Aid civil society for a ‘Cuba without shackles’

cuba - civil rightsOver the past 30 to 40 years, Latin America has experienced a series of political transitions to governments chosen by the people, open to information, and to democracy. This has since been the policy of the United States toward Latin America, says Jaime Suchlicki, Director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

The United States’ strategy toward Cuba is the same it employed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Cuba is an enemy state; it supports terrorism, traffics in humans disguised as humanitarian programs that send reluctant doctors, nurses and workers overseas. Cuba is a friend of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, and, of course, Venezuela.

To assume that the United States will change its policies without first obtaining concessions from Cuba shows a lack of understanding of international relations. For the U.S. to change its Cuba policy, Cuba has to change too…..The issue at hand is that the Cuban regime refuses to provide concrete and real concessions. But then again, no totalitarian government is willing to offer concessions that lead to their demise such as uncensored Internet access, open political processes, or free elections.

For example, in Chile General Pinochet was willing to carry out a popular referendum which he lost and as a consequence opened the democratic process. General Raul Castro’s government is not willing to do so……

What does the Cuban government want? Raul Castro’s government wants:

  1. The unilateral ending of all travel restrictions.
  2. Access to more credits to purchase products in the U.S. and in other countries.

Yet Cuba has not repaid credits provided by Venezuela, France, Spain, and even the former Soviet Union, among other countries. Cuba is not willing to open the political process, allow uncensored Internet access, or change the political system in exchange for these concessions.

Cuba is not isolated; instead it has partnered all over the world with its allies Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran. The Castro brothers do not want the U.S. involved in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Let’s take a look at the efforts from outside of Cuba to promote real change. We have to begin by remembering during the Cold War, the U.S. promoted several activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union:

  1. Radio Free Europe
  2. Smuggling information inside Russia, and Eastern Europe
  3. Support for Poland’s Solidarity movement
  4. Support for Poland’s Catholic Church.

In fact, I do not recall any Eastern European exile saying, “I want all restrictions lifted so I can invest in Poland,” or “I want to send more packages there,” or “I want more tourists to travel to Poland because they are going to change the system.”

To those who think American tourism is going to change Cuba, I propose to open a travel agency to send tourists to North Korea. No one thinks that tourists will make a difference there so why would they make a difference in Cuba?……

Another important topic that should be discussed and publicized is the exploitation of the Cuban worker by the State and by foreign companies. Cubans are modern day slaves of foreign investors and the Castro government. Foreign companies pay the Cuban government in hard currency and the government pays the workers in convertible pesos, keeping 90% of the foreign payments.

Why doesn’t the United Nations or the American government condemn this practice? Why don’t they point out that only fair skinned Cubans are hired by foreign companies? Or that white, not black, Cubans receive most of the Cuban-American remittances? Or where are the programs that are supposed to help black Cubans?

We should use our resources to help Cubans inside the island, to help the civil society, penetrate the political systems and provide information. …I find it ironic that some Cuban-American entrepreneurs that have made money in the U.S., and benefited from a free society, rule of law and democracy, are embracing insignificant economic changes in Cuba, in the hope that it will lead to a political change; even when it means engaging with the current system.

Cubans have to have control over their businesses and freely choose their government. It is the people that should choose their own representatives, in free elections, Cuba’s future political system. We must have a vision of a democratic Cuba. It does not matter if it takes 10 or 20 more years. I may not see it but my children will.

RTWT

This excerpt is taken from Professor Jaime Suchlicki’s presentation during the “Acciones y Opciones para el Empoderamiento de la Sociedad Civil en Cuba” Forum.  This event was hosted by the Foro de Promoción Democrática Continental (FPDC) on June 28, 2014 at Florida International University’s College of Law.

Note: to watch videos of the forum in Spanish visit the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) website at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/main.htm, and click on “New/Relevant.”

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of PAN, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.

Jokowi’s rise and Indonesia’s second democratic transition

indonesia etcThis year, three of the world’s largest democracies are holding national elections — vast polls spread over several days and thousands of miles of territory, involving more than a billion voters, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick.

“The third election, Indonesia’s presidential vote on July 9, has been mostly ignored by the international media, even though Indonesia, with a population of about 250 million, ranks as the fourth-­largest country in the world, as well as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia,” he writes for the New York Times.

“It is simply impossible to understand the staggering changes Indonesia has undergone since the end of the 1990s, including decentralization, a rapid transition to democracy and growing relationships with both China and the United States, without truly considering how decisions are made in Jakarta and other major urban centers,” he argues in a review of Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia, etc., Exploring the Improbable Nation:  

Instead, Pisani falls back on easy clichés about Jakarta, reform and the population itself. She deplores the rapid change and construction in the seemingly soulless capital, without seriously examining the positive aspects of all this growth, a strange omission for a public health specialist. She disdains the pork-barrel politics that come with greater direct democracy, as politicians jostle to deliver projects to their districts and sometimes skim a percentage for themselves. But this kind of patronage is necessarily curtailed by the transparency of democracy, and in the long run far healthier than the opaque and unreconstructed Suharto period. (Pisani herself acknowledges that in the latter part of Suharto’s time, “all the growth” went “into a handful of pockets,” though she still paints a fairly rosy picture of the Suharto era.) She too often portrays Indonesians as accepting their fate in life, a fatalism not apparent in this spring’s parliamentary elections, when Indonesian voters tossed out about half the incumbents. RTWT

Jokowi’s rise marks the beginning of Indonesia’s second democratic transition, says a key expert.

“A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” according to Vibhanshu Shekhar, Scholar-in-Residence at the ASEAN Studies Center, American University.

A new political voting class in Indonesia is now beginning to emerge that is keen to play a role in the country’s democratic politics, is well-informed of issues and interests, and expects a government that is accountable,” he writes for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin:

They are assertively pushing forward an agenda of good governance and transparent leadership that is reform-oriented and free of corruption. They treat democracy as intrinsically ingrained in their identity and place a premium on transparency and accountability. As their expectations are going up, this new-emerging techno-savvy voter bloc is demanding effective responses from the political elite over various issues, such as countering corruption, addressing current economic challenges, and a more responsive government. Their continuing frustration with political parties is evident from the fact that no single party received more than 20 percent of votes in the April general elections. On the other hand, Jokowi’s lackluster and commoner’s image attracted their attention, and their vote. 

“Rules of the game in Indonesian politics have become more democratic with political parties, institutions and citizens adhering to democratic norms,” he notes.

Nevertheless, a “rough road lies ahead for the Jokowi presidency, particularly in the legislative body that will offer strong resistance from the conservative elite to any effort to introduce more democratic change and politico-economic reforms. Now that voters have had their say, the difficult act of balancing various political forces and factions will require deft diplomacy.” RTWT

Why Yemen is no model for Iraq

YEMEN FAREAThe suggestion that Yemen could be an example for how to bring stability to Iraq came as a shock to most Yemenis, says a key analyst.

“The contradiction between their country’s political reality and its reputation as an Arab Spring success story has always been glaring, but now it had become absurd,” Farea Al-muslimi (left) writes for Foreign Affairs.

The deal that led to the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled since 1978, “was a rotten one,” he contends:

It merely handed the presidency over to his deputy, Hadi, and ensured that Saleh would continue to play a role behind the scenes. He was also given immunity for all his wrongdoing during his 33 years in power. And that is not the same thing as democracy. Even worse, the deal made a real transition to democracy in Yemen all the harder and it sowed the seeds of new conflicts.

One of the deal’s key promises to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists who took to the streets to bring down Saleh was to hold the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was supposed to bring together all the political factions, from the southern separatist movement to young modernizers to negotiate an outline for Yemen’s future political structure; and put the outcome of these negotiations to a public referendum for approval. However, the NDC, held from March 2013 to January 2014, did very little beyond extending the terms of parliament (whose mandate expired in 2008) and the president (whose democratic legitimacy consists of a hastily rushed-through referendum on his serving one term in office). The NDC then ignored its own bylaws and refused to put these decisions to a public vote.

A few years ago in Yemen, people used to warn of an “Iraq scenario” if its problems weren’t addressed, meaning that Yemen would be the new Iraq. They don’t anymore, Al-muslimi concludes.

RTWT

Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.

RTWT

The end of pluralism: violence trumps politics in Middle East?

TEMPTATIONS ISLAMISTIf the second phase of the “Arab Spring” is really about anything, it is about a collective loss of faith in politics, according to Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.

We might not like to admit it, but violence can, and often does, “work” in today’s Middle East, he writes for The Atlantic:

This is not just a reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but also to less extreme militant groups that control territory throughout Syria, providing security and social services to local populations. From Libya to Palestine to parts of the Egyptian Sinai, armed—and increasingly hard-line—Islamist groups are making significant inroads. This is the Arab world’s Salafi-Jihadi moment. It may not last, but its impact is already impossible to dismiss, to say nothing of the long-term consequences. In Libya and Syria, even non-Salafi groups like the Brotherhood are adapting to the new world of anti-politics, allying themselves with local armed groups or working to form their own militias.

A movement meant to demonstrate that peaceful protest could work ultimately demonstrated the opposite, notes Hamid, the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East:

This is one of the great tragedies of the past few years—that a movement meant to demonstrate that peaceful protest could work ultimately demonstrated the opposite. According to former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, the Arab Spring shattered the myth that “peaceful change in this region is not possible.” Indeed, it did. But then the violence raged on in Syria and Libya. Leaders in these countries saw their Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts as weak and feckless, as conceding too much to their opponents and emboldening them in the process. In .the case of the Egyptian coup in 2013, the most populous Arab country, long a bellwether for the region, willfully aborted its own democratic process. The worst mass killing in the country’s modern history soon followed.

That this violence is, in some way, tied to religion makes it more difficult for outsiders to parse. As the military historian Andrew Bacevich writes, “No single explanation exists for why the War for the Greater Middle East began and why it persists. But religion figures as a central element. Secularized American elites either cannot grasp or are unwilling to accept this.” Indeed, the divide between Islamists and what we might call “anti-Islamists” cannot be reduced to the single-minded pursuit of power. As I argue in my new book, it is just as much about real ideological divides over the role of religion in public life and the nature, meaning, and purpose of the nation-state.

Not too much intervention, too little

The Middle East, as a region, is more unstable, divided, and rife with extremism today than it has been at any other point in recent decades, Hamid observes:

It would make little sense to blame these developments on American military intervention. The past six years have been characterized not by the use of force, but by a very concerted desire on the part of the Obama administration to reduce our regional engagement, in general, and our military footprint in particular.

The presumption was that with the withdrawal from Iraq, a key Arab grievance would be addressed. The Obama administration could, then, re-establish a relationship with the Arab world based on “mutual respect,” leading to a “new beginning.” It wasn’t unreasonable to think this. After all, it was precisely our over-engagement, and the waging of two costly, tragic wars, that appeared to provoke such anger toward the United States. Yet disengagement and detachment haven’t helped matters. Anti-Americanism persists at strikingly high levels and, in a number of countries, attitudes toward the U.S. are more negative under Obama than they were during Bush’s final years.

“The two most destructive conflicts in the Middle East today are in Syria and Iraq, two countries that have imploded not because of too much intervention, but because of too little,” he suggests.

RTWT