President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro during their historic meeting at the Summit  of the Americas, Panama City, Panama, April 11, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro during their historic meeting at the Summit
of the Americas, Panama City, Panama, April 11, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Ralph E Stone Global News Centre
I applaud President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, including his recent historic visit there. Isolating Cuba has not worked. Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959 and then handed power to his brother Raúl in 2008. Thus, the Castro brothers have outlasted eleven U.S. presidents.

My wife and I traveled to Cuba in 2003 on the last people-to-people exchange programs,.  The goals of these programs were to enhance cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans.  New regulations issued in 2003 ended these tours.  What a difference a decade or so made.  Now we have diplomatic relations with Cuba and last year the U.S. embassy was reopened in Havana.  Commercial flights now fly directly to Cuba from the U.S. although technically U.S. travel to Cuba is still illegal until both countries work out the details of such travel.

Critics of normalization point to Cuba’s poor human rights record, a hypocritical stance.  Consider that the U.S. right now has the world’s largest prison population by far. There are 2.2 million citizens in prison here for offenses that include smoking pot and failing to pay off certain debts. At its peak, there were 2.5 million in Stalin’s Soviet Gulag.

And remember the U.S. Senate Torture Report documenting the CIA’s use of torture and our extraordinary rendition program (secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to other countries where torture was used)?  The Report found that the CIA used waterboarding, shackling detainees in painful positions, prolonged sleep deprivation, rectal feeding, and slamming detainees against walls.

As the Bible says, ”He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Past U.S. administrations got along fine with Fulgencio Batista the thug Castro overthrew. During Batista’s rule, Americans were free to frolic at the nightclubs, casinos and beach resorts during Batista’s thuggish regime. But then Batista was in our pocket, whereas the Castro brothers are not.  And Castro was a communist and Batista was just a brutal dictator.

Two major obstacles remain before there is full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba:  the closing of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp and the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba, and lifting the embargo on trade between the U.S. and Cuba.

How did we come to control Guantánamo Bay?  The Platt amendment to a U.S. Army Appropriations Bill of 1901 gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever the U.S. decided such intervention was warranted.  Cubans were given the choice of accepting the Platt Amendment or remaining under U.S. military occupation indefinitely.  The U.S. has intervened militarily in Cuban affairs at least three times.  U.S. intervention endowed Cuba with a series of  weak, corrupt, dependent governments.  In 1903, the U.S. used it to obtain a perpetual least of Guantánamo Bay, a blatant example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy.

The current Cuban government consider the U.S. presence in Guantánamo to be illegal and the Cuban-American Treaty to have been procured by the threat of force in violation of international law.

There are presently 91 prisoners left at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.  Last month, President Obama sent another plan to close the Camp, which centers on bringing to a prison on domestic soil 30 to 60 detainees who are deemed too dangerous to release, while transferring the remaining detainees to other countries.

Opponents do not want “terrorists” on U.S. soil. Yet, during World War II, the U.S. housed, fed, and worked over 425,000 German POWs in 700 camps in 46 states with little or no risk to the populace.  Most of the camps were low to medium security camps, not prisons, although some of the camps had to be designated “segregation camps,” used to separate the Nazi “true believers” from the rest of the prisoners. Of the 425,000 POWs held in U.S. prison camps, only 2,222 – less than 1 percent – attempted escape with most were quickly rounded up.  Guantánamo prisoners, on the other hand, would be sent to medium, high, or even so-called supermax security prisons, where the chance of escape would be minimal.

Obama’s latest plan to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp was immediately rejected by the Republicans in Congress and the GOP presidential candidates.  Thus, Guantánamo will continue to be a shameful episode in U.S.history.

President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of his move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba by calling on Congress to end the U.S. embargo.  Clearly, it is nothing but a relic of the Cold War dating back to 1962, when President Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447 to declare “an embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba.”  (As an aside, the night before he signed the embargo, JFK sent his Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, to procure as many Cuban cigars as he could find. Salinger returned with a stash of 1,200 Petit Upmann cigars.)

Progress has been made in normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations but full normalization is still a work in progress.


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