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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Cuba libre?

Uploaded: Dec 21, 2014
Well, no ? not by a long shot. It will take years for the recent announcement of a thaw in the western hemisphere's deepest diplomatic freeze to take full hold. It may even be a while before we can conveniently and legally learn that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar ? even if it's a Cohiba. Still I'm having trouble seeing this development as anything less than a good start.

The most recent Cuban revolution, led by Fidel Castro, uprooted the former dictator Batista's regime in 1959. Batista was an early-career reformer in the island's turbulent politics. He was elected its President in 1940-44, after leading a military coup in 1934. He ran for election again in 1952 and usurped power in lieu of electoral defeat. Batista was our kind of dictator ? he kept a brutally tight lid on dissent, made larcenous common cause with the Mafia, and kept the island safe for other US commercial interests, or so we thought.

Castro's July 26th Movement took power on New Year's Day, 1959. They quickly nationalized industries, seized assets and imposed their own brand of tyranny under the Communist flag. The new bosses found an eager Cold War sponsor in the former USSR, which viewed having a protégé pawn only 90-miles off-shore from Miami as an effective counterweight to US bases in Europe and Turkey. The CIA-led Bay of Pigs counter-insurgency later failed dismally ? as JFK rued it: "it was too big to be clandestine, and too small to succeed." The Agency internally dubbed it 'a perfect failure.' It was followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962.

Many of us recall that high drama, perhaps as close to the brink of nuclear winter as the world has ever proceeded. For two weeks in October, we were riveted to the news, as the US blockaded Cuba by sea, demanding removal of Soviet missiles and destruction of launch sites exposed by U-2 surveillance. Khrushchev blinked, retrieving his atomic armaments in exchange for a public commitment that the US would not invade the island (and a private assurance that similar American weapons would be removed from Turkey).

Diplomatic relations were severed and an economic embargo had been imposed in 1961. Since that time, there have been a smattering of incidents, but the two countries have remained isolated from each other. Russian and more recent Venezuelan aid has helped keep the Castro regime afloat, but the impoverished country remains suspended in time ? in the mid-20th century.

It came as a surprise this past week that the US and Cuba announced their intentions to re-establish diplomatic relations, and commercial and cultural contacts. Negotiations had been underway for more than a year, aided by the considerable moral suasion of the Pope. The US will open an embassy in Havana, many financial restrictions that hamstring commerce will be lifted, travel will be further eased, and the Secretary of State will review Cuba's designation as a sponsor of terrorism. (There is no current truth to the rumor I'm starting that the A's are destined to move to Havana, although the team's penurious payroll would look pretty good to the locals ? and they do have a bigger stadium.)

The move has been met with popular approval in the States, even among Cuban-Americans, who strongly favor diplomatic relations, and narrowly oppose continuing the trade embargo. There have been fulminations by the likes of Senator Rubio who call it an appeasement, but it's not clear that the new Republican majority will stand in the way.

That may be because of the following factors:

o it's clear that isolation did not have the desired effect of destabilizing the Castro regime, over the full half-century of its tenure. Senator Rubio does make an argument that the embargo was somehow intended to force compensation for those assets seized in the '50s, but that's both historical nonsense and trivial in today's terms;

o it is often true, but not necessarily so, that economic progress leads to popular demands for reforms to broaden liberty interests;

o the US will be in a better position to encourage reforms consonant with freedom via engagement, rather than continued isolation -- as we do with numerous other regimes we'd prefer were differently constituted;

o from a geopolitical standpoint, closer ties with the US benefit both countries, especially when traditional sponsors like Russia and Venezuela are in oil-based economic crises. Cuba has been a burr under the US saddle for a half-century; this is a particularly propitious time to start brushing it out.

I think I've mentioned in these couple hundred blogs that I believe Mr. Obama was influenced in law school by the redoubtable Professor Roger Fisher ? he of "Getting to Yes" fame. The Prez often speaks of people's and parties' "interests," that underlie their "positions" on any given topic. That's classic Fisher-speak. (For negotiation mavens, I think he's been routinely too slow to 'demonstrate his BATNA' by taking executive actions, at least until recently). He did so again this week, indicating that the needs and wants of both countries will be better served by this change of calcified position. I think he's right --- how about you?

Now, if he could only make good on that first-term Guantanamo promise ?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

A lot of great old cars down there. I'll bet a savvy dealer could trade a recent modern car, say from 2009-2012 for a nicely maintained 1959 Cadillac, big tailfins and all. Web Link

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Doug Miller is a registered user.

"On to Cuba". I am flattered.

One prominent United States senator, with family ties to Cuba, has harshly denounced the President's latest actions with regard to Cuba. He wrote in USA today that: "there is no reason that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that, if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists. The opposite is true."

That senator, of course, is New Jersey democrat Robert Menendez. Just to be fair, a prominent Republican senator with Cuban ties made a similar statement.

One of the myths about the Cuban economy has been that the embargo has kept the Cuban economy is poverty for over 50 years. In fact, almost every other country trades with Cuba. The Cuban people could have a flourishing economy but for the Castro brothers who maintain control by keeping Cubans standing in line every day for food and hand out perks to those who help maintain control.

As Senator Menendez wrote, "the administration has wrongly rewarded a totalitarian regime and thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline". The Cuban people know that this will change nothing. Any hope they had that the Castro regime is near an end because crashing oil prices and a loss of aid from Venezuela has been lost.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

I was fifteen when the Cuban Missile crises broke out.
My older brother was in the National Guard and was put on alert.
He was hopping he would get called up.

At the height of the crises, A U.S. air force pilot flew a fighter jet out of Alaska, inadvertently violated Russian air space and was promptly shot down by the Russians.

John Kennedy in the white house, said "there is always some ------ that doesn't get the word".

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Doug -- that 'upcoming Cuba blog' was your best prediction ever. A good one.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 8:39 pm

I look forward to visiting Cuba! The people are friendly and they are eager to visit their relatives throughout the US. It's my impression that the majority of Cubans prefer to remain in Cuba and never visit the US.

I feel no animosity to Cuban leadership and I look forward to visiting their art and music academies. I am hopeful that some Cubans will be allowed to immigrate to the US.


It's time for USA to join the world.

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 10:18 am

Cholo: You feel no animosity toward Cuban leadership...Sad how ignorant youth are toward world history & just agree with everything Obama does... I doubt the thousands of political prisoners who were tortured by Castro and majority of Cuban citizens who lacked basic human needs due to Castro regime feel same, nor those who fled to US... Don't you think Senator Rubio and his family may know little bit more about the situation than a guy writing a blog in Danville?

Viva Cuban citizens who have had to suffer under Castro, but not their leaders.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I think this question resolves itself into those who think forward and focus on opportunity, and those who look backward.and want somebody to be punished. There is simply no indication that any kind of a nascent rebellion was afoot that might have taken hold if the isolation policy continued, and continued some more, after fifty+ years.

Nor is there any assurance that IF such a rebellion occurred, whatever crowd took over would be any better. In fact, there's a history -- indeed a longstanding tradition -- of repression and kleptocracy on that island. Or would you simply want to invade? After all, we do such a good job of 'spreading democracy' that the Iraqi people are now luxuriating in the very bosom of Mother Liberty, $800 Billion later.(That's a lot of government spending.)

On the other hand, is there Anybody who truly believes that in five years the average Cuban won't be better-off for this move? What do you suppose he/she'll want more of, then?

As someone recently said: Mr. Obama could rescue a baby from a burning building, and some folks would fault him for taking a good American job away from a brave firefighter.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 3:31 pm

There's no impending doom re: Cuba. Many Cuban Americans are mouthing the concerns of a dying generation. I don't care what Sen. Rubio expresses about anything...duh. Sen. Rubio has NEVER represented my interests. He comes across to this one as a broken record! A comgination as a Pretty Boy and Minny Mouse! There's much to be gained over time with a more open relationship with the Cuban government.

We all die and eventually, nobody will even remember the past politics between the US and Cuba.

In time, Sen.Rubio will drop dead, his family and friends will all drop, and the island of Cuba will still be where it is. "America" you and all of your family/friends will also be long gone when the island of Cuba thrives again. So what's your beef with Cuba? You won't be around when America's relationship with Cuba rides again!

Incidentally, how have you come to believe that you know what's best? Have you been listening to too much Rush L.?


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Correction: Line 3 - combination

Lets all dance the C O N G A! VIVA!

At age 72, I'm ready to dance!

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:20 am

Doug Miller is a registered user.

There is a better case to be made for ending the US embargo and improving relations with Cuba. But in dismissing Cuban history after the Cuban missile crisis as nothing more than ?a smattering of incidents?, Mr. Cushing fails to describe the reasons for US policy. Once Castro was assured that he no longer faced an external threat, he began to export his brand of Stalinist ideology to West Africa and Latin America. For more than 30 years he sought to overthrow governments and/or turn them against the United States. Castro was a threat to United States interests and to freedom in many parts of the world.

Domestically Castro jailed, tortured and executed thousands of Cubans. One of his most brutal enforcers was Che Guevara who expressed great joy in personally killing political foes. One of the great triumphs of US policy was when CIA agent Felix Rodriguez led the Bolivian army to a small town where Che was executed in 1967. This and other US actions have led to the virtual defeat of the Cuban threat. Now the Cuban government is only a threat to its own people.

But President Obama and Mr. Cushing do not make this case. Such a case would give lie to their narrative that for 50 years US policy has not worked.

Posted by Pololo Mololo, a resident of Livermore,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:02 am

Even Republicans support developing relationships with Cuba:

Web Link

Lets not forget that the US has relationships with continuously hostile nations...Putin and China are about as nasty as it get.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:16 am

So, Mr. Doug -- let me be sure I've got this straight: you agree on the merits, but just cannot resist shoveling-in some ongoing animosity? Is that it? Well,.Web Link ! I'll take it.

I credit the wonders of the Holiday Season for this blessed demonstration of bi-partisanship. I'm sure you have a better explanation.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:48 pm

When I visit Cuba, I plan to dance like this!!!

There will jealous bugs galore in Plutonia! Web Link

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Doug Miller is a registered user.

So now in addition to dismissing Cuban history under the Castro's as a ?smattering of incidents?, if we describe that wretched history, ?one is shoveling in some ongoing animosity?. Facts are stubborn and unpleasant things.

I don't agree on the merits as put forth by President Obama. All I said was that he could have made a much more compelling case. But doing so would have been incompatible with his worldview. I also believe that the president could have gotten a much better deal for the Cuban people given that their Venezuelan sponsor is bankrupt. All Mr. Obama secured was his triumphal greeting in Havana in the next year or two assuming the Castro's are still alive.

The Castro brothers choose to repress the Cuban people. President Obama's deal will not change anything for these people. The evidence for this is that Cuba is free to trade with every other country in the world. The only things they can't get because of the US embargo are F-22 fighters, Abrams tanks and B-2 bombers. Pretty much everything else is available to Cuba. Including tourism.

Our experience with China is often cited as an example of the benefits of an improved relationship with another country. Yet there is now growing evidence that the Chinese are now losing their freedom and that China is now a growing military threat to the entire world. Seems like that was not what we had intended.

On an equally sincere and serious note, Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by Conservator, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Tom and Doug,

Your collective banter reminds me of two old men at the bar who religiously debate the Giants v. Athletics argument on who's better, etc. At the end of the day, both sides likely return to their respective corners just to slug it out another day.

However, I do believe that a very sane argument for reestablishing relations with Cuba can be objectively presented when we look to relatively recent precedents put forth by prior administrations on both sides of the aisle. As Tom clearly noted in his article, today's actions will show no more fruition then a newly planted orchard of seedlings. Time will be needed to see whether or not this potential relationship bears fruit worth consuming by anyone.

In terms of punishing the Fidel and family for their actions during the Cuban missile crisis, amongst other heinous actions onto their own people, let's recall that he will be 89 this coming year. His maker and St. Peter will surely judge him and his brother soon enough.

Bad precedent to not maintain our isolationist position till they were good and gone? I personally would acknowledge that position if it were not for the fact that we as a country establish relationships with dictators of all shapes, colors, etc. so long as it advance an national agenda item - usually economic.

While one could go back in discussion to the necessity of partnering with Stalin, putting up with Franco or even embracing Tito to the point of giving him an olympic event (winter '84), let's not forget the iconic image of a sitting U.S. president (Nixon) on February 21th, 1972 warmly shaking hands with Mao Zedong while he was still just 6 years into a 10 year purge of his society (i.e. Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution). Not to be forgotten, let know one hopefully forget that some 1,149 valiant U.S. soldier gave their lives to Chinese military intervention nearly 22 years earlier at the Battle of Unsan (late 1950) in North Korea. What did get for Nixon's efforts? Access to a billion+ consumers, cheap smartphones and cheap labor for off-shored careers amongst many other blessings & burdens.

Just for completeness, anyone notice how much of our textiles now come from Vietnam as we have embraced our old foe for their benefit (i.e. industry, tourism, etc.) and ours (i.e. now that China is getting expensive, Vietnam is the low cost alternative)? The benefits from the president's actions will not be seen during his administration but perhaps when we are all 'really' old, we'll get access to cheap but great rum and cigars.

Oh, Go A's and Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to you both.

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Doug Miller is a registered user.

Nixon was trying to drive a wedge between the Soviets and the Chinese as a way of weakening the Soviet Union. It would be nice if we had a leader today who thought in those strategic terms. There is one out there. His name is Putin.

I don't think there has been any discussion here of punishing the Castro brothers. But I like the comment that they will soon be meeting their maker. That is good enough for me.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Avignon,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 5:26 pm

It's not just the Castro brothers who will meet their maker. EVERYBODY ON PLANET EARTH WILL MEET THEIR MAKER. and, one never knows when!

The following will drop: Doug, Conservator, Cholo, Tom, American, Michael, San Ramon Observer, there's no escape. will all be a thing of the past and so will all of your families, friends, pets, etc. etc. etc...tee hee hee...

the most hateful beings on planet earth...dust to can run but you can't hide...death has a way of saying it's your time...lets go!

i rest my case...and i mean it!!!

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:42 am

Christmas truce over? Web Link Good.

It is my understanding that the The Right's bear-wrasslin' bromance with Mr. Putin's strategic leadership is fading a bit in the harsh light of current events. His Cold Warrior's view of the world's geopolitics may appeal to some lingering 20th Centurians, but the Cold War has been over for 20 years. His side lost, and it is still losing ground, due to his 'leadership.'

Mr. Putin has been exposed as a dictator whose instincts run toward tin-pots. Like other TPDs, He has allowed his oligarch/cronies to plunder his economy, failed to diversify it away from volatile natural resources markets by making use of the considerable intellectual gifts of his population, suppressed dissent, spent too heavily on a vanity project (Sochi), started a diversionary war and annexed territory (Crimea) that is, itself, an economic disaster area.

Territorial conquest is so 19th century, as Dr. Krugman points out Web Link and Putin's failure to appreciate economics (like the effect of sanctions) has led to a domestic train wreck, the suffering from which is just starting to be felt. Web Link In fact, it's a bit like the last similarly strategic Prez WE had, who invaded another country and then drove our domestic economy into a ditch. Some strategy.

Look, I know your post was really just intended to be a gratuitous, diversionary slam at The Prez, and he's had his limitations, too -- but do you really want to sail that leaky old boat, the RMS Putin, alone except for Sara Palin?

Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 11:39 am

Wait - American? So now torture is bad and illegal immigrants are good? Are you sure you want to go with that now?

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 11:43 am

Michael Austin is a registered user.

For the last four or five weeks now when I read another article about Putin's activity and hear his speeches, and his new military doctrine, etc. That other clown from history comes to mind. Napoleon Bonaparte.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Torture of fellow Americans and citizens of hostile nations is as common as apple pie.

There are multiple examples cited online.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Village High School,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Paul Krugman "truth bomb" - Web Link

Posted by V Hughes, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Dec 27, 2014 at 2:10 pm

My Uncle Ed, your uncle Penn's brother (and thus your...uncle once removed? Is there such a thing? Shame on me for having Cushing blood and not knowing this!), a pretty prominent businessman in his own right - having risen to become SVP of the international conglomerate Lever Brothers, used to say that the isolation of Cuba did more harm than good. "Want to see Cuba change?" he said to me. "Throw a little capitalism on 'em." This was your second summary point - "it is often true, but not necessarily so, that economic progress leads to popular demands for reforms to broaden liberty interests"

I'll be interested to see what happens.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Cousin! The Holiday Season really IS family time!

You're in good company (or at least mine) in not knowing what his relation to me was. I hope we're all correct about Cuba. Thanks for posting!

Posted by Ben, a resident of Birdland,
on Dec 28, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Don't you love how our President hates the police in the USA but loves brutal police states like Cuba? But hey, condemn the CIA for alleged torture, yet ally yourself with a country that uses torture. Our President used a 'hostage' exchange (one a Cuban spy convicted and serving a life sentence for murder) while congress is out, to alter our foreign policy with Cuba. And this is good? We will not be trading goods with common Cuban folks like you and me, but with an iron fist, tyrannical terrorist regime. Apparently those in favor do not understand how communism actually works.

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