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Outposts of Tyranny: Cuba

Dr. Marifeli Perez-Stable
Vice President at the Inter-American Dialogue
Thursday, April 14, 2005; 11:00 AM

In January, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to consider her nomination for secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice named the nations of Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Burma, North Korea, and Zimbabwe as "outposts of tyranny."

Rice's nomination speech may have given an insight into her foreign policy agenda for the next four years. "We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom," she said. Rice Stays Close to Bush Policies In Hearing (The Post, Jan. 18)


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Dr. Marifeli Perez-Stable, Vice President of the Inter-American Dialogue, was online Thursday, April 14, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the state of communism in Cuba, the possibilities for regime change after Castro, and the country's relations with the U.S.

Dr. Perez-Stable writes a column on Latin America that appears every other Thursday in the Miami Herald. She is the author of The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy and is on leave of absence from Florida International University, where she is a professor of Sociology and Anthropology.

This is the third discussion in a six part series focusing on Rice's "outposts of tyranny" and the specific issues that have caused tensions with the U.S. Authors, journalists, representatives from foreign policy think tanks, and professors will take questions from readers.A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Marifeli Perez-Stable: Confrontation has set the pace for U.S.-Cuba relations for nearly 50 years. Fidel Castro is nearing the end of his life, and change will come to Cuba. What should the United States do now to prepare for that change?

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Northern Virginia: Good morning:

What kind of personnel has Cuba sent to Venezuela these past years and why?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: Cuba has sent medical personnel, teachers, and other civilians. Chávez has greatly benefited from the "missions" of health workers in Venezuela's poorest barrios where people had not had access to doctors and nurses. Castro has also sent security and military advisors that have helped Chávez bolster his government. Why is Castro doing all this? Because he has an ally in Chávez and through him a foothold in South America. Both are benefiting from the new wave of anti-Americanism following the Iraq war.

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Toronto Canada: It's a shame that Cuba is a police state but, on the other hand, Cuba has been invaded, and attacked in many ways, by the "designated hitters" of the United States. Virtually every other country in the world has normal relations with Cuba. I buy Havana rum and Cuban cigars in Toronto--and I don't think I'll be going to hell. Cuba has devoted huge resources to education, especially to medical education, and Cuban doctors serve in many parts of the world. In this respect, it is a model state. American favoritism has created Haiti; Cuban guts have created Cuba. Is it not time for "engagement," a policy that might soften Cuba and (incidentally) open up a huge market to American trade?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: My instincts are always to give engagement a chance. In Cuba's case, the argument is solid because confrontation through the embargo has not brought the regime down. At the same time, the Cuban government is not very prone to meaningful dialogue. For example, Vietnam signed a cooperation agreement with the European Union a decade ago, which required the Vietnamese to make some changes on their penal code, and other human rights related issues. Cuba has no such agreement with the EU because it has refused to make comparable concessions. Engagement or confrontation ultimately requires a give-and-take. Neither has worked well with Cuba. I favor engagement, anyway, like what the EU is trying to do right now but I'm afraid EU will have no choice but to reimpose sanctions for the 2003 repression because Castro gives very little.

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Arlington, Va.: Is it a tyranny? I would say its pretty darn close especially with the latest reports of tourist workers not being allowed to talk to, socialize with, or accept anything from tourists. It is just one more way for Castro to try to keep his people closed in. With that being said, we do business with China, which has some really awful things going on as well but for some reason, that's ok. I would love nothing more than to travel to Cuba and hope I get a chance someday. But I do feel the people are oppressed.

Marifeli Perez-Stable: There is no question that Castro is a dictator who oppresses his people. For most, that's not the issue but rather which is the best policy. There will be a Cuba without Castro and, right now, Washington should be crafting policy looking towards that Cuba. There is, however, little chance that it will happen since the US and Cuba are trapped in a codependency that neither is willing to give up. Your point about China is well taken. Two differences with Cuba: China's China and Cuba matters little on the world's stage; China has embraced market economics, Cuba has not. One could, nonetheless, make the argument that the Chinese are even more flagrant violators of human rights than the Cuban regime.

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Olney, Md.: I have often thought that the best way to have ensured a regime change in Cuba would have been to open it wide to US investment and tourism. The influx of money would have raised expectations and the clamor for a piece of the pie would have forced Castro to ease up. In addition, the Cuban-American community would have been able to visit with relatives in Cuba. I don't know that this isn't still a good idea that may encourage Castro to "retire" and let a new, more moderate government to take over. I know that it isn't a good idea from a political point of view in the Cuban-American community, but why let a small minority dictate policy for the rest of the country?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: Remember the 2000 election? All the stars aligned so that C-A votes in Miami were truly decisive in giving the state to Bush. Cuba policy is a function of Miami but Miami is changing. 28 percent of C-As voted for Kerry, which doesn't mean they all want an end to the embargo now. Rather new ways have to be found since the old policy simply hasn't worked.

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Laurel, Md.: How is Cuba different than, say, Pakistan when it comes to suppression of rights, democracy, and violations of human rights?

Although I don't think Castro's style of political management works, I simply don't see the Stalinist repression seen in North Korea, or the blood-stained tyranny of the fascists in Argentina and Uruguay and Chile.

Marifeli Perez-Stable: It's a difficult issue, comparing victims of dictatorship. Cuba's 1960s were especially bloody -- perhaps 8,000 men summarily executed, at least 50,000 political prisoners, and unknown numbers of extrajudicial executions in the guerrilla war that raged between 1960 and 1966. That having said, geopolitics is a key compass, often the only compass in international relations, and Cuba juts doesn't have much leverage in today's world. It did, to some extent, during the cold war. Also being part of the Western Hemisphere makes it harder for the United States to accommodate a dictatorship in Cuba.

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Houston, TX: Dear Dr. Perez-Stable,
To what degree does the American embargo explain Cuba's poverty? To what degree do Castro's policies explain it? Someone intelligent and very well informed about Cuba recently argued that "socialism causes this poverty." How is that argument right or wrong (or both)? He said Cuba was not naturally poor (with sugar, tobacco, nickel, a tourist's climate, and many intelligent, skilled people), but under the current government, it is poor because it has too little that foreigners are willing to buy. True?
Steve Gilbert

Marifeli Perez-Stable: I wouldn't say in the same way, but today that is mostly true. In the 1960s, it seemed as if socialism was an answer but it wasn't. The government did extend education and health services throughout the island. At the same time, Cuba was not a basket case in 1959, and the revolution had a good platform from which to launch its policies. Today there is no reasonable explanation as to why the regime has not followed China and Vietnam regarding the economy. Their Communist parties are tightly in control but their peoples are living better and have hope for the future. Castro doesn't like market reforms of any kind and is currently retrenching them in Cuba. One could conclude that he doesn't care about the Cuban people. If he did, he would have allowed the many Cubans in his own government who want to do reforms to carry them out.

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Middlefield, Conn.: With the embargo in place, we are denying our own manufacturers and farmers a market and with the increased restrictions on travel to Cuba the administration is alienating a crucial segment of the GOPs traditional support. At what point might the U.S. re-evaluate its Cuban policy in response to this dissatisfaction?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: The United States is already one of the top three suppliers of farm goods to Cuba. The reason why Midwestern agro interests have not yet had an impact on US policy is that they have too many fish to fry before Congress. Meanwhile, Cuban-American representatives and lobbyists are focused only on Cuba. Irish a reevaluation of US policy had happened yesterday but I'm afraid it won't happen tomorrow. Castro's passing may trigger a change.

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Burke, Va.: Do you think that the Cubans in the Diaspora should play a role in a Cuba AC (After-Castro)? If yes, what role should this be?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: Cubans in the US are a potential resource for a democratic Cuba. Two ways come to mind: first, as a lobby for Cuban interests in Washington much like American Jews do for Israel or Irish Americans for Ireland; second, as a source of investment that could well help to bolster the small-business sector on the island. Having said this, I'll add that there's no escaping that relations between island and Diaspora will be bumpy but we need each other and I am hopeful that, in the end, sanity will prevail.

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Herndon, Va.: Why do you think Castro, despite being as much a dictator as any of those have ruled in Latin America, has had, and continues to have, such "good press" and support from many writers and academics?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: During the 1950s, a wave of anti-Americanism swept Latin America, particularly because of US intervention in Guatemala in 1954 to overthrow an elected president. The young Fidel rode the crest and touched chords of hope in the hearts and minds of millions in Cuba and around the world. Fidel is now simply Castro, the dictators, but U.S. policy (the embargo)and, more recently, the rise of Chávez and other populists in Latin America combined with the Iraq war has contributed to his aura. It shouldn't be that way but that's the way it goes, unfortunately.

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Washington, D.C.: RE: "All the stars aligned so that C-A votes in Miami were truly decisive in giving the state to Bush." - Given the margin in that election, this could be said about any political grouping in the entire state, so I think it's kind of a silly statement. However, I have to wonder if U.S. Iraq policy has not seriously damaged anti-Castro extremists. The notion that we can waltz into another country, do away with the beast in charge, and Valhalla will spring up in its place - that's not going to have much traction with post-Cold War generations.

Marifeli Perez-Stable: Let me add the following. Clinton-Gore won 35% of the C-A vote in 1996; Gore-Lieberman won 18%. The difference was Elian Gonzalez. Had the Dems gotten anywhere near in 2000 what they did in 1996, we'd be in the second Gore administration, even with the butterfly ballot, the third of Jacksonville's African Americans whose ballots were discarded etc.

I wish the hardliners in the C-A community had learned the lessons many others and I see in Iraq, which agree with yours. Unfortunately, some in the community and in the administration are probably making plans for a similar outcome in Cuba. There is no way of overstating that a US intervention in Cuba would dim Cuba's chances for peace, democracy, and prosperity for a long time to come.

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Toronto, Canada: Canada has always had diplomatic and trade ties to Cuba, we here are frequently reminded that there is a contradiction in U.S. Foreign Policy: that U.S. trade to Red China should be unrestricted, because trade liberalization with China would automatically lead to domestic Human Rights liberalization with Red China. Whereas, with Cuba, it is trade restriction that is said would improve Human Rights in Cuba.

Do you think trade restrictions have improved Human Rights in Cuba? Do you think trade liberalization has improved Human Rights in China? Do you think this apparent inconsistency in trade policies should be removed?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: It's hard to be consistent in politics. In fact, the business --whether in domestic politics anywhere or international relations-- often seems to require the opposite. The record is confused on both counts, that is, whether engagement in China has improved HRs or confrontation in Cuba has. I would say the most important contribution to improved human rights (social and economic) has been China's economic reforms. For the first time in history, there is no famine in China. That's nothing to scoff at. Chinese have a more economic freedoms than ever, even if civil and political rights are severely limited. International pressures --given China's size and importance-- do not work well re: internal situation.

In Cuba all freedoms are limited. I and many in the dissident/opposition community on the island think the embargo aggravates matters on the HR front. In 1998, after the Pope's visit, Castro freed some 300 political prisoners; more recently, 14 of the 75 who were imprisoned in 2003 have been released, in part, because of European Union pressures. Having said that, I think change will come from within. Castro can liberate prisoners but there's nothing deterring the imprisonment of another 300.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you make of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights recent renewal of the special investigator to Cuba? What has he/she done since appointment in 2003? What do they expect to him/her to get done?

washingtonpost.com: U.N. Rights Body Keeps Pressure on Cuba (Reuters, April 14)

Marifeli Perez-Stable: The special rapporteur was supposed to go to Cuba and submit a report to the UN HR Commission. The Cuban government has not allowed her into the country and won't. The commission votes today on the annual resolution condemning Cuba for HR abuses. It has at best a 50-50 chance of passing.

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New York City, N.Y.: Dr. Perez-Stable, Why does the Cuban dissent movement not have a voice within the news media and political and intellectual establishment of the United States?

Can you, as part of the intellectual establishment, comment on why the names of Cuban dissidents like Marta Beatriz Roué, Osvaldo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, and others are practically ignored here?

Thank you, Marifeli Perez-Stable: Unfortunately, people left of center tend to shut their left eyes and only denounce right-wing dictatorships. The same is true for right-of-centers who only have their left eyes wide open. Cubans, rightfully, complain that imprisoned, dead or tortured Cubans are not as worthy of denunciation as victims of Pinochet or the Argentine juntas. At the same time, Cuban Miami did not denounce those victims in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, however, things have changed a bit, especially because of the 2003 repression. Osvaldo Paya in particular received a lot of media attention in 2002 when Carter went to Cuba, the European Union game him an award as did the National Democratic Institute.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you describe a possible peaceful scenario where Castro is removed from power and Cuba transitions to a capitalism/democracy form of government?

Marifeli Perez-Stable: For the transition to peaceful, it will have to be negotiated --once Castro moves on to another life-- with the government, the opposition on the island, and the today silenced Cubans who will speak when freedom allows them to do so. The more distant the US is, the better it will be for Cuba but also for long-term US interests. Current US policy is not doing much to promote this or another peaceful scenario.

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Marifeli Perez-Stable: I'm afraid I have to go and there are still plenty of good questions in the queue. Thanks for your interest and maybe we can do this again in the future.

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The "Outposts of Tyranny" Series
Iran
Burma
Belarus
Zimbabwe
North Korea

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