Cuban Diplomacy Gets A Chance

The Best Chance In Five Decades
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
     This Getty Images photo was taken yesterday -- Tuesday, January 20th -- a few hours prior to President Obama's State of the Union message in which he affirmed his determination to normalize relations with Cuba, and one day before top diplomats -- America's Roberta Jacobson and Cuba's Josefina Vidal -- begin face-to-face meetings in Havana today trying to negotiate a normalization of relations between the two neighboring countries. This photo shows a Cuban mother and daughter strolling through a vegetable market in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana yesterday.
SBeBeginning today, Wednesday, these two veteran diplomats will meet in Havana and engage in the first truly serious attempt in five decades to minimize the antipathy between two important neighbors, the United States and Cuba. On the left above is Roberta Jacobson, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. On the right above is her Cuban counterpart -- Josefina Vidal, Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs. These two brilliant, dedicated diplomats have held important but mostly un-publicized face-to-face meetings before, both in Washington and Havana and even in Canada. But this week, their sessions in Havana will be spotlighted amid grave expectations, hope, and, to be sure, fierce opposition from self-serving dissidents on the island and from self-serving Cuban-Americans in the U. S. Congress. But President Barack Obama, unlike ten previous American Presidents, has confronted that opposition, leading to the diplomacy in Havana this week. Jacobson and Vidal have now developed special rapport. They respect each others acute dedication and skill in representing their respective countries. Moreover, unlike many high-ranking American and Cuban officials since 1959, they trust each other. If, indeed, there is a real chance to normalize relations between the two nations, the opening salvo this week is in good hands -- the steady and remarkable hands of two women who have their nations, not themselves, as their prime interests.
     While most American journalists lack the courage or impartiality to report fairly regarding Cuban issues, Gwynne Dyer has a bit more freedom to discuss the core issues of U.S.-Cuban relations. He is a London-based Canadian journalist, syndicated columnist, and military expert. His columns are in 175 major newspapers across 45 countries. On the eve of this week's U.S.-Cuban/Jacobson-Vidal meetings in Havana, Mr. Dyer wrote these words in The Christian Science Monitor: "President Barack Obama's decision last month to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba was a good idea. Unfortunately, Obama's good idea is not really going to change things that much. The Republican Party now controls both Houses of Congress and the embargo cannot be ended except by Congressional consent. That will not be forthcoming. It makes political sense for Republicans to oppose Obama's initiative and they have no interest in allowing him a victory that they have it within their power to thwart." Mr. Dyer is among the many top international journalists who find it hard to believe that a nation as great and as powerful as the United States has, for going on six decades and through two generations, allowed a handful of self-serving Cuban-Americans, and their right-wing Republican sycophants, to dictate a Cuban policy that remains so devastating to America's reputation.
     Starting today in Havana, Roberta Jacobson, America's top diplomat when it comes to Cuba and the Western Hemisphere, will represent America. She will tell her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, that the U. S. does not want Cuba to impose a travel restriction on its diplomats in Cuba once the U. S. embassy is opened there. And she will insist that there must be no limitation on the number of U. S. diplomats in Cuba. Also, Ms. Jacobson will demand that Cubans have free access to visit the American embassy. And she will insist that the United States be allowed unimpeded shipments of goods and materials to the embassy.
     Josefina Vidal will tell Roberta Jacobson that Cuba will agree to all those things as long as there is mutual reciprocity, meaning the island must be treated with respect as a sovereign nation. Ms. Vidal and Ms. Jacobson are not strangers; in their previous meetings they have both represented their nations well and gained mutual respect for each other. Ms. Jacobson has assured President Obama that Ms. Vidal is both sincere and dedicated and that she does not have to double-check with anyone before she speaks for Cuba. "She wants normal relations with the U. S. but she wants respect for her country's sovereignty," Ms. Jacobson told President Obama. "But she knows the U. S. is a superpower with 315 million people while Cuba is an island with 11 million people. So, she knows Cuba needs normal relations with us more than we need normal relations with them."
   One indication as to how effective Josefina Vidal has been in representing Cuba in the past fifteen years is the fact that the ultra-powerful and usually unchecked anti-Cuban forces in the U. S. spend a lot of time disparaging her. More often than not, the well-financed anti-Cuban blogs refer to Ms. Vidal as "the Cuban spy expelled from the U. S." Caroline Kennedy invited Ms. Vidal to be a guest speaker at a major historic function at the Kennedy Library in Boston, and Ms. Vidal was the one who received the standing ovation. Ms. Vidal was exemplary when she represented Cuba at its Interests Section in Washington. She is today held in high regards by President Obama and Roberta Jacobson.
     One sticky topic Ms. Vidal will bring up to Ms. Jacobson this week is America's Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy, one of many U. S. laws designed to benefit only Cubans off the island while harming everyone else, including Cubans on the island. Cubans who touch dry U. S. soil are the only would-be immigrants in the world who are home free. All others are subject to incarceration and/or deportation. This has long irked Cuba as well as all other nations, especially those in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is a part of the Cuban Adjustment Act and codified by such blatantly pro-Cuban exile congressional laws as the infamous Torricelli Bill and the even more infamous Helms Burton Act. All Democratic presidents have been ashamed of such discriminatory laws but each of them, including Obama, have repeatedly been told that only Congress can change those laws and Cuban-exile extremists control Congress when it comes to Cuba, with or without a Republican majority.
           There is, of course, no logical reason in a democracy for such laws that benefit only Cuban exiles with the revengeful bonus of hurting Cuba. Ms. Vidal will remind Ms. Jacobson of that again this week. Ms. Jaconson, in turn, will ask Ms. Vidal if Cuba is willing to seriously discuss property the Cuban government naturalized after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Ms. Vidal will say, "Yes, we will but please understand that you must also consider important Cuban grievances in that regard and you must also consider that much of the property claims against Cuba are false claims or the property in question was obtained by fraudulent means." Ms. Vidal in the past has complained bitterly about anti-Cuban judgments in Miami courtrooms when Cuba was not represented. This time, however, it appears such decisions and such negotiations will be conducted in Havana and Washington, not Miami. Thus, Cuba will be represented.
       Both Josefina Vidal and Roberta Jacobson are quite familiar with the famed movie "Scarface." They have discussed its theme before and they will again this week in Havana. In "Scarface" Al Pacino stars as Tony Montana, a Cuban who arrived in Miami courtesy of the Mariel Boatlift that took place in 1980 when Fidel Castro, mourning the death of Celia Sanchez, invited any Cuban that wanted a free and permanent trip to the U. S. to get on boats at the Marial Port. Some 125,000 took him up on it. History registers the fact that Fidel emptied his prisons and mental hospitals with thousands of Cubans he wanted to get shed of. Among them was...Tony Montana. "Scarface" begins with actual black-and-white footage of Cubans from Mariel arriving in Miami. Soon, Tony Montana and other Cubans murderously controlled Miami's lucrative and out-of-control drug trade, not unlike the way Miami was when President Reagan sent Vice President Bush to Miami to "stop that slaughter." On Monday, January 19th, the New York Times had a long article written by Lizette Alvarez and Kristin Hussey entitled "Cubans Convicted In U. S. Face New Fears of Deportation." Unlike all other immigrants in the United States, Cubans cannot be deported after serving prison time, even for murder and rape. However, as the New York Times pointed out, Cubans fear that if the U. S. and Cuba normalize relations, all those special laws pertaining only to Cubans may go by the wayside. Wow! As if the Republicans in the U. S. Congress needed another reason to oppose Obama! Tony Montana, if he had survived that bloody shoot-out in his Miami mansion in "Scarface," would have understood how vital it is for a few Miami Republicans in Congress to forever keep U.S.-Cuban relations...abnormal. 
   Ed Cox is a big-time lawyer-lobbyist in New York. He is the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon. He is also the State Chairman of New York's Republican Committee. Not unexpectedly, Mr. Cox has spent the last few days excoriating New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Governor has informed his staff to arrange a trip to Cuba so he can lead a delegation to the island in hopes of helping secure business deals that would help the people of New York State. Of course, right-wing Republican politicians such as Mr. Cox believe government officials should only help the people already rich enough to contribute to political campaigns, a prime reason conservative Republicans like me are not too fond of right-wing Republicans.

    Rich, liberal Democrats like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sometimes believe even those who are not super-rich must be considered important members of a democracy, especially when they constitute a rather large majority. Ed Cox called Cuomo "Castro-like" for planning a business trip to Cuba. "Castro-like," "Nixon-like," "Obama-like,"...whichever is more democratic should come out the winner. Right now, the Obama-like and Cuomo-like efforts to normalize relations with Cuba are far more democratic and much more decent than being "Cox-like" or "Nixon-like."
 In recent years even Democratic Presidents have not mentioned Cuba in their State of the Union speeches. That will change tonight. President Obama will mention his efforts to begin the process of normalizing relations with the neighboring island, a process that already entails more guts and more success than the previous ten American presidents combined have managed to accomplish. Also, in his State of the Union message tonight President Obama will speak eloquently about the vast and growing wealth disparity in the United States. He will outline sane and decent plans to narrow that gap, knowing full-well that his efforts to do so with outrage money-hungry right-wing Republicans in Congress.
    This Stephen Crowley/New York Times photo shows Alan Gross and his wife Judy shortly after he was freed from a Cuban hospital-prison back in December. Tonight Mr. and Mrs. Gross will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during President Obama's State of the Union address. Mr. Gross was a part of a five-person prisoner swap between the two nations, a deal that preceded the December 17th announcement that the U. S. and Cuba had agreed to try to normalize relations.
     The deal that freed Alan Gross attests to the acumen and diplomatic skills of Josefina Vidal, Cuba's Minister of North America Affairs. She truly epitomizes David vs. Goliath. She direly wanted to send Mr. Gross home three years ago and she surely didn't want him to die or, as he threatened, to commit suicide in Cuba. She was aware the American people were being told that Cuba out of pure meanness arrested Mr. Gross while he was merely a tourist on the island. But Ms. Vidal held an international news conference, complete with evidence, to show that the well-paid Mr. Gross was sent to the island by a U. S. entity that knew he was violating Cuban laws. Her news conference convinced unbiased skeptics, and she also stressed that Cuba needs tourists and they are totally safe on the island as long as they are lawful. She also, for three years, maintained that the anti-Cuban zealots in the U. S. hoped Mr. Gross would languish in his Cuban prison so they could use it to assail Cuba. But while making her points on the matter, Ms. Vidal, a quintessential diplomat and a shrewd negotiator, was not going to back away from her contention that Mr. Gross was "lawfully convicted and the U. S. government, if not the U. S. people, knows it." In the meantime Allan and Judy Gross sued those who had sent him to Cuba on the dangerous mission. And guess what? Within a few days after leaving Cuba, Mr. Gross got a check for $3.2 million. And it wasn't a Cuban check.
The United States and the island of Cuba.
Diplomacy at last!
Come hell, high water, or Republicans.

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