes in telecommunication rules) are and will be justifiably interpreted as more of the same old effort to subvert the Cuban government, thus provoking more draconian internal security measures.

If the President thinks this new policy will not exacerbate racial divisions on the island and strengthen internal calls for greater surveillance among the islanders, his judgment is not what I had hoped for.

Now, I can only hope he has something else up his sleeve, such as reviewing the entire policy in terms of the extent to which the Cuban government is in fact an existential threat to the United States, which, as I’m sure you know, Cuba is not, and therefore the whole policy should be scrapped and rewritten.