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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Castros Pull It Off, Again? Some Preliminary Thoughts

I broke my vow never to listen to an Obama speech; I listened to the one he gave on Cuba. I also listened to the matching speech given by Raul Castro. I am going to write about Cuba here, but I ask readers to pardon a bit more than usual incoherence on my part. I am still conflicted and uncertain about the effects of what was announced today, so I will be thinking aloud. I reserve the right to change my mind, or better said, to make up my mind.

Part of my problem is that I have been very close to the Cuba issue for years. I dealt with Cuban issues directly at the UN, at the OAS, at Southern Command, and had dealings with many Cubans, both Castroites and the victims of Castro. I have lots of Cuban friends. I have seen the DGI--Cuba's very good intel service--up close and I abhor it and the thugs it employs. I have written a great deal about my experiences and views on Cuba and don't want to repeat all that. I certainly don't want to be Obamesque and make this about me; I am just laying out for you that I have issues when dealing with Cuba, ones that make it hard for me to be dispassionate.

My biggest issue is that I see the Castro brothers as evil monsters who have subjugated and brought ruin to a wonderful country, and done it with the tacit approval of the bien pensants around the world. Prior to 1959, Cuba was not some dirt-poor plantation as it has been portrayed by the Castros, Hollywood, and their many other apologists. It was a country with a remarkable cultural and economic level. Remember that before 1959, Cuba had an IMMIGRATION problem, that is to say, it was having a hard time coping with all the people from Europe and elsewhere who wanted to come to Cuba. My own in-laws in Spain made considerable money exporting high-end baby clothes to the Cuban middle class. Cuba had world-class doctors, engineers, poets, businessmen, and thinkers. It had a standard of living that was by some measures second only to that of the USA in the Western Hemisphere--it had a standard of living considerably higher than that in most of Europe and all of Asia.

Cuba, however, failed in the political sphere, suffering through a succession of corrupt and inefficient governments since independence in 1898--that is why so many members of the quite ample Cuban middle class initially supported the Castros, getting taken in by their anti-corruption and Jeffersonian rhetoric. The Castro brothers, of course, had another agenda. They wanted total power, to bring violent revolution to the Americas, and to develop a model socialist state of "New Men" in Cuba. They certainly achieved the first, failed at the second, and brought only poverty, imprisonment, and misery to Cuba's men and women, "new" and old. From being one of the richest countries in America, that island is now one of the poorest countries in America; it has gone from an importer of people to an exporter of people. ¡Con la Revolución todo es posible!

The brothers proved lucky and brilliant at staying in power and pulling victory, or at least survival, from the jaws of impending destruction. They were masters of the Hail Mary. They dodged the first big bullet in 1961, when the feckless JFK abandoned La Brigada on the beach. They survived the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when after Castro threatened the destruction of the United States with Russian Missiles, in exchange for Nikita Khrushchev's agreeing to remove those missiles, the JFK administration agreed not to topple the Castro regime. In the 1990's, they even survived the collapse of the Soviet bloc and found in Chavez's Venezuela a fawning benefactor who helped make up the loss of Soviet aid. The brothers were masters at eliminating those in their inner circle who seemed to step outside their assigned roles as cheerleaders for the brothers: Che, Ochoa, dozens of others met fates including exile, firing squads, and long prison terms. All the while the United States could not make up its mind what to do about the Castros and their revolutionary pretensions. The rest of the West, and eventually all of the Latin America, decided to do nothing and went along with the regime in Havana out of fear, cowardice, indifference or as a cheap way to defy the gringos. The much ballyhooed American "embargo" was always a half-baked affair, never fully enforced, and riddled with loopholes, and often defied.  The rest of the world had no intention of imposing an embargo, so while it was true, for example, the regime could not buy Fords and Chevrolets, it had no difficulty buying Toyotas and VWs, using dollars often sent by the Cuban exile community. The "boycott" served primarily to give the Castro brothers an excuse for the grotesque failings of socialism in Cuba. When Senator Helms tried to give the boycott some teeth, his efforts were sabotaged by the White House and the State Department. Within little time, the US was actually Cuba's third or fourth largest (depending on the year) trading partner. Some boycott.

Now to the speech by Obama. It was a clever speech designed for people who don't know the full history of Cuba since 1959 or the nature of US-Cuban relations. The speech gave away the leftist bias of its drafters with the nonsense equating "colonialism" and "Communism." What colonialism was Castro Communism fighting? Cuba had been independent for sixty years when the brothers took over; one of their first acts was to turn the country into a colony of the Soviets. Communism and colonialism went hand-in-hand, no opposition, no clash. Obama's speech sought "balance" by blaming both Cuba and the US for the state of relations. Nonsense. The Castros were and are murdering thugs who have never hesitated to kill anybody in their way whether at home or abroad. Castroite firing squads were operating at full speed even during the honeymoon period with the USA, when the NY Times was writing fawning pieces about Fidel Castro.

My first thought on hearing Obama talk about the need to get past colonialism and Communism was that he was channeling his father's anti-British obsessions. Cuba as Kenya. Much like Obama's immigration speech, it is not at all clear what we are getting. Alan Gross, who should never have been detained, has been released as has a long-imprisioned intel asset. In exchange, we freed the Cuban agents who helped set up the murder of American citizens. There is a further loosening of currency and travel restrictions. The speech, of course, will upend years of established American positions and lead, for example, to the entry of Cuba into the OAS without meeting any of the requirements laboriously worked out, e.g., a functioning democracy with full respect for human rights.

Raul Castro's speech was very short and to the point. None of the flowery phrases that his older brother would have used. Very business-like. No discussions of colonialism and Communism, and, above all, no promises to do anything in particular except to keep talking to the US. The impression I got was that he felt he had just pulled off another Hail Mary. Just as Chavez/Maduro Venezuela collapses along comes Obama . . .

This is getting a bit long and I will end it here with the observation that it is now up to Congress to decide what to do with this jumble dropped on its doorstep by Obama. The "embargo," what's left of it, is now in the hands of Congress, and Obama can go back to leading from behind.

I will have more to say in the coming days as my thinking clarifies.

36 comments:

  1. This photo mustn't help in the thinking-clarification process.
    http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2014/12/17/?entry=7343

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  2. Mr. Mad,
    I too am uncertain about this. If Congress can clean up the mess the implementation of policy has been and if the full exposure to Capitalism can be corrosive enough to change the political landscape for the better, and if Cuba can join the rest of the world as a responsible nation...............Jesus, that's a lot of ifs I'm chasing around.
    James the Lesser

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    Replies
    1. Maybe Obama can emerge Cuba while at the same time submerge America?

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  3. Another consideration is whether Cuban intelligence has been running our Cuba policy for 40 years.

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  4. I honor your "I am conflicted."
    _________

    But, hearing the news immediately brought to mind an event I wondered aloud about (well as a comment anyway on this very blog) sometime back.

    "What is that Russian Electronics Warfare [SIGINT] ship doing making a port-call in Cuba?" ... Going on to, as it happened, visit Venezuela.

    Well. We now know the Russians reopened and refurbished the signals collection facility at Lourdes - the Cuban Lourdes, not the place of the same name in France.

    And there's an upcoming OAS event to take place in Panama. Though the OAS specifically took the usual, "Y'all ain't welcome Castro fellers" the Panama City Fathers took it upon themselves to specifically, issue an official invitation.
    _________

    But as I say. I remain conflicted.

    For one thing I'm definitely concerned Team Obama isn't exactly the people I'd prefer handling what I've for decades figured was eventually to be, "an inevitability."

    I guess we'll see.

    Arkie

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  5. I think Arkie's got the line on this: the USA will re-establish relations with Cuba some day. Just wish it had not been done under Obama. There are too many precedents to believe he's doing it with a clear-eyed view of the long-range policy implications that will best benefit our nation. Chances are good he's doing it out of international socialist solidarity, or perhaps from the mistaken belief that Cuba under the Castro brothers is the wave of the future, or perhaps just because it's the worst possible thing he can do to America.

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  6. So cuba economic situation was heading south. Did this bambi move prevent sending a 2-3million flotilla our way? Most say cuba had no leverage. That's leverage.

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  7. My bet is that before Obama's term is completed, he will announce not just the shutdown of the Guantanamo prison, but the initiation of plans to close the entire naval base.

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    Replies
    1. yeah.. I think that's what he's referring to as 'colonialism'.
      That's pretty much the goal... disband the US military.
      On the other hand, we got along with just a general staff before... though that suggests there was nothing to be learned from WWII.

      - reader #1482

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    2. As sometimes phrased over on D&N re, closing the entire base ...

      "I hae me doots."

      GTMO has been 'a useful corner of the globe' not only for us but for Cuba as well - preceding even, the Brothers Castro.

      (And base-closures - of any sort - have never been high on the priorities of any political party - of any stripe. The only one I can easily call to hand, featured prominently a "force of nature" ... Mount Pinatubo. Paraphrasing, yeah I realize dangerous on Dip's site, VP candidate Bentson,

      Obama, despite what anybody sez, is no Mount Pinatubo.)

      Ark

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  8. Just one small observation: When 'skyjacking' took off in the '60s, Cuba was the go-to place. The passengers would get a nice trip to Havana and come back with the nice cigars and stuff. Castro would keep the money and that would be the last we heard of the pirates.

    This was the beginning of the complacency of the flying public. They knew they wouldn't be harmed. They would just go for the ride and be home for dinner. That complacency cost American lives on 9/11.

    Whether Castro knew what he was doing would cost lives doesn't matter. I submit it did. And for that, no amount of time can pay justify even talking to him.

    ~M

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  9. And let's not forget Cuba's very own "imperialist adventures" in Africa.

    A LOT of "internationalist" salsa dancers are buried in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, etc.

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  10. My guess is that one of the casualties of re-opening US-Cuba relations will be Cuba-as-Socialist-Promised-Land. It happened in China after Nixon, and especially after normalization. Then again, the Pilgrim Left can then go to North Korea...

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  11. "The much ballyhooed American "embargo" was always a half-baked affair, never fully enforced, and riddled with loopholes, and often defied."
    _________

    I've stated many times and oft' I never had any experience during "my time on station" working either the South American theater and now that Cuba is in the spotlight I suppose I ought add, neither the Caribbean region.

    But an associate reminds me he had some little experience. Recalling a time before the Soviet Union fell, the Soviet wheat crop experienced some degree of failure at which time "we" Carpa Diem came to the rescue "selling" the USSR wheat out of the US surplus.

    And thus bags of wheat bearing the always catchy "Produced in the USA" began to be offloaded onto Cuban docks.
    _________

    I notice this evening the US Chamber of Commerce is enthused (somewhat surprisingly but only in the swiftness) at the prospects of sales. Indeed my own state's Chickenopolis [Tyson's] is crowing "A chicken [from Arkansas] in every [Cuban] pot!"

    And where the Chamber of Commerce leads - how soon do we think it'll take for Chamber of Commerce Republicans to join the parade?

    I can vaguely make out the oncoming from my Arkansas contingent to DC, "Well of course it's a bad idea but ... if it means jobs for my constituents ... how can I stand in the way of that?"

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    1. Thought to add - for the benefit of those who're not particularly aware of in just what part of the state, geographically speaking - and not without irony, Arkansas "enjoys" its greater part of the illegal immigration problem;

      That would be from Chickenopolis to points west. Where our multinational corporations are primarily - perhaps merely coincidentally. Say for convenience sake, from Chickenopolis west to Wal-Mart HQ.

      Wal-Mart (as called by a largish number of the total native population as) The World's Largest Chinese Flea Market.

      Ark

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  12. Diplomad Sir?

    (With the ending two sentences of your opening paragraph in mind. Basing my un-coalesced as yet thinking on the matter - my personal experience as I note above - not of the Western Hemisphere even generally, rather the ME. To a somewhat lesser extent specific portions of Asia.) I will, at the end get to my thinking on Cuba.
    _________

    Very aware I'm about to stray outside of "what's acceptable PC-wise" in my admittedly inchoate wonderings in these very early stages of rapprochement viz Cuba specifically - our own 2016 "upcoming events" too, in a general sort of way in combination. ... It would likely be best Dip, you not reply to me but I'd appreciate at the least the opportunity to do my best "discerning."
    ___

    Despite what has long appeared to be the consensus of our talking heads that, "Hillary is the inevitable Dem nominee and stands a very good chance of taking the whole shebang" ... I've thought after especially her stint at State (actually before but were I to attempt explaining my thinking, I'd get into deep weeds) her odds of even taking the Dem nomination are far less than even money.

    Obama won the first go-round at the most basic, by corralling "a very specific minority" - Libtards (the term being very deliberate) dedicated Leftists, the "going to go to college Young" a few guilt-tripped non-Southern but nevertheless "enclave whites" [NY, MA, CA, FL etc] University Professors, and the Idealists.

    Second go-round there were the natural defections one would expect since Hope was not, out of the box, synonymous with Change.

    The first go-round very obviously "cracked" and, given what's occurred following the second go-round - hell, Al Sharpton (in "obviously Democratic circles") could possibly mount a credible challenge to Hillary. Not to mention Fauxahontas.
    _________

    My thinking is (remains) 2016 is the Republican Party's to lose.

    (Yes fellow Diplomad Readers, I'm the guy declared we should consider Rand Paul with Kelly Ayotte for VP - and it might surprise but I stick with that - for now. Were I somehow granted my "druthers" I'd nominate Jeff Sessions but - I can't see him getting anywheres close to what it'd take in the Electoral College.

    Rand isn't the nut-job his Father obviously is. Plus any first-term Rand might serve plays of near-necessity, to stuff domestically. Obama domestically has been that bad.

    Hell. Even the Young and more importantly to my mind, the Idealists recognize that. Even the ones Al Sharpton et al are calling upon to kiss his robe everytime there's some perception - manufactured or otherwise - he's "called" to intervene in.

    How many of the "truly Idealistic" might one suppose would want to participate in a beer summit, even if it's "Craft Beer" with Al Sharpton?
    _________

    And here's the tie-in (Thank God Arkie!) to Cuba.

    Anwar Sadat.

    Menachem Begin.

    Carter didn't have "the gravitas" (well except for the position) as a mere individual, to pull off what we recognize these present days. We see this obvious today in the Sinai. Sadat was assassinated of course but there'd been "a process begun" and subsequently built upon. Egypt is currently isolating Gaza indeed interdicting arms transfers just as the Saudis "appear" to always seem to end up serving "our" interests.

    The question would be, "Had we not engaged with Sadat, before a coup possibly" had been the more likely?

    The Castro Brothers are very old - reportedly near death - had "we" not done something before that very Inevitability - would the Ultimate Inevitability have been the better?

    Were I a Pragmatic Republican, I'd prefer Obama take the blame.

    I could always take credit for any improvements after the Castro Bothers exited.

    Arkie

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    1. Arkie...it almost seems like General Secretary Obama wants to run the tape backwards on the Cold War. When the Soviets fell in 1989, the global Left seemed untethered. The erection of Bill from Arkansas did not seem to comfort them much. Now they have their man and the radical Left will be orgasmic. I have a feeling that the rest of the Left will be emerging from under rocks, falling from tree houses and communes and generally showing themselves as fools to a public that will reject them.

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    2. You've brought up what I think is a very good observation. The Obama administration, the Main Stream Media, Academia (especially the humanities) seem fixated on the Russia of the 80's instead of the Russia of today in their dealings. You may include China, Cuba, and etc in that but I'm not sure.

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    3. I think Obama is fixated on the social utopia that is the 'russia of his dreams'.
      After all, able bodied people shouldn't *have* to work to survive.... Obama never had to.
      - reader #1482

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    4. I agree that Rand Paul is not the nut job his father was, but really, what has he accomplished. I'm tired of these newbies on the scene being suddenly qualified for the POTUS position. I can't get behind someone whose only apparent talent is knowing exactly when to get in front of a camera and then saying something politically snappy. We've already had one of those for six years and it turns my stomach to think about the damage its done to the country. Two in a row is inconceivable.

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    5. syd B...good point. It seems to me Libertarians like Rand don't need a political opponent, because after a few minutes and he will take a position to contradict a previous one.

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    6. " I'm tired of these newbies on the scene being suddenly qualified for the POTUS position."

      Yes. Of course. But I would - with some considered hesitation - put forth the notion that Rand, not so unlike some few others, the name Bush comes to mind John Quincy (very glad rocks can't be tossed from y'alls monitors to mine) ... Roosevelt - anyway unlike the current occupant these guys all had at least some "semblance" of experience.

      "Mother's Milk" if you will - but don't carry the truism too far, that'd be well, kinda icky.
      _________

      Please do though, keep in mind that we're a heckuva way out from the conventions. I'm not even close to ordering any Rand Paul for ... yard signs or even bumper stickers for my pickup. And anyway my druthers aforementioned would have me going to Ebay for Jeff Sessions merchandise.
      _________

      But what I definitely do not want is whoever the Grand Ol' Poobahs tell me I want.

      Arkie

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    7. whitewall? Mind if I do a little editing?

      " ... after a few minutes with Reality he will take a position to contradict a previous one. "

      Ark

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    8. Scott Walker. He knows how to administrate.

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  13. I still recall a funny Cold War Joke:

    --What's the largest country in the world?
    --Cuba!
    --It's people are in Florida, it's government is in Moscow and it's army is in Africa.

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    Replies
    1. Reminds me of a story about the former premier of Laos, Kaysone. On a bright, sunny day, he was found carrying an umbrella in Vientiane. When asked why, he replied that it was raining in Hanoi.

      Maybe Cuba represents Russia's long-unreached desire to be like other major European powers and have a sugar-producing colony in the Caribbean?

      Delete
  14. Up above y'all might've noticed me typing, "Al Sharpton could possibly mount a credible challenge to Hillary."

    I'd wager some of you chortled or at least, chuckled.

    http://malcolmpollack.com/2014/12/19/al-uber-alles/

    Arkie

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  15. This might help some Diplomad, in deciding what is the right course to chart.

    Haven't been paying attention to what he's saying regarding Cuba but here's John McCain from back in '95;

    "Human rights progress in Vietnam should also be better served by restoring relations with that country. The Vietnamese have already developed complex relations with the rest of the free world. Instead of vainly trying to isolate Vietnam, the United States should test the proposition that greater exposure to Americans will render Vietnam more susceptible to the influence of our values. Vietnam's human rights record needs substantial improvement. We should make good use of better relations with the Vietnamese to help advance in that country a decent respect for the rights of man. "

    http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=a7591ed4-a6be-42c1-b052-9608391f21ef

    I know what a huge fan-base all we Diplomad 2.0 Readers are for the Senator from Arizona. So, given our History with Viet Nam, Cuba will be a piece of cake, a walk in the park.

    Arkie

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    1. Y'know Arkie, I would have agreed with you while W was president and before too. Now, I'm not so sure, we did put O in office and look at the "hands up" protestors these days. Are our values that are visible these days what our esteemed host (and most of the rest of us) would want to project to the Cubans?

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    2. "Only Nixon could go to China". This has enduring meaning for good reasons. Obama going to Havana will be quite different....the Cubans will chase him out because they already have what Obama is selling.

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    3. Veng? You might not have caught my (I think) initial comment at December 18, 2014 at 11:40 AM?

      Copying from there;

      For one thing I'm definitely concerned Team Obama isn't exactly the people I'd prefer handling what I've for decades figured was eventually to be, "an inevitability."
      ____________

      Do we still differ, in the fundamentals I mean?

      Arkie

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  16. Well Mr. Mad,
    While Ive got time, I wish you and yours Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and any other holiday that may apply!
    James the Lesser

    That goes too for the rest of you rascals, scoundrels, and rapscallions!

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  17. What's to think about? Commie thugs are Commie thugs.

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