By Dawn Gable
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 31 – “Wisdom removes hate,” said U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush, noting that U.S. citizens have been denied the truth about today’s Cuba. The representative spoke on Capitol Hill where he, along with the Center for Democracy in the Americas, hosted a panel this Wednesday to discuss the appropriateness of Cuba being included on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST).
The panel included Larry Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell; Randy Beardsworth, former Assistant Secretary for Strategic Plans at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Wynn Segall, an attorney specializing in economic sanctions and national security based trade and investment controls; Ray Walser of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank; and Mark Sullivan, specialist in Latin American Affairs at the Congressional Research Service.
Sullivan began the dialogue by explaining that taking Cuba of the SST list would not affect the embargo at all. But Congressman Rush recognized that the removal would send a strong message to the international community that the US is listening to the overwhelming and near unanimous global consensus on this issue and is moving toward bringing some rationality to US policy toward Cuba, which is consistent with the overall change of attitude in foreign policy President Obama has set for his administration.
In his expert opinion, Wynn Segall, said the justification for Cuba’s inclusion on the SST list “lacks clarity” and rigor in comparison with reports on other listed countries. He emphasized that Congress has the power to require the administration to report on such decisions and set reporting standards.
He recalled that North Korea and Libya came off the SST list in 2008 after a policy review found that on balance, the countries did not fit the criteria for inclusion and noted that the embargo against Libya was lifted in 2004, four years before coming off the state sponsor of terrorist list, demonstrating that the two issues need not be looked at jointly.
The Administration’s Delayed Cuba Policy Review
Segall further noted that the Cuba policy review Obama promised early on is long overdue. Wilkerson suggested that the promised review is on hold because the new administration still does not have a Latin American expert or an assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Congressman Rush added that the only thing on the mind of anyone in Washington right now is Health Care reform and no movement on the Cuba travel bill (HR874) or anything similar should be expected until that has been dealt with.
Even Ray Walser, the only panelist clearly aligned with the Bush paradigm, conceded that taking Cuba off the SST “may be merited,” adding that “if we were to apply uniformity to policy, we would have relations with Cuba on a par with those we have with China.”
Larry Wilkerson and Randy Beardsworth voiced that there is no justification for Cuba’s inclusion on the list and the former stated that the SST roll and the embargo have been used to garner electoral votes in Florida and to punish the Cuban government- at the expense of the Cuban people.
Referring to the Cuban population Wilkerson exclaimed, “There are 11 million reasons to normalize relations!”
A self-proclaimed pragmatist, Beardsworth recalled his conversation with Ricardo Alarcon, in which they both agreed that Cuba must not go back to the days of Batista and Meyer Lansky. To this end, he stressed the need for increasing bureaucrat to bureaucrat relations and warned that if a power vacuum were to occur in Cuba for whatever reason, the U.S. will want to have mechanisms of cooperation with Cuban institutions in place to aid the island in warding off organized crime and drug-trafficking, etc.
US-Cuba Cooperation Potential
Wilkerson fully concurred and noted that joint exercises at the fence dividing Guantanamo base from the rest of Cuba have been going on for years and said that the U.S. Marines and the Cuban Army have an excellent professional relationship. “Ask any Marine!” he exclaimed.
Similarly Beardsworth described cooperation between the Cuban Border Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard over the past decade. However, Wilkerson clarified that it has been mostly one sided as Cuban Boarder Guards are quick to alert the Coast Guard of any threats heading toward the U.S., but the Coast Guard does not reciprocate that courtesy when it knows of a threat headed toward the island.
Beardsworth would like to see cooperation in environmental protection, response to oil potential spills, and natural disasters relief, in addition to law enforcement. Moreover, no one on the panel could identify any legislative barriers to developing these kinds of relationships.
Walser countered that “Cuba does not have our interests in mind,” nearly verbatim what George Tenet said about Venezuela shortly before the 2001 coup attempt against President Chavez. But overall, being outnumbered in terms of the panel and the audience, Wasler was apologetic about his position. Holding his hands up in defense, he repeated “these are just the opinions of one man.”
When he mentioned freedom and democratic principles, Chris Lee, staffer for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, asked him why the U.S. has a cooperative relationship with communist China. He responded that while China is authoritarian and communist, it practices dynamic capitalism, thus exposing that U.S. policy has less to do with civil rights than with capitalist enterprise.
Lee quickly retorted that when President Nixon visited China, it was hardly a dynamic capitalist state, implying that the U.S. should not put off engagement with Cuba until desired changes are made.