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.