Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poor Cuba: So Far from God, So Close to the United States

While studying abroad at the University of Havana in 2003, I had a conversation with a Cuban student who expressed to me some mocking trepidation that the U.S. embargo (or "blockade," in Cuban parlance) would soon be lifted.

"Then we're in real trouble," he related. "All the computer software we have down here is pirated, and if the U.S. finds out, they'll take it away from us."

Four years later, he clearly still has nothing to worry about.

Stumbling into its 46th year, the beleaguered U.S. policy of "stand[ing] with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty" shows no signs of fading away any time soon - indeed, in spite of opposition from virtually the entire world (minus the usual dependencies of Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, per a 2006 UN vote), agricultural interests in the U.S. who want to increase trade with the island, and many members of Congress, U.S. policy towards Cuba has taken an even more draconian turn in recent years.

In 2004, Washington implemented changes preventing Cuban Americans from visiting anyone but immediate family members on the island, and limiting how often they can do so (curiously, sans protest from Focus on the Family or other "family values" crusaders). Study abroad programs for U.S. university students were mostly banned.

In 2006, the U.S. announced "more vigorous investigations and more aggressive prosecutions" of embargo-violators, real scum of the earth who dare to visit the island to deliver humanitarian aid, or, say, because they don't think that the government has the right to tell them where not to travel. Tellingly, a 2004 investigation by the Associated Press found that "The Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money."

Though critiques of U.S. policy towards Cuba are obvious, and accepted by basically every nation in the world - Cuba isn't quite a "tropical gulag," and it's wrong in principle to force food and medical scarcities on a population for geopolitical gain - it is especially significant in this case the extent to which U.S. policy contradicts U.S. policy goals.

While its deleterious effects are very real, the U.S. embargo/blockade functions, in essence, as Cuba's "War on Terror": a blanket excuse Havana can use for any related or unrelated problem in the country (dissidents? food shortages?), and an automatic justification for whatever repressive measures the government proposes.

One could argue that Washington simply doesn't get the point - that its policies are propping up the Cuban government - though the political establishment in the U.S. clearly understands the idea of fear mongering to beat its own population into submission.

In reality, the embargo/blockade's endurance is better explained by the fact that there is a potential outcome for U.S. imperial interests that is far more dangerous than strengthening the hand of the Cuban government - it's admitting that the embargo/blockade against Cuba hasn't worked, and in the process giving other poor nations the idea that they too can outlast or overcome superpower assault.

Though the embargo/blockade clearly strengthens the Cuban government in the ways mentioned above, it will thus stick around as long as the price for getting rid of it is the empire's aura of invincibility.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Outhawking the Republicans - Democrats and Darfur

While the Bush administration has taken very little action on Darfur (unless "action" can be defined by empty rhetorical flourishes, coddling members of Sudan's intelligence apparatus, and castrating aid organizations and the African Union deployment), the major Democratic presidential contenders have staked out highly bellicose ground in their "solutions" to the conflict, seeking to play to Save Darfur activists who are rearing for confrontation with Khartoum and prove their own meddle in managing the ever-invoked "War on Terror."

Far from consideration for the candidates is how this militant posturing, if actually carried out, would affect the masses of suffering Darfurians.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama (amongst others), all support a no-fly zone for Darfur - a potentially catastrophic idea (see our previous post on the topic) with little possible upside for suffering Darfurians, as the majority of attacks against civilians are carried out not from the air, but on the ground. Instead, the imposition of a no-fly zone is likely to provoke Khartoum into unleashing its wrath on Darfurian civilians and the AU deployment, and worsen the already dire circumstances in which aid organizations operate in the region.

Others of the candidates' stances plunge further into the depths of dangerousness and irrationality.

Clinton, for one, has floated the idea of blockading the Port of Sudan, a measure that is at least tantamount to an act of war.

Like Clinton, who pledged to "work with NATO to take military action” in Sudan if Khartoum does not allow a UN-AU deployment into the country, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), evidently seeking to make an already calamitous situation even worse, proposes unilaterally sending US troops into Sudan, a "humanitarian intervention" that conjures (at best) the disastrous US-led deployment in the early 1990s to Somalia.

The direct involvement of NATO or even US troops in a potential "peacekeeping" force in Sudan, as suggested by some, would in all probability lead to Sudanese groups "start[ing] a jihad against it," in the words of Jan Pronk, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan.

While the Democratic frontrunners toy with Darfurian lives for the sake of pandering and bolstering their jingoist credentials, less sexy but more helpful measures remain on the table for actually attempting to mitigate the crisis, the same ones that have been around all along and have been consistently ignored by politicians and many Darfur activists alike: funding aid organizations, pushing an expansion in the size of (and a broadened mandate for) the AU deployment, and seeking a political settlement through promoting a common rebel negotiating front for talks with Khartoum.

Though less conducive to projecting US military might, these are the demands that activists should be pushing for from the potential heirs to the throne of "leader of the free world."

Unfortunately, should their saber-rattling come to fruition, the powers that be of the future instead seem intent on destroying Darfur in order to "save" it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Article on Darfur Divestment

We have a new Darfur piece entitled "Divestment: Solution or Diversion?" published in Foreign Policy in Focus - accompanied by an opposing viewpoint piece, authored by Daniel Millenson. Our response to his article should be up soon.