The struggle for freedom may be centered in the Middle East at present, but it continues worldwide, and it must be continued in both peaceful and military means.
In that spirit, the President today announced a new policy to bring freedom and democracy to Cuba:
One hundred and thirty-five years ago today, the struggle for Cuban freedom began at a sugar mill near Manzanillo. Carlos Manuel de Cespedas — known as the Father of the Homeland — led an uprising against colonial rule. Today, the struggle for freedom continues — it hasn’t ended — in cities and towns of that beautiful island, in Castro’s prisons, and in the heart of every Cuban patriot. It is carried on by brave dissidents like Oscar Elias Biscet, Marta Beatriz Roque, Leonardo Bruzon Avila.
Last year in Miami, I offered Cuba’s government a way forward — a way forward toward democracy and hope and better relations with the United States. I pledged to work with our Congress to ease bans on trade and travel between our two countries if — and only if — the Cuban government held free and fair elections, allowed the Cuban people to organize, assemble and to speak freely, and ease the stranglehold on private enterprise.
Since I made that offer, we have seen how the Castro regime answers diplomatic initiatives. The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that outraged the world’s conscience.
In April, 75 peaceful members of Cuban opposition were given harsh prison sentences, some as long a 20 years. Their crimes were to publish newspapers, to organize petition drives, to meet to discuss the future of their country. Cuba’s political prisoners subjected to beatings and solitary confinement and the denial of medical treatment. Elections in Cuba are still a sham. Opposition groups still organize and meet at their own peril. Private economic activity is still strangled. Non-government trade unions are still oppressed and suppressed. Property rights are still ignored. And most goods and services produced in Cuba are still reserved for the political elites.
Clearly, the Castro regime will not change by its own choice. But Cuba must change. So today I’m announcing several new initiatives intended to hasten the arrival of a new, free, democratic Cuba.
The explicit proposals – enforcement of restrictions on Cuba travel, an increase in the number of Cuban immigrants, and the creation of what amounts to a standing executive committee on Cuba – suggest a rededication to existing policies rather than a wholly new tack. Still, they ought not be dismissed as mere show. The President makes good arguments for each (including the first, which is somewhat controversial given the suggestion that the quickest way to topple Castro is to expose him to American investment activity), but the greatest impact may come from the rhetoric. After the Cuban Missile Crisis the United States essentially committed itself to the perpetuation of the Castro regime, and since then change in Havanah hasn’t been a serious consideration.
Bush’s announcement may therefore herald a fundamental shift in attitude in Washington – including Foggy Bottom – regarding the permanence or transience of the Castro regime. Furthermore, the emphasis on encouraging reform from within – through an increase in broadcast activities – should please those who (nominally) support human rights but oppose the exercise of American power.
A final remark on the language of the statement. Bush ends with an invokation of the march of liberty:
This country loves freedom and we know that the enemy of every tyrant is the truth. We’re determined to bring the truth to the people who suffer under Fidel Castro.
Cuba has a proud history of fighting for freedom, and that fight goes on. In all that lies ahead, the Cuban people have a constant friend in the United States of America. No tyrant can stand forever against the power of liberty, because the hope of freedom is found in every heart. So today we are confident that no matter what the dictator intends or plans, Cuba sera pronto libre.
When the President used similar language in confronting Iraq and the Arab tyrannies, it was said to be a ruse to obscure the true motive – oil. Perhaps critics of this administration will now recognize, at least to a certain degree, that it holds a true dedication to the spread of feedom for its own sake.
And perhaps those who initially supported this administration only to develop doubts, especially over the summer, will be buoyed by the rope-a-dope language Bush used to introduce his initiative:
Last year in Miami, I offered Cuba’s government a way forward… Since I made that offer, we have seen how the Castro regime answers diplomatic initiatives. The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that outraged the world’s conscience.
It’s possible that this new Cuba initiative was thought up last week as a means to distract from the Plame Affair. It’s perhaps much more likely that it was an inevitable consequence of the anticipated refusal of Havanah to play ball. In the past few weeks the White House seems to have roused itself from its summer slumber. As it attempts to retake the initiative – on Iraq, on Terror, and on the struggle for freedom – erstwhile supporters might reconsider their impatience with an administration that seems to have a knack for staying the course – even when others fail to see it.