Obama: “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World”

On July 17, the day before the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, Barack Obama delivered the 16th annual  Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa to a crowd of 15,000 in a football (soccer) stadium (the Wanderers Stadium) and to a worldwide livestream audience of millions, including this blogger. The lecture’s title: “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.” [1] Below are photographs of a poster for the lecture and of Obama giving the lecture.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lecture[2]

The lecture weaved the life and legacy of Mandela into an overview of world history from his birth in 1918 to the late 20th century and early 21st century to the current situation. Here is an abridged version of that lecture; the full text is available on the websites listed in the last footnote.

The World of 1918

The lecture started with a dramatic picture of  the changes in the world from 1918, the year of Mandela’s birth, when there “was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history.”

The World of the Late 20th Century

The lecture then moved to the “the remarkable transformations” of the world by the end of the 20th century and Mandela’s “long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity . . . [which] came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.”

When Mandela emerged from prison in 1990, It “seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes. And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, . . .  we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.”

“And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. It doesn’t mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters; it guided how we thought about the meaning of progress, and it continued to propel the world forward. Yes, there were still tragedies – bloody civil wars from the Balkans to the Congo. Despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian strife still flared up with heartbreaking regularity, despite all that as a consequence of the continuation of nuclear détente, and a peaceful and prosperous Japan, and a unified Europe anchored in NATO, and the entry of China into the world’s system of trade – all that greatly reduced the prospect of war between the world’s great powers. And from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies. The march was on. A respect for human rights and the rule of law, enumerated in a declaration by the United Nations, became the guiding norm for the majority of nations, even in places where the reality fell far short of the ideal. Even when those human rights were violated, those who violated human rights were on the defensive.”

The World of the Early 21st Century

In more recent years, however, “we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business.” We have to recognize that “the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away” while “around the world, entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed. In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same.”

“The result of all these trends has been an explosion in economic inequality. . . . In every country just about, the disproportionate economic clout of [many of] those at the top has provided these individuals with wildly disproportionate influence on their countries’ political life and on its media; on what policies are pursued and whose interests end up being ignored. . . . A decent percentage [of them, however,] consider themselves liberal in their politics, modern and cosmopolitan in their outlook.”

“But what’s nevertheless true is that in their business dealings, many titans of industry and finance are increasingly detached from any single locale or nation-state, and they live lives more and more insulated from the struggles of ordinary people in their countries of origin.” Nevertheless, “too often, these decisions are also made without reference to notions of human solidarity – or a ground-level understanding of the consequences that will be felt by particular people in particular communities by the decisions that are made.”

“Which is why, at the end of the 20th century, while some Western commentators were declaring the end of history and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain, so many missed signs of a brewing backlash – a backlash that arrived in so many forms. It announced itself most violently with 9/11 and the emergence of transnational terrorist networks, fueled by an ideology that perverted one of the world’s great religions and asserted a struggle not just between Islam and the West but between Islam and modernity, and an ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t help, accelerating a sectarian conflict.”

“Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements – which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests – these movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores; fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did.”

“Perhaps more than anything else, the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial elites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people all around the world, made all the previous assurances of experts ring hollow – all those assurances that somehow financial regulators knew what they were doing, that somebody was minding the store, that global economic integration was an unadulterated good. . . . But the credibility of the international system, the faith in experts in places like Washington or Brussels, all that had taken a blow.”

The Current World Situation

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. In the West, you’ve got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism. Many developing countries now are looking at China’s model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.” (Emphases added.)

“So on Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?”

“Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with Madiba’s release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down – should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history – where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out?”

I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.], and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good.” (Emphasis added.)

“I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.”

“The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.” (Emphasis added.)

“The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history.”

“The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together – eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war.”

“The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we’re stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less.”

“We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we’re truly to continue Madiba’s long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder and we’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. And so in the brief time remaining, let me just suggest a few guideposts for the road ahead, guideposts that draw from Madiba’s work, his words, the lessons of his life.” (Emphasis added.)

Guideposts for the Future

“First, Madiba shows those of us who believe in freedom and democracy we are going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people.” (Emphasis added.)

“I don’t believe in economic determinism. Human beings don’t live on bread alone. But they need bread. And history shows that societies which tolerate vast differences in wealth feed resentments and reduce solidarity and actually grow more slowly; and that once people achieve more than mere subsistence, then they’re measuring their well-being by how they compare to their neighbors, and whether their children can expect to live a better life. And when economic power is concentrated in the hands of the few, history also shows that political power is sure to follow – and that dynamic eats away at democracy. Sometimes it may be straight-out corruption, but sometimes it may not involve the exchange of money; it’s just folks who are that wealthy get what they want, and it undermines human freedom.” (Emphases added.)

“Madiba understood this. This is not new. He warned us about this. He said: ‘Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and the powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and the weaker, [then] we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.’ So if we are serious about universal freedom today, if we care about social justice today, then we have a responsibility to do something about it. And I would respectfully amend what Madiba said. I don’t do it often, but I’d say it’s not enough for us to protest; we’re going to have to build, we’re going to have to innovate, we’re going to have to figure out how do we close this widening chasm of wealth and opportunity both within countries and between them.” (Emphases added.)

“How we achieve this is going to vary country to country, and I know your new president is committed to rolling up his sleeves and trying to do so. But we can learn from the last 70 years that it will not involve unregulated, unbridled, unethical capitalism. It also won’t involve old-style command-and-control socialism form the top. That was tried; it didn’t work very well. For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based systemone that offers education for every child; that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses; and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business; that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security, and invests in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation.” (Emphases added.)

“You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, ‘Well, let me help out and let a few of the other folks – let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees, let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s okay. I can afford it.’ What an amazing gift to be able to help people, not just yourself.”

“It involves promoting an inclusive capitalism both within nations and between nations. And as we pursue, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals,[3] we have to get past the charity mindset. We’ve got to bring more resources to the forgotten pockets of the world through investment and entrepreneurship, because there is talent everywhere in the world if given an opportunity.”

“When it comes to the international system of commerce and trade, it’s legitimate for poorer countries to continue to seek access to wealthier markets. . . . It’s also proper for advanced economies like the United States to insist on reciprocity from nations like China that are no longer solely poor countries, to make sure that they’re providing access to their markets and that they stop taking intellectual property and hacking our servers.”

“While the outsourcing of jobs from north to south, from east to west, while a lot of that was a dominant trend in the late 20th century, the biggest challenge to workers in countries like mine today is technology. And the biggest challenge for your new president when we think about how we’re going to employ more people here is going to be also technology, because artificial intelligence is here and it is accelerating, and you’re going to have driverless cars, and you’re going to have more and more automated services, and that’s going to make the job of giving everybody work that is meaningful tougher, and we’re going to have to be more imaginative, and the pact of change is going to require us to do more fundamental reimagining of our social and political arrangements, to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job. It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. And so we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track. ‘

“Second, Madiba teaches us that some principles really are universal – and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.” (Emphasis added.)

 “Now, it’s surprising that we have to affirm this truth today: . . . that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect. . . . We’re seeing in this recent drift into reactionary politics, that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished. So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down. . . . we have to resist the notion that basic human rights like freedom to dissent, or the right of women to fully participate in the society, or the right of minorities to equal treatment, or the rights of people not to be beat up and jailed because of their sexual orientation . . .  [do not] apply to us, that those are Western ideas rather than universal imperatives.” (Emphasis added.)

“Again, Madiba, he anticipated things. He knew what he was talking about. In 1964, before he received the sentence that condemned him to die in prison, he explained from the dock that, ‘The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world.’ In other words, he didn’t say well, those books weren’t written by South Africans so I just – I can’t claim them. No, he said that’s part of my inheritance. That’s part of the human inheritance. That applies here in this country, to me, and to you. And that’s part of what gave him the moral authority that the apartheid regime could never claim, because he was more familiar with their best values than they were. He had read their documents more carefully than they had. And he went on to say, “Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another.”

“What was true then remains true today. Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian, and by the Mexican and by the Bantu and by the Luo and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion – that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common hopes and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people.” (Emphases added.)

Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. . . . people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of. Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work. It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I’m going to do it to you. That’s not justice. ‘I detest racialism,’ he said, ‘whether it comes from a black man or a white man.’” (Emphases added.)

“Now, we have to acknowledge that there is disorientation that comes from rapid change and modernization, and the fact that the world has shrunk, and we’re going to have to find ways to lessen the fears of those who feel threatened. In the West’s current debate around immigration, for example, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed; that in the public realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home. Those are legitimate things and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly. But that can’t be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, or ethnicity, or religion. There’s got to be some consistency. And we can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child. (Emphases added.)

“Third, Madiba reminds us that democracy is about more than just elections.” (Emphasis added.)

“When he was freed from prison, Madiba’s popularity – well, you couldn’t even measure it. He could have been president for life. Am I wrong? Who was going to run against him? I mean, Ramaphosa [the current South African president] was popular, but, . . . he was too young. Had he chose, Madiba could have governed by executive fiat, unconstrained by check and balances. But instead he helped guide South Africa through the drafting of a new Constitution, drawing from all the institutional practices and democratic ideals that had proven to be most sturdy, mindful of the fact that no single individual possesses a monopoly on wisdom. No individual – not Mandela, not Obama – [is]  entirely immune to the corrupting influences of absolute power, if you can do whatever you want and everyone’s too afraid to tell you when you’re making a mistake. No one is immune from the dangers of that.” (Emphasis added.)

“Mandela understood this. He said, ‘Democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. At the same time, democracy also requires the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded.’ He understood it’s not just about who has the most votes. It’s also about the civic culture that we build that makes democracy work.”

“So we have to stop pretending that countries that just hold an election where sometimes the winner somehow magically gets 90 percent of the vote because all the opposition is locked up or can’t get on TV, is a democracy. Democracy depends on strong institutions and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law.” (Emphasis added.)

“And yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. I know, I promise. But the efficiency that’s offered by an autocrat, that’s a false promise. Don’t take that one, because it leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse. For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around. And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.” (Emphasis added.)

“So for those of us who are interested in strengthening democracy, . . . it’s time for us to stop paying all of our attention to the world’s capitals and the centers of power and to start focusing more on the grassroots, because that’s where democratic legitimacy comes from. Not from the top down, not from abstract theories, not just from experts, but from the bottom up. Knowing the lives of those who are struggling.” (Emphasis added.)

“As a community organizer, I learned as much from a laid-off steel worker in Chicago or a single mom in a poor neighborhood that I visited as I learned from the finest economists in the Oval Office. Democracy means being in touch and in tune with life as it’s lived in our communities, and that’s what we should expect from our leaders, and it depends upon cultivating leaders at the grassroots who can help bring about change and implement it on the ground and can tell leaders in fancy buildings, this isn’t working down here.” (Emphases added.)

“To make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves . . . to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views.” (Emphasis added.)

“Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. . . . But democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you – because they’re white, or because they’re male – that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.” (Emphasis added.)

“Madiba, he lived this complexity. In prison, he studied Afrikaans so that he could better understand the people who were jailing him. And when he got out of prison, he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build. ‘To make peace with an enemy,’ he wrote, ‘one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.’”

“So those who traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy, whether it’s on the left or the right, they make democracy unworkable. You can’t expect to get 100 percent of what you want all the time; sometimes, you have to compromise. That doesn’t mean abandoning your principles, but instead it means holding on to those principles and then having the confidence that they’re going to stand up to a serious democratic debate. That’s how America’s Founders intended our system to work – that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.”  (Emphases added.)

“And I should add for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. . . . You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation. . . . I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords because, for example, they might say, well, it’s not going to work, you can’t get everybody to cooperate, or they might say it’s more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there’s more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries, that you can leapfrog old technologies. I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us it is.” (Emphases added.)

“Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they’d be like, ‘Oh man.’ Now they just keep on lying.” (Emphases added.)

We also see “the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. . . . the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation; and we have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people, not just blind obedience.” (Emphasis added.)

“My final point: we have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope.”

“It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the 90s, now you are hearing people talk about end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism.”

“Because, we’ve been through darker times, we’ve been in lower valleys and deeper valleys. Yes, by the end of his life, Madiba embodied the successful struggle for human rights, but the journey was not easy, it wasn’t pre-ordained. The man went to prison for almost three decades. He split limestone in the heat, he slept in a small cell, and was repeatedly put in solitary confinement. And I remember talking to some of his former colleagues saying how they hadn’t realized when they were released, just the sight of a child, the idea of holding a child, they had missed – it wasn’t something available to them, for decades.”

“And yet his power actually grew during those years – and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that if you stick to what’s true, if you know what’s in your heart, and you’re willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around, ultimately, the better story can win out and as strong as Madiba’s spirit may have been, he would not have sustained that hope had he been alone in the struggle, part of buoyed him up was that he knew that each year, the ranks of freedom fighters were replenishing, young men and women, here in South African, in the ANC and beyond; black and Indian and white, from across the countryside, across the continent, around the world, who in those most difficult days would keep working on behalf of his vision.” (Emphasis added.)

“What we need right now . . . is that collective spirit. And, I know that those young people, those hope carriers are gathering around the world. Because history shows that whenever progress is threatened, and the things we care about most are in question, we should heed the words of Robert Kennedy – spoken here in South Africa, he said, ‘Our answer is the world’s hope: it is to rely on youth. It’s to rely on the spirit of the young.’[4]

“So, young people, who are in the audience, who are listening, my message to you is simple, keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, ‘Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.’ Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up.”

“For those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today – about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body – we have an obligation to help our youth succeed. Some of you know, here in South Africa, my Foundation is convening over the last few days, two hundred young people from across this continent who are doing the hard work of making change in their communities; who reflect Madiba’s values, who are poised to lead the way.”

These young people “will give you hope. They are taking the baton, they know they can’t just rest on the accomplishments of the past, even the accomplishments of those as momentous as Nelson Mandela’s. They stand on the shoulders of those who came before, including that young black boy born 100 years ago, but they know that it is now their turn to do the work.”

“Madiba reminds us that: ‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.’ ’Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, ‘they kept the march going, that’s why we live under new banners of freedom.’”(emphasis added.)

Comments on the Lecture[5]

Various  journalists saw the speech, which did not mention President Trump by name, as “a sharp rebuke” of him. Here are some of comments in Obama’s  speech that support that  interpretation:

  • A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment . . .is now on the move. . . at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.”
  • “Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”
  • “The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.”
  • So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down.”
  • While it is “not wrong” to want to protect the country’s borders or expect that immigrants assimilate, it cannot ”be an excuse for immigration policies based on race or ethnicity or religion.”
  • “We can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child.”
  • “You can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage.. . . You’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. . . . people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up [show] that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of.”
  • For democracy to work “we have to actually believe in an objective reality. . . . You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation.
  • “Too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.. . . We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. . . . They just keep on lying.”
  • “We also see the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. . . . The denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation.”

Before the lecture, one of Obama’s aides, Benjamin Rhodes, said, that it was the former President’s “most important public address since leaving the White House in 2017. It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world.”

Rhodes added, “”At the current moment . . . , values that we thought were well-established — the importance of human rights, respect for diversity — in many parts of the world those values are under threat. Mandela’s life is an inspiring example of how we can overcome obstacles to promote inclusive democracy and an equitable society with tolerance of others.”

“In the U.S. and around the world, many see recent developments that run counter to Mandela’s legacy. This [was] a globally minded speech, highlighting global trends and focusing on how, in his life, Mandela embodied perseverance. It will be aimed at young people in Africa and also around the world to show that we have been through darker times before and we can overcome these challenges to keep Mandela’s vision alive.”

Conclusion

 As an admirer of Mandela[6] and Obama, I was thrilled to see and hear Obama deliver a lengthy and illuminating speech, especially his comments on the world’s current situation. Those words are challenges to everyone who values  knowledge, intelligence and  honesty about the many problems now facing the U.S. and the rest of the world. As he said, each of us has a responsibility to something to promote social justice. He also reminds us to have a better understanding of those who are adversely affected by the many changes in the world.

Obama’s lecture also made we wonder whether it would be possible for all of the living former presidents (Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Carter) to promulgate a joint statement about the need for every president to be informed about the serious issues and prudent in making decisions on these issues and about President Trump’s demonstrated incompetence as president.

These thoughts were reinforced by the recent comments of Bret Stephens, a New York Times conservative columnist. After admitting that he has supported “some of the [current] administration’s controversial foreign policy decisions,” he urges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton to resign because “Trump’s behavior in Helsinki is . . . another vivid reminder of his manifest unfitness for office. That’s true whether the behavior is best explained as a matter of moral turpitude or mental incompetence — of his eagerness to accept the word of a trained liar like Vladimir Putin over the consensus assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, or of his inability to speak coherently at a critical moment in his presidency. The president’s pathetic suggestion on Tuesday that he misspoke by failing to use a double negative also reminds that, knave or fool, he’s a congenital liar.”[7]

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[1] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Barack Obama to deliver the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture (April 23, 2018); Assoc. Press, Obama to Make Rare High-Profile Speech on Mandela’s Legacy, N.Y. Times (July 16, 2018); Nelson Mandela Foundation, Press release: Obama calls on the world to be Madiba’s Legacy (July 17, 2018).

[2] National Public Radio, Transcript: Obama’s Speech at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture (July 17, 2018); Read the Transcript of Obama’s Speech Defending Democracy, N.Y. Times (July 17, 2018).

[3] In September 2015 the U.N. General Assembly adopted the 17 Sustainable Developments Goals (and 169 targets) to transform the world by 2030 with respect to povertyhungerhealtheducationclimate changegenderequalitywater, sanitationenergyurbanizationenvironment and social justice. (Sustainable Development goals, Wikipedia.)

[4] See The Tragic Extinguishment of the Eloquence of Robert F. Kennedy, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 29, 2017).

[5] Haag, Obama Warns of ‘Strongman Politics’ After Trump’s Meeting with Putin, N.Y. Times (July 17, 2018); Meldrum (Assoc. Press), Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values, StarTribune (July 17, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Obama Notes Politicians’ ‘Utter Loss of Shame,’ N.Y. times (July 17, 2018); Wintour, Obama criticizes ‘strongman politics’ in a coded attack on Trump, Guardian (July 17, 2018).

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution (May 18, 2018); Nelson Mandel Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes (May 20, 2018); Celebrating the Rhodes Scholarships’ Centennial (June 21, 2011).

[7] Stephen, Resign, Mike Pompeo. Resign, John Bolton. N.Y. Times (July 19, 2018).

European Union To Fund 40 Million Euro Projects in Cuba

On May 15, the first  First Joint European Union (EU)-Cuba Council meeting  will take place in Brussels, Belgium to start the process for the EU providing 40 million Euros for projects in Cuba.[1]

The parties will sign their first Financial Agreement to establish the framework for the implementation of a bilateral program in the area of renewable energies for which the EU will contribute up to €18 million (U.S. $ 21.5 million). This will pave the way for a second Financial Agreement later in the year for a program in support of renewable energy and sustainable food security in Cuba, with an EU contribution of €19.65 million (U.S.$ 23.5 million).

These financial accords are the result of the  two parties’ Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA), most parts of which have been provisionally applied since last November 1. The PDCA defines general principles and objectives for the relationship between the EU and Cuba and provides the following framework for accompanying the reform process in Cuba:

  • “Political dialogue: addressing issues, such as human rights, small arms and disarmament, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, migration, drugs, fight against terrorism, sustainable development, etc.;
  • Cooperation and sector policy dialogue: including areas, such as governance, civil society, human rights, social and economic development, environment as well as regional cooperation;
  • Trade and trade cooperation: dealing with principles of international trade and covering cooperation on customs, trade facilitation, technical norms and standards, sustainable trade and investment.”

According to the EU, three high-level dialogues already have been held to exchange views on basic principles of human rights, to identify areas to cooperate or share best practices. The two parties also will launch dialogues focused on sustainable development, non-proliferation, arms control, and unilateral measures. The last will include the U.S. embargo on the Island.

The PDCA also  provides for the possibility of suspension in the event of a serious violation of human rights commitments.

Ramón Jáuregui, president of the Euro-Latin American Assembly (a transnational non-governmental body of 150 legislators from Europe and Latin America to improve their governments’ relations), said, “Cuba needs an economic opening, it needs cooperation, it needs energy, it needs investments, it needs to improve its GDP to improve the quality of life of Cubans. [The EU] “can be a loyal partner” of Havana with the agreement and “through this opening and this collaboration, [Cuba] will have no choice but to take successive democratic steps.”

Last month Sweden’s Minister of International Cooperation Isabella Lövin, told her Parliament that Cuba’s civil society and democratic movement have a legitimate role in the discussions on the implementation of the Association Agreement and Political Dialogue. [2]

The 28 EU countries are the main foreign investor in Cuba (mainly in the sectors of tourism or construction), according to the European Commission, which in 2017 had 471 million euros of imports of Cuban goods in 2017 (mostly agricultural products, beverages, tobacco and mineral fuels) 2,094 million euros of EU exports to the island.

Conclusion

The previously mentioned EU-Cuba conference in Belgium will take place the day before Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the latter session Cuba undoubtedly will raise its agreement with the EU for dialogues about human rights.

This EU-Cuba agreement on dialogue about human rights is similar to the human rights dialogues that were conducted by Cuba and the U.S. during the Obama Administration and that apparently are now suspended in the Trump Administration.[3]

It also is interesting that no report about the conference in Belgium was found in the major U.S. newspapers that cover foreign affairs (New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal) or in the major news organizations (Reuters and the Associated Press) for U.S. news organizations.

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[1]  EU External Action,  EU-Cuba relations, factsheet (May 7, 2018); Nearly 40 million euros for Havana, the first realization of the agreement with the European Union, Diario de Cuba (May 14, 2018); European Union declares to be ready for the First Joint European Union Council-Cuba, Granma (May 13, 2018); Cuban Foreign Minister will begin this Monday tour of Europe, Cubadebate (May 13, 2018). This blog has published posts about Eu-Cuba relations and agreements that are found in the “Cuba and Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaties–Topical: CUBA.

[2] Sweden admits that the implementation of the EU-Havana agreement must include the Cuban democratic movement, Diario de Cuba (April 27, 2018).

[3] The contrasting U.S. approaches to Cuba on human rights are covered in many posts in the following sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA: “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization)– 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017” and “U.S. (Trump) & Cuba, 2016-2017 and 2018.”

The Inauguration of Cuba’s New President, Miguel Díaz-Canel

On April 19, Miguel Diaz-Canel officially became Cuba’s new President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Born after the Revolution in 1960, he grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, about three hours from Havana, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life. After service in the Cuban military and a civilian mission to Nicaragua, he started work for the Communist Party of Cuba in 1993, and has advanced within the Party and the government to the position of First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers before his inauguration as President.[1]

President Díaz-Canel’s Inaugural Address

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, had the following introduction to the inaugural address: “On the morning of April 19, a historic date . . .  [which saw] the first defeat of Yankee imperialism [at the Bay of Pigs in 1961] . . . [and which now] . . . sees the inauguration of a new [Cuban] government that makes evident the continuity of the new generations with the legacy of the historic generation that founded the Cuban Revolution in the highest leadership positions of the country, compañero Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez,.”[2]

Below is a photograph of Díaz-Canel giving his speech.

Díaz-Canel began by recognizing the leadership of Army General Raúl Castro, the candidate for deputy to have received the most votes in the recent general elections; as well as the Comandante of the Revolution, “who on being in this room offers us the opportunity to embrace history.”

Díaz-Canel “also referred to the ‘dark attempts to destroy us’ of those who have not been able to destroy ‘our faith.’” (Emphasis added.)

With the inauguration of this new legislature, he emphasized, the electoral process comes to its conclusion. “The Cuban people, who have massively participated throughout, are conscious of its historic importance. They have elected their representatives based on their capacity to represent their localities, without media campaigns, corruption or demagoguery. Citizens have elected humble, hard-working people as their genuine representatives, who will participate in the approval and implementation of the country’s policies. This process has contributed to the consolidation of unity in Cuba.”

On the people’s expectations about this government, he stressed that the new Council of State must continue “acting, creating and working tirelessly, in a permanent bond with its dignified people.”

He also added that if anyone wanted to see Cuba in all its composition, it would be enough to look to its National Assembly, with women occupying decisive positions in the state and the government. However, he warned, it does not matter how much we resemble the country we are, if the commitment to the present and the future of Cuba is lacking. The raison d’être of the Councils of State and Ministers is the permanent link with the population.

Díaz-Canel pointed out that during the closing of the last Party Congress [in 2016], Army General Raúl Castro Ruz made it clear that his generation would hand over the flags of the Revolution and Socialism to the younger generations. This emphasizes the importance of the crucial mandate given by the people to this legislature, and as such its work in all areas of the nation’s life must be perfected.

“I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all we revolutionaries, from any trench, will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl, the current leader of the revolutionary process,” the new President of Cuba stated. (Emphasis added.)

He then stressed that the men and women who forged the revolution “give us the keys to a new fraternity that transforms us into compañeros and compañeras,” and highlighted, as another inherited achievement, the unity that has become indestructible within the Cuban Party, that was not born from the fragmentation of others, but from those who intended to build a better country.

For that reason, he said, “Raúl remains at the forefront of the political vanguard. He remains our First Secretary, as the reference that he is for the revolutionary cause, teaching and always ready to confront imperialism, like at the start, with his rifle at the ready in the moment of combat.” (Emphasis added.)

Regarding the revolutionary and political work of the Army General, he highlighted his legacy of resistance and in the search for the continued advancement of the nation. “He put his sense of duty ahead of human pain,” he said in reference to the loss of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016.

Likewise, he highlighted Raúl’s grandeur as a statesman, forming a national consensus, and the manner in which he led the implementation process of the country’s social and economic guidelines. He also highlighted how he had made the return of the Five Cuban Heroes [in December 2014] a reality, so longed-for by Fidel.

Raúl has marked Cuba’s international relations with his own spirit: he directed diplomatic relations with the United States; he led the rotating presidency of CELAC; Cuba’s hosting of the Colombian peace talks; and he has been present in all regional and hemispheric summits, always defending Our America. That is the Raúl we know, Díaz-Canel stressed.

The new Cuban President also recalled how the Army General, still very young, participated in the Granma expedition, undertook the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, was promoted to Comandante, and developed government experiences that would be applied in the country after the revolutionary triumph.

I am aware of the concerns and expectations at a moment like this, but I know the strength and wisdom of the people, the leadership of the Party, the ideas of Fidel, the presence of Raúl and Machado, and knowing the popular sentiment, I state before this Assembly that compañero Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.” (Emphasis added.)

I confirm that Cuban foreign policy will remain unchanged. Cuba will not accept conditions. The changes that are necessary will continue to be made by the Cuban people.” (Emphasis added.)

He also called for the support of all those who occupy leadership responsibilities at different levels in the nation, but, above all, of the people. “We will have to exercise an increasingly collective leadership. Strengthening the participation of the people.”

“I do not come to promise anything, as the Revolution never has in all these years. I come to fulfill the program that we have implemented with the guidelines of Socialism and the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)

And as for the enemies of the revolutionary process, he said: “Here there is no space for a transition that ignores or destroys the work of the Revolution. We will continue moving forward without fear and without retreat; without renouncing our sovereignty, independence and development programs.”

“To those who through ignorance or bad faith doubt our commitment, we must tell them that the Revolution continues and will continue. The world has received the wrong message that the Revolution ends with its guerrillas.” (Emphasis added.)

Former President Raúl Castro’s Response

 Immediately after the inaugural address, Raúl Castro, the former President and still the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, closed the second plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power [Cuba’s national legislature], with the following remarks:[3] Below is a photograph of Castro during his speech.

Castro recalled the victory of Cuba during the mercenary invasion of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs]. “That moment was of great importance, especially when Fidel declared the socialist nature of the Revolution, he said.”

“He also pointed out the opportunity of recognizing the work carried out by the electoral commissions and of candidates to all the instances, as well as of the set of institutions that collaborated for the good performance of the elections. He also congratulated the elections of the National Assembly to the State Council of the country.”

Castro  “said that Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez had worked as an engineer, and his work as an officer of the FAR. Then he was proposed as a professional cadre of the Union of Young Communists, from where he gradually rose to achieve his promotion as a Professional Party cadre.”

He pointed out that Díaz-Canel, during the [most acute phase of the] Special Period “was a member of the Provincial Party Committee in Villa Clara, where he spent nine years. Then he spent six years in Holguín. “He was born in Villa Clara, where he was quiet, because it was a territory he knew well; and it was after that that he was sent to one of the great provinces of the east, Holguin, as we did with more than a dozen young people, most of whom came to the Political Bureau, but who failed to be promoted. He was the only survivor.

Castro also stressed that Díaz-Canel had been a member of the Central Committee since 1991 and was promoted to the Political Bureau 15 years ago. He fulfilled a mission in Nicaragua and graduated from the National Defense College. In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Education. Five years ago he was elected First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers; and since then “a group of members of the Political Bureau had the feeling that we had hit the nail on the head,” referring to Díaz’s ability to assume the presidency. He was responsible in the ideological sphere of the Central Committee of the Party.

Raul pointed out that the election of Diaz-Canel is not a coincidence “because of his preparation he is the best and we know that because of his dedication he will have absolute success in the task entrusted to him by our supreme body of ‘Popular Power.” (Emphasis added.)

Comrade Díaz-Canel over the years he has demonstrated work capacity, ideological solidity and commitment to the Revolution.

The National Assembly of Popular Power has 42% new members and a female representation of 48.4%. Castro emphasized that women, young people and people of color occupy decision-making positions in the life of the nation.

“It is up to the Party, the State and the Government to fulfill and enforce, with due intentionality, the promotion of young people, women and mestizos, to posts that guarantee the renewal of the revolution.

He welcomed the ratification of the presidency of the National Assembly, and the proposal of Diaz-Canel, as allowed by the Constitution, so that the Council of Ministers will be made known at the next session of the Assembly, which will take place in July, because that it will allow for a prudent time for the movements of paintings to be made.

I will continue to serve as Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC, in what is my second and last mandate, which ends in 2021, when we will complete the transfer to the new generations. From then on, I will be one more soldier with the people defending this Revolution. So that there is not the slightest doubt, I want to emphasize that the PCC, in the figure of its First Secretary, will continue supporting the [new] president.” (Emphases added.)

Regarding the new generations, he warned that one of the permanent bets of the enemy is to penetrate, confuse and alienate youth from the ideals of the work and the revolutionary culture leading them instead towards disengagement towards ethics, solidarity and the sense of duty.

Castro said that in the next constitution there will be no changes in the strategic objective of the Party, which our people will support as in 1976, when Cubans voted in favor of the current constitution with 98% support.

He pointed out that in the Plenary Session of the Central Committee held in March of this year, the economic and social status of the nation was analyzed. The new constitution has lagged behind us, he clarified, because the country’s main problems are not resolved, because the participation of the organisms from the base was not achieved for the adequate implementation of the adopted policies.

We never had any illusions that it would be a short and easy process, because its dimensions reached all sectors of society, and we had to overcome egalitarianism and its negative consequences in the national economy, he added.

In the case of the socioeconomic context of the nation, Castro assured that the experiment of the non-agricultural cooperatives will continue and with respect to the monetary duality he said that he continues to give serious headaches, as well as the need for wage reform. He also emphasized the need for a coherent communication policy. (Emphasis added.)

He also recalled the difficult circumstances in which the country’s economy had to develop, and the considerable damages caused by the intense drought of the last 3 years and the recent hurricanes that affected most of the country. (Emphasis added.)

With regard to foreign debt, he stressed that a renegotiation has been carried out, which has helped to free the new generations of a sword of Damocles and the consequent restitution of the credit prestige of the country. The Army General congratulated the Minister of Economy, Ricardo Cabrisas, on his performance in that process.

He also made a call to save resources, claiming that we usually ask for too much, so we have to plan better.

“Defend unity, resist and resist, that is the duty of revolutionaries,” he said.

Regarding foreign policy issues, said the recent Summit of the Americas  was marked by the neo-hegemonic attitude of the United States, whose commitment to the Monroe Doctrine was ratified, especially with the exclusion of Venezuela from that international event. (Emphasis added.)

It was known that they would set up a show, and Cuba went to Lima with its own right and its head high, which confirms the determination of the Cubans to defend their principles and their values. The Cuban delegation, together with that of Bolivia and other countries, prevented a single front against Venezuela. The interventions of our foreign minister, on behalf of the government and Cuban people, constituted a worthy response against the contents of the interventionist speech of the Vice President of the United States, Raul said. (Emphasis added.)

“The members of civil society defended the voice of Cuba and the peoples of America with vigor. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the members of the Cuban delegation that participated in this event, “he said.

The Army General stressed Cuba’s commitment to ALBA because we are the world’s region of greatest inequality in the distribution of wealth, and the gap between rich and poor is huge and growing despite the efforts made in the past decades, when Progressive governments pushed for policies to mitigate this evil, he said.

He rejected accusations of human rights violations in Cuba. He highlighted diplomatic relations with the European Union and the progress of ties with China. (Emphasis added.)

“In just 11 days our people will march together united by our streets and squares commemorating the International Labor Day and showing the majority support of the Cubans to the Party and its Revolution.

Conclusion

As anticipated, these comments by Díaz-Canel and Castro demonstrate a collective intention to continue Cuba’s current direction, domestically and internationally. Their mutual admiration is shown in the photograph below.

In another post we will look at U.S. reaction to the change in Cuba leadership. Some of that reaction was recorded before the actual inaugural of Díaz-Canel.

 

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[1] Ahmed & Robles, Who Is Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s New President? N.Y. Times (April 19, 2018); Cordoba, After 59 Years, a Castro Is No Longer Official Leader of Cuba, W.S.J. (April 19, 2018).

[2] Miguel Díaz-Canel: I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all the revolutionaries will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl (+Video), Granma (April 19, 2018).

[3] Raúl Castro: The Communist Party will continue to support the new President, Granma (April 19, 2018).

 

Upcoming Cuba Issues for Trump Administration

On April 13-14, President Donald Trump will attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, and on April 19 Cuba’s national legislature will elect a new President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. Both of these events will require Trump to comment on U.S. policies regarding Cuba, and already U.S. forces are proposing responses.

 Summit of the Americas

Because of U.S. opposition, Cuba was not included in the first six such summits, 1994-2012, but in October 2014, the major countries of Latin America let it be known that Cuba no longer could be excluded from the next summit in April 2015. Therefore, when President Obama on December 17, 2014, announced that the U.S. and Cuba had agreed to commence a process of normalization, the U.S. abandoned its opposition to the inclusion of Cuba in such Summits. As a result, in April 2015 Cuba was included in the seventh such summit in Panama and Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro held a cordial meeting on that occasion.[1]

This year will be the eighth such summit, which are institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced in the Americas. This year’s theme is Democratic Governance Against Corruption.[2]

On March 9, the White House announced that President Trump will attend the eighth Summit, where he likely will be met by hostile reactions to his Cuba policies as well as his anti-immigrant statements, proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and tariff and other anti-free trade proposals and rhetoric.[3]

According to Ben Raderstorf, a program associate in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program, President Trump “comes to the summit meeting with considerable baggage, making the risks far greater. His participation may even end up being counterproductive to the meeting’s primary aims of furthering human rights, democracy and inter-American diplomacy.” Therefore, he and his administration need “to understand that America’s credibility in Latin America is extraordinarily low. [Mr. Trump’s] rhetoric about ‘drugs,’ ‘rapists’ and ‘the wall” ‘has clearly resonated south of the border.” As a result, only “16 percent of Latin Americans approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance — a rate even lower than his approval rating among Latinos in the United States.”[4]

Mr. Raderstorf concludes by recommending that Trump “follow three simple guidelines: Listen first. Talk softly. And do your homework.” Will Trump be able to do that? We may be doubtful, but let us wait and find out.

This analysis is confirmed by other countries in the Western Hemisphere having begun “forging closer commercial ties with one another and paring back some of their own protectionist policies” and creating “a free trade area reaching from Canada to Chile.” At the same time these governments “are increasingly looking to Asia, and China in particular, to expand trade, obtain loans and finance infrastructure projects” while “Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union.”[5]

Election of New President of Cuba

On March 11, over 8 million Cubans voted to elect 605 deputies for their national legislature (National Assembly of Peoples Power), and on April 19 those deputies will elected the country’s next President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. The widely assumed choice for this office is Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is now the First Vice President of Cuba.[6]

On March 9, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives (Ron DeSantis, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Yoho) sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”[7]

The letter added, this upcoming election is “a predetermined, charade election orchestrated by regime officials will continue the dictatorship” and “yet another example of the regime’s dictatorial repression of fundamental freedoms which must not be recognized by those who value freedom and democracy.”

The U.S. response to this request by Senator Rubio and others may have been signaled by the comments of the U.S. representative last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland that were quoted in a prior post: “We condemn the undemocratic electoral process in which the Cuban people cannot freely choose their future leaders.”

Conclusion

Any U.S. criticism of the Cuban process for electing its president of the Council of State seems particularly inappropriate. As we well know from the 2016 U.S. presidential election, U.S. citizens do not directly elect the U.S. president; instead they elect individuals to be members of the Electoral College who then elect the president. The 2016 election also is now under investigation for illegal interference by Russia, and the U.S. system is under constant legal challenge for the gerrymandering of congressional districts and for state laws that are designed to suppress voting instead of their purported purpose of preventing fraudulent voting.

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[1] See the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Continued Bad News About U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Oct. 9, 2014); Comment: U.S. Now Willing To Accept Cuba at Summit of the Americas? (Oct. 9, 2014); U.S. Clarifies Positions on Cuba and Venezuela in Preparation for Summit of the Americas (April 8, 2015); Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama (April 9, 2015); President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 16, 2015); Cuban President Raúl Castro’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 17, 2015); Presidents Obama and Castro’s Meeting at the Summit of the Americas (April 18, 2015); Other Remarks by President Obama at the Seventh Summit of the Americas (April 19, 2015).

[2] OAS, Summits of the Americas.

[3] Assoc. Press, Trump to Attend Summit of the Americas Meeting in Peru, N.Y. Times (Mar. 9, 2018).

[4] Raderstorf, Can Trump Succeed at the Summit of the Americas?, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2018).

[5] Londoño, Darlington & Politi, ‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2018).

[6] Reinaldo, Rubio & Perez, Elections in Cuba: Elected 605 deputies to the National Assembly (+Infographics and Video), CubaDebate (Mar. 12, 2018); Cuba’s Elections, 2017-2018, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 29, 2017); Another Perspective on Cuba’s Current Elections, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 5, 2017).

[7] Press Release, Rubio, DeSantis Urge President Trump to Denounce Castro Successor (Mar. 9, 2018).

 

 

Cuba and the European Union Strengthen Their Relationship

In early January, Federica Mogherini, the  High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, conducted an official visit to Cuba to celebrate and solidify the EU’s relationship with Cuba. The visit included her Magisterial  Lecture at the San Gerónimo School in Havana; meetings with President Raúl Castro, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials; and a concluding press conference.[1]

This visit followed the two parties December 12, 2016, signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement and its July 5, 2017, ratification by the European Parliament and the entry into effect of most of its provisions on November 1, 2017. [2] Its main chapters concern the following:

  • Political dialogue, addressing issues, such as human rights, small arms and disarmament, migration, drugs, fight against terrorism and sustainable development;
  • Cooperation and sector policy dialogue, including areas, such as human rights, governance, civil society, social and economic development, environment as well as regional cooperation;
  • Trade and trade cooperation, dealing with principles of international trade and covering cooperation on customs, trade facilitation, technical norms and standards, sustainable trade and investment.

Magisterial Lecture: “The EU and Latin America”[3]

 

Mogherini at San Gerónimo School 

Agreement approved in December 2016 : “With the new political dialogue agreement, we have the opportunity to elevate our relations to a level that truly represents the close historical, economic and cultural ties that unite Europe with Cuba. This agreement opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments and to promote common solutions to global challenges such as migration, the fight against terrorism, nuclear disarmament and climate change. One example is the new cooperation program to promote the use of renewable energies that we are going to start with Cuba, especially in rural and isolated areas.

Move forward with Cuba: “Even in the most difficult moments of our common history, European and Cuban citizens have never turned their backs on each other. There are so many things that unite us, so many common values, that’s why we know well that the best way to accompany the updating of Cuba’s system is with commitment and dialogue. We want to continue moving forward with Cuba and work for a better future. ”

Strong rejection of the U.S. embargo (blockade) : “The blockade is not the solution. We have said this to our American friends many times and we have affirmed it repeatedly in the United Nations. The only effect of the blockade is to worsen the quality of life of Cuban women, men and children. The blockade is obsolete, illegal and the EU will continue working to put an end to it.”

Influence of Cuba and the EU in the world: “Experiences teach us that if the European Union and Cuba work together we can have a positive influence around the world. Together we have worked in favor of peace in Colombia, in the fight against Ebola in Africa, in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and in pursuit of achieving the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda. ”

Response to Hurricane Irma:  “The assistance and support of the Cuban government to the victims of the hurricane were effective and professional, evacuating almost two million inhabitants to protect their lives. Europeans have contributed a humanitarian package to support the Caribbean countries, including nine million euros. We are facilitating monetary aid to contribute with shelter, food and tools to repair houses in the most affected areas of Cuba such as Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey. With these resources we are also helping to recover affected agricultural areas.”

Strengthen the Cuba-EU dialogue on human rights: “We are working to formalize the dialogue between Cuba and Europe on human rights, which began in 2015. Although there are some differences in our respective positions, the openness and willingness to dialogue are always present.”

Common objectives: “The EU and Cuba may be geographically distant, but we have many things in common, not all, but many. We both believe in international collaboration and solidarity, we believe in the power of mediation and dialogue to solve all types of disputes. We believe that the only alternative to the current international disorder is a more cooperative, fairer and more united world order based on multilateralism and the United Nations system. We believe that sustainable development is the great challenge of this century and that the fight against inequalities throughout the world has a direct effect on our own security.”

The Cuban people have not and will not be alone in facing “those who want to build walls and close doors. Regardless of the changes in policy in Washington, the message I am bringing here is that Cuba’s friendship and relationship with the EU is here to stay. It’s solid, it’s stable and it’s reliable.”

Press Conference[4]

Mogherini opened by referring to the EU-Cuba”agreement of political dialogue and cooperation, which is the first legal agreement ever signed between the parties. We have raised our relationships to a new level. The EU is already the first commercial partner, the first investor, and the first partner for the development of Cuba. This agreement now opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments, and to promote solutions to global challenges such as immigration and climate change.”

“We will soon sign a new cooperation program for the use of renewable energies worth 18mn (Euros), another for sustainable agriculture of 21 million (Euros), and we will increase and expand the program of cultural exchanges and experts for 10 million (Euros).”

On February 28 in Brussels she and Foreign Minister Rodriguez will preside over the first joint council to discuss how we can further advance our cooperation in concrete projects.

“We are also working to formalize the dialogue between the EU and Cuba on human rights, a dialogue that we maintain in more than 40 countries. Our dialogue with Cuba on human rights began in 2015, and since then, this dialogue has allowed us to address the human rights situation both in Europe and in Cuba. There are differences in our respective visions, but openness and willingness to dialogue are always present within mutual respect.”

“We also have  agreed to intensify our cooperation in the area of ​​culture, in particular in 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage and with a view to the year 2019 when the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana will be celebrated. Our participation as a European Union is also planned at the book fair and there will be a new edition of the European film festival in June.”

Mogherini said that the EU is a “predictable and solid” partner that can help Cuba manage a political transition and slow, halting economic opening.”We are consistent and we do not have unpredictability in our policies, or sudden shifts,” in an obvious reference to President Trump’s reversal of some elements of President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba.

The EU has a consolidated opposition to the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. “The foreign policy priorities and orientations of the EU are autonomous, independent. They are decided in Brussels by the 28 Member States, with the participation of the European Parliament that has supported the finalization of the agreement we have now with Cuba, and we follow our path.”

“We regret that the current U.S. administration has apparently changed policy towards Cuba. We are convinced – as we were one year ago and as we were two years ago, that it is in our European interest; it is in the Cuban interest and it is in the international interest at large, to have relations, to discuss issues of disagreement and to deepen and extend cooperation or partnership on issues that are of mutual interest. For instance, I mentioned climate change, migration which are issues on which the Sustainable Development Goals, the ONE agenda, on which we believe the European Union and Cuba can work well together and we remain convinced of that.”

“A delegation from the European Investment Bank is going to visit Cuba at the end of January to explore possibilities for working together.”

“The world is appreciating, in this moment, the value of having the EU as a solid, reliable, predictable partner. We have differences, but you can always know what to expect from the EU. We are consistent, we do not have unpredictability in our policies or sudden shifts.  The process we have launched two years ago of discussing, negotiating an agreement, was leading in a very solid manner to the signature of the agreement, the provisional entry into force of the agreement, the proceeding of ratifications. The might take time to decide but once it is decided it’s solid and there is no element of unpredictability.”

Conclusion

Mogherini expressed what every reasonable person should desire in every relationship, personal and international. The Trump Administration  hostile actions and rhetoric against Cuba has provided opportunities for the EU and other nations to expand their connections and relationship with Cuba comes at the expense of the U.S. economic and national interest.

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[1] Reuters, European Union Diplomat Visits Cuba to Strengthen Ties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 3, 2018); EU is interested in increasing economic operations with Cuba, says Mogherini, CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018); High representative of the European Union today begins an official visit to Cuba, Cubadebate (Jan. 3, 2018); Mogherini says the EU wants to strengthen economic and business cooperation with Havana, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 3, 2018); Concepción & Pérez, Federica Mogherini in Cuba: “The real strength lies in dialogue and cooperation,” CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018); Raúl receives European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Granma (Jan. 5, 2018); Raúl received Federica Mogherini, CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018); Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla receives High Representative of the European Union (+ Video), CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018).

[2] EU, EU-Cuba relations, factsheet Previous posts about the EU-Cuba relationship are listed in the “Cuba & Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Mogherini: the blockade is not the solution, Granma (Jan. 4, 2018); Federica Mogherini in Cuba: “the real strength lies in dialogue and cooperation,” CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018).

[4] Reuters, EU Presents Itself as Ally of Cuba in Face of US Hostility, N.Y. Times (Jan. 4, 2018); Remarks by High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini at the press conference during her visit to Cuba, EU External Action (Jan. 4, 2018); Mogherini: The EU has become Havana’s main trading partner, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 5, 2018); Federica Mogherini: “Cuba and the European Union have raised their relations to a new level,” CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018).

 

 

Professor LeoGrande’s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship    

A prior post discussed President Trump’s hostility towards Cuba as providing greater opportunities for Russia’s enhancing its relationship with Cuba. Now American University Professor William LeoGrande, a noted scholar about Cuba, placed the recent expansion of Cuba-Russia economic deals in a broader perspective.[1]

He says their rapprochement began in 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president and began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . . That was followed by Raul Castro’s 2009 visit to Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“

Five years later, observes LeoGrande, “in July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments. By the time Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”

In another pre-Trump deal, “in September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.”

Beyond these expanded economic ties, LeoGrande emphasizes, “As Putin tries to restore Russia’s status as a global power, Cuba is an attractive partner right at the doorstep of the [U.S.]. A Russian presence in Cuba is a reminder to Washington that Moscow will respond in kind to the expansion of U.S. influence into Russia’s ‘near abroad’ in places like Ukraine. For Cuba, a closer relationship with Moscow serves as a counterweight to Washington’s renewed hostility under President Donald Trump.”

“Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”

The major obstacle to a more robust Cuba-Russia relationship is Cuba’s persistent lack of funds due to few goods for export and its dependence on tourism, remittances  and export of medical services to try to make up the difference.

Conclusion

LeoGrande’s comments re-emphasize for this blogger the utter stupidity from the standpoint of U.S. national security and economic interests of the Trump Administration’s hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba. The same lesson should also be evident from the European Union’s strengthening ties with Cuba symbolized by the visit to the island starting today by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, that will be discussed in a future post.

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[1] LeoGrande, Cuba Looks More to Russia as the Prospects for Better U.S. Ties Fade Under Trump, World Politics Review (Jan. 2, 2018).

U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro

The November 25th death of Fidel Castro has prompted comments from President-Elect Donald Trump and his aides, the Obama Administration, U.S. Senators and Representatives, U.S. editorial boards and columnists and U.S. business interests and others. All of this has fueled speculation about the future Trump Administration’s policies regarding Cuba. These topics will be explored in this post along with this blogger’s observations.

President-Elect Trump and His Aides[1]

On Saturday morning after Castro’s death the previous night, Donald Trump tweeted, “Fidel Castro is dead!” Later that same day he issued this statement:”Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on Saturday voiced a similar reaction in a tweet: “The tyrant Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”

On November 28, Trump issued another tweet on the subject. He said, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

These comments were corroborated by Trump’s top aides.

On Sunday, November 27, two of the aides said that Trump would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said the president-elect “absolutely” would reverse Mr. Obama’s policies if he didn’t get what he wanted from Cuba. “We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the [U.S.] without some changes in their government. Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners—these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what president-elect Trump believes, and that’s where he’s going to head.” Similar comments were made the same day by Trump’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway.

On Monday, November 28, Trump spokesman Jason Miller gave this more nuanced statement to reporters: “Clearly, Cuba is a very complex topic, and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities regarding the challenges that the island and the Cuban people face. This has been an important issue, and it will continue to be one. Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

The Obama Administration[2]

President Barack Obama’s statement extended the U.S. “hand of friendship to the Cuban people” and stated that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” According to the President, Cubans “will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner” in America.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a similar positive statement. He extended “our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro. Over more than half a century, he played an outsized role in their lives, and he influenced the direction of regional, even global affairs. As our two countries continue to move forward on the process of normalization — restoring the economic, diplomatic and cultural ties severed by a troubled past — we do so in a spirit of friendship and with an earnest desire not to ignore history but to write a new and better future for our two peoples.”

On November 28 White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to several questions about Cuba and Castro’s death. Here are a few of those responses:

  • For the U.S., “I wouldn’t expect any impact [of Castro’s death] on the kind of progress that we’re committed to making on our end to begin to normalize relations with Cuba.”
  • “[W]e have seen . . . greater freedom for American citizens to visit Cuba, to send money to family members in Cuba, to engage in business and seek business opportunities in Cuba.  It also enhanced the ability of the [U.S.] government to maintain an embassy in Cuba where U.S. officials can more effectively not just engage with government officials in Cuba but also those activists in civil society that are fighting for greater freedoms. . . . They also facilitate the kind of people-to-people ties that we believe will be more effective in bringing freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people, something that they have long sought and been denied by the Cuban government.  And after five decades of not seeing any results, the President believed it was time to see something different. . . . [We] clearly haven’t seen all the results that we would like to see, but we’re pleased with the progress.”
  • Castro “obviously is a towering figure who had a profound impact on the history of not just his country but the Western Hemisphere.  There certainly is no whitewashing the kinds of activities that he ordered and that his government presided over that go against the very values that . . . our country has long defended.”
  • “[T]here is no doubt that we would like to see the Cuban government do more [on human rights], but this policy has not even been in place for two years.  But we certainly have enjoyed more benefits than was enjoyed under the previous policy that was in place for more than 50 years and didn’t bring about the kinds of benefits or the kinds of progress that we would like to see.”
  • “[T]hose Cuban citizens that do work in industries, like cab drivers or working in restaurants, even Airbnb owners, are benefitting from the enhanced economic activity between Cuban citizens and American citizens who are visiting Cuba.  They are paid at a higher rate, and they’re enjoying more economic activity than they otherwise would because of this policy to normalize relations with Cuba. . . . [T]here is a growing entrepreneurial sector inside of Cuba that is benefitting from greater engagement with the United States.  That’s a good thing, and that is a benefit that is enjoyed by the Cuban people directly.”
  • “[T]here certainly is no denying the kind of violence that occurred in Cuba under the watch of the Castro regime.  There has been no effort to whitewash the history, either the history between the United States and Cuba or the history of what transpired in Cuba while Mr. Castro was leading the country.”
  • “That’s why upwards of 90 percent of the Cuban people actually support this policy and they welcome the greater engagement with the United States.  They welcome the increased remittances that are provided Cuban-Americans to family members in Cuba.  They welcome the increase in travel by American citizens to Cuba.  There’s a lot to offer.  And the Cuban people certainly benefit from that kind of greater engagement.  And that’s why the President has pursued this policy.”
  • The U.S. “relationship with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Latin America, is as strong as it’s been in generations. And all of that would be undone by the reinstitution of a policy that has failed after having been in place for more than five decades.”

The next day, November 28, Press Secretary Ernest announced that the U.S. will not send a formal delegation to Cuba to attend the Castro funeral but instead will dispatch a top White House aide and a principal Cuba-normalization negotiator, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to be joined by , the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

U.S. Senators and Representatives[3]

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated, Under Fidel Castro’s brutal and oppressive dictatorship, the Cuban people have suffered politically and economically for decades, and it is my hope that his passing might turn the page toward a better way of life for the many who have dreamed of a better future for their country. Subsequently after meeting with Mr. Trump about a possible appointment as Secretary of State, Corker said Mr. Trump’s “instincts on foreign policy are obviously very, very good.”

The Ranking Member of that committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), said, “The news of Fidel Castro’s death brings with it an opportunity to close the deep divisions that have been suffered by Cuban society and by Cuban Americans in the U.S.  For Castro’s purported goals of social and economic development to be attained, it is now time for a half-century of authoritarian rule to give way to the restoration of democracy and the reform of a system the has denied Cuba’s citizens their basic human rights and individuals freedoms. As the United States awaits a new Administration, we must continue our partnership with the Cuban people as they seek to build a more hopeful future for their country.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American and Republican presidential candidate this year, said in a statement: “Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not…The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.” Senator Bob Menendez (Dem., N.J.), a Cuban-American who has opposed Mr. Obama’s policy, issued a similar statement.

Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), who has supported normalization and is the lead author of a Senate bill to end the embargo, merely said, “Fidel Castro’s death follows more than a half century of brutal repression and misery. The Cuban people deserve better in the years ahead.”

Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.), the author of a Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of the island, said the following: “Passing my bill with Republican Senator Jeff Flake to lift the trade embargo with Cuba would create jobs and increase exports for American farmers and businesses, and it could create unprecedented opportunity for the Cuban people. For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future. The Cuban and American people are ahead of their governments in terms of wanting to see change. We need to seize this opportunity and lift the trade embargo.”

Minnesota’s other Senator, Al Franken (Dem.) said that, in the wake of Castro’s death, he hopes the Obama administration’s work to repair relations with the island nation is upheld by a new administration. “Over the past few years, we’ve made important strides to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, and now I urge the country’s leadership to put a strong focus on improving human rights and democracy.”

On the House side, one of Minnesota’s Republican representative and an author of a bill to end the embargo, Tom Emmer, said that Congress should seize the opportunity to “assist in the transition to a democracy and market economy” in Cuba and denounced “isolation and exclusion.” He added, “The passing of Fidel Castro is yet another reminder that a new day is dawning in Cuba. As the remaining vestiges of the Cold War continue to fade, the United States has a chance to help usher in a new Cuba; a Cuba where every citizen has the rights, freedom and opportunity they deserve.”

The statement from the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (Rep., WI), stated, “Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros.”

U.S. Editorial Boards and Columnists[4]

The New York Times’ editorial opposed any retreat from normalization. It said such a move would be “extremely shortsighted.” The new process of normalization, it says, “has helped establish conditions for ordinary Cubans to have greater autonomy in a society long run as a police state. It has also enabled Cuban-Americans to play a larger role in shaping the nation’s future, primarily by providing capital for the island’s nascent private sector. While the Cuban government and the Obama White House continue to have profound disagreements on issues such as human rights, the two governments have established a robust bilateral agenda that includes cooperation on environmental policy, maritime issues, migration, organized crime and responses to pandemics. These hard-won diplomatic achievements have benefited both sides.”

 If, on the other hand, said the Times, the normalization process is abandoned, U.S.-Cuba “cooperation is likely to wane. That would only embolden hard-liners in the Cuban regime who are leery of mending ties with the United States and are committed to maintaining Cuba as a repressive socialist bulwark. In Mr. Trump, they may find the ideal foil to stoke nationalism among Cubans who are fiercely protective of their nation’s sovereignty and right to self-determination.”

The editorial from the Washington Post, while criticizing some aspects of President Obama’s opening to Cuba, stated U.S. policy should “align itself with the hopes of ordinary Cubans and the legitimate demands of the island’s pro-democracy movements. That does not necessarily mean reversing the renewal of diplomatic relations and relaxed restrictions on the movement of people and goods; most Cubans still want that. But it should mean that official exchanges with the regime, and any concessions that benefit it, should be tied to tangible reforms that benefit the public: greater Internet access, expansion of space for private business and tolerance of critical speech and assembly by such groups as the Ladies in White.”

Conservative columnists and commentators welcomed Fidel’s death. George Will hoped, if not reasonably expected, “to have seen the last of charismatic totalitarians worshiped by political pilgrims from open societies. Experience suggests there will always be tyranny tourists in flight from what they consider the boring banality of bourgeois society and eager for the excitement of sojourns in ‘progressive’ despotisms that they are free to admire and then leave. Carlos Eire, a Cuban exile, author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, suggested a 13-point negative epitaph for Fidel’s tomb. The first point was: ”He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.” The last point was this: “He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.”

Another Washington Post columnist, Kathleen Parker, agreed that Fidel was a terrible dictator, but argued that Mr. Trump “should understand that Fidel Castro loved the embargo more than anyone because, as ever, he could blame the [U.S.] for his failures. For Trump to fall into this same trap [by keeping the embargo] would be a postmortem gift to Castro and breathe new life into a cruel legacy — the dictator’s final triumph over the [U.S.] and the several American presidents who could never quite bury him.”

U.S. Business Interests and Others[5]

Important interests that typically are regarded as important by Republicans are arguing against any retreats from the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of Cuba relations

First, many U.S. companies are now deeply invested in Cuba under the current administration’s policy. These companies include major airlines, hotel operators and technology providers, while big U.S. phone carriers have signed roaming agreements on the island. “I think the American business community would be strongly opposed to rolling back President Obama’s changes, and strongly in favor of continuing the path toward normalization of economic and diplomatic relations,” said Jake Colvin, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Second, the U.S. farming industry is strongly supportive of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. For example, Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, does not want the next administration to take any steps that would put U.S. farmers at a further disadvantage in the Cuban market. “Every other country in the world has diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, and what we don’t want to do is lose that market share to the European Union, Brazil, Argentina.” Mr. Paap added that U.S. market share in Cuba has decreased in recent years as other countries are able to provide better financing.

But agricultural producers across the country, from rice producers in Louisiana to Northwest apple farmers to Kansas wheat growers have pushed for more, including lifting a ban prohibiting Cuba from buying American agricultural goods with U.S. credit.

Cuba’s wheat consumption is about 50 million barrels a year, said Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs at the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Although not a huge market, “it’s right off the coast and it would be extremely easy for us to deliver our product.” “It is something that Kansas farmers are extremely interested in,” Heady said. “In a world of extremely depressed commodity prices, especially wheat, 50 million bushels looks extremely good right now.”

Republican governors from Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere have led trade delegations to Cuba, along with their state farm bureaus and chambers of commerce.

A U.S. journalist with extensive experience with Cuba, Nick Miroff, echoed these thoughts. He said, “A return to more hostile [U.S.-Cuba] relations . . . could also bring a new crackdown in Cuba and further slow the pace of Raúl Castro’s modest liberalization  measures at a time of stalling economic growth. Hard-liners in Cuba’s Communist Party would gladly take the country back to a simpler time, when the antagonism of the United States — not the failure of government policies — was to blame for the island’s problems, and the threat of attack, real or imagined, was used to justify authoritarian political control.’

Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report, any U.S. abandonment of normalization with Cuba “could drive a new wedge between Washington and Latin America . . . not only by leftist allies of Cuba like Venezuela and Bolivia but also by conservative governments in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia. It would also likely complicate regional cooperation on a range of issues, from immigration to security and anti-drug efforts.”

In Miami, many of the island’s exiles and their children and grandchildren took to the streets, banging pots and pans, waving American and Cuban flags, and celebrating in Spanish: “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

Meanwhile in faraway Minnesota, even though it has relatively few Cuban exiles, celebrated its Cuban connections. They range from festivals and restaurants in the Twin Cities that preserve and highlight Cuban culture. Its politicians in Washington, D.C. have been leaders in efforts to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, citing the potential for economic and political advancements and job growth. Christian communities in Minnesota also value their religious and moral obligations to Cubans. Cuba’s expanded Mariel Port could carry Minnesota-made goods. Other Minnesota-based companies, including Sun Country Airlines, Radisson Hotels and Cargill, could benefit from lifting the embargo.

Last year the Minnesota Orchestra took a historic trip to Cuba as the first U.S. orchestra to perform there since Obama began negotiations in 2014. Next June, some Orchestra members will perform in Cuba again along with Minnesota Youth Symphonies. They also will be joined by Cuban-American jazz musician, Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, and his wife, who works as an attorney. Herrera grew up during the Cuban Revolution and credits Castro’s leadership for the career opportunities he and his wife have achieved. Indeed, Herrera met Castro in the 1980s while being recognized in a Classic World Piano competition. Castro was humble, Herrera said, and deeply curious about his accomplishments.

Concluding Observations

This blog consistently has applauded the U.S. pursuing normalization with Cuba. The death of Fidel Castro does not change that opinion and advocacy. Fundamentally I agree with President Obama that the 50-plus years of U.S. hostility towards Cuba has not worked—it has not persuaded or forced Cuba to change its ways and it has interfered with our having friendly relations with countries throughout the world, especially in Latin America.[6]

Indeed, the countries of the Western Hemisphere in their Summits of the Americas have made it clear to fellow member the U.S. that they would no longer reluctantly acquiesce in the U.S. desire to exclude Cuba from such Summits, and at the last such gathering in 2015, after the announcement of U.S.-Cuba normalization they praised both countries for this move.[7]

The broader world disapproval of the U.S. hostility towards Cuba is shown by the annual overwhelming approvals of resolutions condemning the U.S. embargo of the island by the U.N. General Assembly. Nor should the U.S. continue to ignore its very large contingent liability to Cuba for its alleged damages from the embargo. (The U.S., of course, disputes this contingent liability, but prudence for any nation or entity facing such a large contingent liability dictates cutting off that risk by stopping the behavior that allegedly triggers the risk.)[8]

Opponents of normalization usually point to Cuban deficiencies on human rights and democracy. But such opposition fails to recognize or admit that the U.S. does not have a perfect record on these issues, including this year’s U.S. election and efforts at voter suppression and the U.S. indirect election of the president and vice president via the Electoral College. Moreover, such opponents also fail to recognize or admit that at least some Cuban limits on dissent and demonstrations undoubtedly are triggered by their fear or suspicion that the U.S. via its so-called covert or undercover “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba is financing or otherwise supporting these efforts at regime change on the island. Finally as part of the efforts at normalization the U.S. and Cuba have been having respectful dialogues about human rights issues.[9]

Another issue sometimes raised by opponents of normalization is Cuba’s failure to provide financial compensation to U.S. persons for Cuba’s expropriation of their property in the early years of the Revolution. But such criticism fails to recognize that Cuba has paid compensation to persons from other countries for such expropriation, that it is in Cuba’s interest to do the same for U.S. persons, that the two countries have been respectfully discussing this issue as well, and there is no reason to expect that this issue cannot be resolved peacefully.[10]

Opponents of normalization also seem to believe or assume that only the U.S. and Cuba are involved in these issues. That, however, is not true. Perhaps precipitated by the December 2014 announcement that Cuba and the U.S. had agreed to seek normalization and reconciliation, other countries, especially the members of the European Union, have been accelerating their efforts to resolve differences with Cuba so that the U.S. will not beat them to gain competitive advantages with the island. China also is another competitor.[11]

Finally Cuba’s current major ally, Venezuela, obviously is near collapse and being forced to reduce its support of Cuba, thereby threatening Cuba’s stability and viability. The U.S. does not want to see Cuba become a failed state 90 miles away from the U.S. Such a situation is even more dire today according to Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. He asserts at page 270 that it “may even be more difficult [for inhabitants of a failed state to reconstitute itself] in the age of accelerations. The lifelong learning opportunities you need to provide to your population, the infrastructure you need to take advantage of the global flows [of information], and the pace of innovation you need to maintain a growing economy have all become harder to achieve. . . . Catching up is going to be very, very difficult.”

For the U.S., once again, to act like an arrogant bully towards Cuba will not achieve any good result. All U.S. citizens interested in Cuba’s welfare and having good relations with the U.S. need to resist any efforts by the new Administration to undo the progress of the last two years.

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[1] Assoc. Press, Trump Slams Recount Push as ‘a Scam,’ Says Election Is Over, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Reuters, Trump Says He Will do All He Can to Help Cuban People, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Vice-President-Elect Pence Says ‘New Hope Dawns’ for Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Trump Aides Say Cuban Government Will Have to Change, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2016); Flaherty, Trump aides say Cuban government will have to change, StarTrib. (Nov. 27, 2016); Schwartz & Lee, Death of Fidel Castro May Pressure Donald Trump on Cuba Promises, W.S.J. (Nov. 27, 2016); Mazzei, Trump pledges to ‘terminate’ opening to Cuba absent ‘better deal,’ Miami Herald (Nov. 28, 2016); Cave, Ahmed & Davis, Donald Trump’s Threat to Close Door Reopens Old Wounds in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2016).

[2]   White House, Statement by the President on the Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Kerry: The Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/28/16; White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/29/16; Harris, Obama to Send Aide to Fidel Castro’s Funeral, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016).

[3] Sen. For. Rel. Comm., Corker Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Griffiths, Corker praises Trump as State Department speculation continues, Politico (Nov. 29, 2016; Sen. For. Rel. Comm, Cardin Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Rubio, Rubio: History Will Remember Fidel Castro as an Evil, Murderous Dictator (Nov. 26, 2016); Menendez, Senator Menendez on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Flake, Flake Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Ryan, Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016);The latest: US House Leader Urges Remembering Castro Cruelty, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Klobuchar, Klobuchar Statement on Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Emmer, Emmer Statement on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016).

[4] Editorial, Threatening Cuba Will Backfire, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016); Editorial,Editorial, Fidel Castro’s terrible legacy, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Fidel Castro’s demise can’t guarantee freedom for the people of Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Will, Fidel Castro and dead utopianism, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Eire, Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Parker, Don’t give Fidel Castro the last laugh, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016). Eire is the author of Learning To Die in Miami: Confessions of A Refugee Boy (2010) and Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003).

[5] DeYoung, Trump’s threat to terminate opening to Cuba may draw opposition from business, Republican states, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016); Miroff, Cuba faces renewed tensions with U.S., but without Fidel Castro, its field marshal, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Dube & Johnson, Donald Trump’s Line on Cuba Unsettles Latin America, W.S.J. (Nov. 28, 2016); Klobuchar, Minnesota Artists, Leaders Reflect on Castro’s Legacy (Nov. 26, 2016);  Miroff & Booth, In wake of Castro’s death, his legacy is debated, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016).

[6] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[7] Previous posts have discussed the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April 2015. https://dwkcommentaries.com/?s=Summit+of+the+Americas.

[8] Previous posts have discussed the U.N. General Assembly resolutions on the embargo in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and the suggested international arbitration to resolve the disputes about Cuba’s damage claims resulting from the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[9] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba,” “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[10] See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[11] See list of posts in “Cuba & Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.