From Cuba With Nada
Every once in a while, we send a useful fool to Havana. They go bearing gifts from the U.S. government; concessions we are willing to make to the world's oldest dictatorship — and one of the most repressive regimes on the planet — without getting anything in return.
Sometimes we think we actually are making progress. Yet when Fidel and Raul Castro's Communist dictatorship makes a concession, it is usually to correct an injustice that should have never been committed in the first place. Their concessions are not permanent changes to their tyrannical rule, but temporary gestures to minimize international condemnation.
They'll release political prisoners who should have never been incarcerated. Then, we'll foolishly recognize it as a sign of progress, only to realize that other dissidents are still being harassed and arrested for the same shameful "offenses," like trying to express themselves freely. That's some progress!
Like broken records, we Cuban-Americans keep telling the rest of our fellow Americans that the Castro brothers would never agree to concessions that would weaken their choking grip on the Cuban people. But nobody listens!
Since the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba has failed to force political change in the Caribbean island for more than a half century, some very naive American politicians assume that simply doing the opposite — caving in to the Castro brothers — is a viable alternative to ease the pain of the Cuban people.
These useful fools actually believe that by lifting all U.S. sanctions on the Cuban government, the Castro tyrants will be miraculously rehabilitated and embrace democracy — as if bloody dictators could go to rehab and come out transformed into humanitarians.
Of course, "useful fools" is the term traditionally used by communists to describe gullible people who fall for the romantic appeal of leftist rebels — idealists who allow themselves to be used by the communists. If it were up to the useful fools who visit Havana, the U.S. government would be making unreciprocated concessions to the Cuban tyrants.
After 52 years of witnessing the Machiavellian ways of the Castro brothers, the U.S. still sends people to Cuba bearing concessions, and still they come back empty-handed. Former President Jimmy Carter did it earlier this year.
But the latest one is Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico congressman, governor and U.S ambassador to the United Nations who recently went to Havana bearing concessions and came back with nada.
Richardson, who, like Carter, has been a Havana-useful-fool for many years, with a long history of taking naive and weak positions on Cuba, came back from his latest Havana travels explaining that he was disappointed and surprised by the way he was treated in the communist island.
"Perhaps the Cuban government has decided it does not want to improve relations" with the United States, Richardson said before leaving Havana. "Perhaps that is the message it is sending."
The question is not whether this is true or not, because of course it is! If it means making concessions, Havana is not interested in relations. The question is why it takes people like Richardson so long to come to that conclusion.
Since he went to Cuba seeking the release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and was not even allowed to visit Gross in jail, Richardson is now beginning to sound like a Cuban-American. "I don't know if I could return here as a friend," Richardson told CNN from Havana.
A couple of days earlier, Richardson had defiantly vowed to remain in Cuba until he got an opportunity to, at least, see Gross. But when the Castro government snubbed him, and his stay in Cuba became uncomfortable, he had to come home with his tail between his legs.
Gross, a 62-year-old Maryland native, was arrested in Cuba nearly 22 months ago for distributing Internet equipment, financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, among a small group of Cuban Jews.
Charging that USAID's "democracy-building" programs are an attempt to bring down their government, the Cubans accused Gross of committing "crimes against the state" and in March, their kangaroo courts sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
How naive can we be? Our government tells the whole world that we are promoting "democratization programs" in Cuba and we expect the self-preserving Castro brothers to allow it.
Richardson, a diplomat who has won the release of several U.S. citizens around the world, went to Havana vowing that if Gross were freed, Cuba and the United States could renew talks on issues of interest to the Communist regime. Published reports indicate he had State Department-authorized concessions to make, including an offer to remove Cuba from the list of countries that, according to the U.S. government, support terrorism. But he never got the chance!
Richardson told reporters that Cuban officials did not even want to discuss Gross' case with him, or to find ways to resolve the standoff. "It was just an outright rejection of even a dialogue on what could be done," Richardson said. Coming from a useful fool who has been an outspoken proponent of dialogue and relations with the Cuban dictators, this is priceless!
Other useful fools have gone to Havana and come back without concessions that could lead to freedom and democracy for the Cuban people. But at least some, including Carter, have been allowed to meet with Gross.
Apparently, Carter and Richardson had been led to believe that Cuba would reconsider holding Gross in prison once his legal case had run its course through the Cuban courts. Since Cuba's Supreme Kangaroo Court denied Gross' final appeal in August, apparently Richardson felt the time was right to visit his communist friends in Havana — especially since Gross has lost 100 pounds in prison and calls for his release on humanitarian grounds have increased.
Yet Cuba's position apparently hardened when Richardson made the grave mistake of speaking freely in a country were even a former U.N. ambassador has to watch his words.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Richardson said Gross was being held "hostage" by the Cuban government, triggering the wrath of Cuban government officials who accused him of "blackmail" and slander. They denied Richardson's claim that he was invited to the island to discuss the release of the American contractor, who is being held in a Cuban military hospital. "His request to see the prisoner ... became impossible due to his slanderous statements to the press in which he described Gross as a 'hostage' of the Cuban government," said Josefina Vidal, the head of North American affairs in Cuba's Foreign Ministry. "We explained to Mr. Richardson that Cuba is a sovereign country which does not accept blackmail, pressure or posturing," she added. With amigos like these, Richardson doesn't need enemigos.
Until now, the Cubans have seen him as a useful fool and played him like a fiddle, but they have no use for him anymore. They needed an excuse to prolong the status quo and decided that their friendship with Richardson was expendable.
Ironically, the media keeps reporting that the Gross case has crippled attempts to improve relations between Washington and Havana, when in fact, those attempts have been consistently sabotaged by the Cuban government for more than 50 years. The Gross case and the treatment of Richardson is just Cuba's way of remaining isolated, to keep from having to make concessions that would loosen the Castro stranglehold of the Cuban people.
Perhaps now Richardson recognizes the futility of negotiating with tyrants whose only objective is staying in power. Unfortunately, instead of squeezing the Castro regime until it releases Gross, people like Richardson have been trying to free the American contractor with kindness toward his captors. It will never work. This is not a language the Castro brothers understand.
Gross will be released only when (instead of constantly turning the other cheek so the Castro brothers can keep slapping us) our government decides to play hardball with Cuba. We can expect Gross to be freed only if we impose further travel and economic sanctions on the Castro regime. We must make the Cuban government appreciate the heavy cost of keeping an American hostage.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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