Daniel N. White
I’m glad to see the U.S. starting to reestablish normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. If there has been anything productive or beneficial from our 1960-present diplomatic and economic freeze out of Cuba for us, them, or anyone else I fail to see it. A failed policy, it shows how easily the U.S. government can be hostage to an organized, nationalist, one-issue pressure group. Unfortunately for us the Cubans aren’t the only ones doing this. Future historians will have a field day explaining how the alleged threat of Cuba was cynically used by conservative Republicans to attack all Democratic administrations from 1960 onwards, for no good reason, for no good result. It should prove a good study of stupid, ugly, and pointless political grandstanding. It also illuminates something of our hidden obsessions and what a bunch of sore losers our nation can be.
It hasn’t been announced officially but the biggest part of that normalization is going to be the ending of trade sanctions we’ve had against Cuba since ’60—the longest stretch of trade sanctions in world history.* Ending the sanctions requires a huge amount of work sorting out the financial claims both sides have against each other—one number kicking around is that the U.S. or U.S. citizens currently have claims in excess of $6 billion against the Cuban government for properties nationalized in the early ‘60’s by the Castro government. We, on the other hand, seized $100 million in 1960 of Cuba’s national assets, mostly liquid, and those assets have been held in interest-bearing trust until settlements are reached between the two countries. International law firms will have a field day sorting out all this. There’s also various other claims to sort out from events later, such as the Hermanos al Rescate lawsuit nonsense.**
If I was running the circus, I’d negotiate a fixed sum out of Congress and the Cuban government to settle claims, make that the law, and let the lawyers fight over it against a tight time deadline. After this much time, nobody has any sort of claim worth arguing over—this many years on, everyone has cut their losses and moved on. Maybe the fairest thing is to have both sides just quit their legal claims and let anyone in the U.S. who wants their share of the seized Cuban assets fight for it in U.S. courts. Let’s be realistic about it. I doubt we can be, however. Being realistic about Cuba just hasn’t been in our nature for over half a century.
But the biggest issue between us and Cuba is the Guantanamo naval base, and nobody is talking about it here in the U.S. We extorted it out of a weak Cuban government in 1903 and it has been a bone of contention between us and Cuba ever since. The base has offended every decent nationalist Latin American citizen and their governments ever since we took it. Guantanamo is an unwanted U.S. military base in their backyards, put there against their will, and kept there against the will of Cuba.
If we were smart, we’d close the base tomorrow and turn it over, lock, stock, and prison cages to Cuba. The base has never served any strategic purpose for the U.S. except as a base for invading Cuba should we have ever decided to.*** Every cent spent on its upkeep is money wasted. Any function the base has is more economically performed stateside. The base never once served its 1903 stated strategic purpose as a coaling station, and it has no strategic purpose whatsoever today. The U.S. taxpayer will get a useful, necessary, and rare break by our closing it and returning it to Cuba.
Even more than settling conflicting monetary claims, returning Guantanamo to Cuba would show the rest of the world that the U.S. is willing to address the legitimate concerns of neighboring states and act with a measure of magnanimity towards them. Whatever legalistic arguments we can make about the validity of a treaty and our not being required to return Guantanamo because of legal precedent X and legal case Y just don’t matter. Our keeping the base on narrow legalistic rationales is just small and petty. It offends entirely too many people for no reason. Just man up and shut it down and turn it over to the Cubans and be done with the problem.
President Obama should also use shutting the base as a means of forcing the Republicans to face up to our responsibilities towards the remaining Guantanamo prisoners. Nobody in Congress is willing to assume responsibility for housing prisoners in a federal penitentiary in their district on account of fear of terrorist attacks—this is, if not the actual reason, certainly the publicly stated one as to why the Guantanamo prisoners have to stay where they are. Likely the real reason is the pigheaded Republican desire to play stupid political games with the Obama administration rather than to work productively to solve it, combined with the willingness of the Obama administration lawyer types to keep punting our fundamentally lawless actions in Gitmo.
With a deadline of Guantanamo closing, the U.S. will be forced to do something about the prisoners while addressing the legal questions we have dodged for a dozen years now about our continued imprisonment of them without due process of law. I suggest we just leave them behind in Cuba when we leave and make their disposition Cuba’s problem. If we can’t solve the problem, after this many years of trying to (or not trying to, as the case may be), then let’s let someone else do it for us. It wouldn’t be the first time we walked away from a problem—Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan come to mind here, in particular the feckless job we’re doing now to help the people in those countries who threw their lot in with us to their own detriment.
We’ve walked away from problems before–we can do it again. Let’s face it: If any of the Gitmo prisoners ever did anything in their own country that warranted a 13-year sentence I’d be damned surprised. It’s not as if our civil courts are the proper agency to deal with any alleged crimes committed abroad by persons who are essentially POWs anyway.
Obama has a truly rare opportunity to force the Republicans to deal with an issue that they don’t want to and probably can’t anyway on account of their own manifold failings. Give the Republicans a deadline on the prisoner issue and if they can’t make it then call it done and walk away from it. My read on the U.S. Constitution is that this is an action the President can do without any input from Congress. All it takes is the political will and courage to do it: Two rare things in DC these days.
If the U.S. is truly serious about squaring things with Cuba, our government should return Guantanamo to Cuba. If we don’t, if the Guantanamo issue never comes up for political discussion, then the smart read on Obama’s action is that we aren’t up to any real good with this diplomatic venture. It’s a fraud. Our government’s intents will still be overthrowing the Cuban revolutionary regime, and we’re just updating our methods.
Will any of the Republican opponents of the Obama initiative be smart enough to see it as nothing substantially new in U.S. policy towards Cuba, and therefore nothing they should oppose? I bet not. They’d rather grandstand to tea-party ignoramuses. And nobody in the U.S. news media is honest enough to call them on it.
With respect to Cuba and normalization, it’s a rare opportunity to watch and see events unfold. Will Americans emerge as upright, fair, and generous, or small, low, and unendingly vindictive? Events will tell. Just watch, wait, and see.
Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to. He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about. He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now. He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb. He can be reached at Louis_14_le_roi_soleil@hotmail.com.
*How and if we sort out the sanctions and competing legal claims is a dead giveaway to our real intentions. If we punt on dealing with the sanctions issues (citing claims of political impossibility, something Obama’s few remaining liberal supporters would go along with unthinkingly) and just go for diplomatic relations restoration, the case is then made for our rapprochement being a fraud, yet another new ploy in our attempts to overthrow Cuba’s government and political/social system.
** There are also interesting legal questions about U.S. court cases and claims from them against Cuba under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This lunacy is getting an article of its own in the near future.
***As we planned to do in War Plan Tan in the 1930s, and again during the Cuban Missile Crisis.