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Bush's Delusional Cuba Policy

Since becoming Acting President of Cuba last July, Raul Castro has on several occassions offered to begin a dialogue with the United States. Each time, the offer has been rejected. Speaking to the Council of the Americas on February 21st, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez made it clear that this will not change, that the Bush administration will not deal with the “successor regime” in Cuba. Instead, Bush will continue efforts to bring down the Cuban government.

Bush's efforts began back in 2003 with the formation of the President’s “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.” As Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega explained its purpose back then: “The president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in office for so long.”

In May of 2004, the Commission issued an almost 500-page report that suggested the Castro government was near collapse. Just a few more Radio Marti broadcasts and a few more travel license denials and it would all be over. The United States, the report suggested, would then come in and show the Cubans how to run their country -- how to operate their schools and make their trains run on time. So confident was the Bush administration of Castro’s impending demise that on July 28, 2005, it appointed a transition coordinator for Cuba. As one critic noted at the time: “At least in Iraq they waited until they had invaded and occupied the country before appointing a transition coordinator!”

Even Cubans who had their disagreements with their government did not want to be told by the U.S. how to run their country. Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba’s leading human rights activist, was quoted in an EFE dispatch as calling the appointment “counterproductive.”

Oswaldo Paya, the dissident leader of the Varela project, objected strongly saying that “any transition must be coordinated by Cubans and only by Cubans, and most certainly not by someone appointed by the U.S. government. The very idea is harmful to our cause.”

More than two years after the issuance of the first report, at a ceremony on July 10, 2006 presided over by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, the co-chairs of the Commission, a new report was issued called a “Compact With the Cuban People.” Doubtless in response to the unfavorable reaction in Cuba to the old report, the new one stressed that solutions must come from Cubans on the island. The U.S. simply stood ready to support their initiatives. But having said that, it went on with page after page of recommended actions, from reorganizing the economy and the educational system to the holding of multiparty elections -- all of this provided, of course, that the Cubans on the island wished to initiate them....And the U.S. transition coordinator remained in place.

The original report’s premise that the Castro regime was on the verge of collapse was undiminished. But this simply reflected its divorce from reality. For rather than collapsing, the Cuban economy shows strong signs of reinvigoration. It has a new, vitally important economic relationships with Venezuela and China. The price of nickel, its principal export, has reached an all-time high. And there are strong signs of a new oil field off the north coast, for which various nations are already bidding for drilling rights. Even the CIA pegged Cuba’s economic growth rate in 2005 at 8%. It will almost certainly be higher for 2006. If the oil field comes in, its all over for U.S. policy.

The 2006 “Compact” also sought to rule out a “succession strategy” -- i.e. that Raul Castro, the First Vice President, replace Fidel Castro if the latter became incapacitated -- as called for by the Cuban Constitution. It called on Cuban citizens and the international community to insist instead on an entirely new government, one elected by the people.

There was no response at all to this call. Yet, when on July 31st Fidel Castro announced that because of a delicate intestinal operation requiring an indefinite period of recuperation he was signing power over to his brother, who would now be Acting President, there was dancing in the streets of Miami and elation in Washington. The expectation in both was that the revolutionary system in Cuba would quickly collapse. As one exile reveler in Miami put it: “The Cuban people won’t put up with Raul Castro more than two weeks.”

Wrong again. Almost eight months later, Raul is governing the country smoothly. There has not been a single protest or disruption; rather, the Cuban people have accepted the transition with calm maturity, and there is every indication that they will continue to do so.

In short, the Bush administration’s expectations for regime change have proved strikingly wrong, and its efforts to bring that about through such measures as travel controls and increased Radio and TV Marti broadcasts are pathetically ineffective. But the administration gives no sign of giving up on this failed policy. On the contrary, in his remarks on February 21st, Gutierrez said the U.S. would stand by its present policy, ready to “help the Cuba people hasten the day for a transition government, for the moment when the Cuban people demand freedom.”

And when that day comes, he assured them, the U.S. would provide emergency food, water, fuel, electrical power, and medical equipment -- and would help them rebuild their economy.

But Cubans may have serious reservations about such offers in view of the Bush administration’s glaring failure to provide just such assistance to its own people -- to the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast -- or to rebuild, or just restore water and power, in Iraq. As a Cuban friend put it to me during my last trip to Havana in February: “The U.S. reputation for nation building goes up in the smoke rising from the ruins of Iraq!”

Wayne S. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is the former Chief of the U.S. interests Section in Havana (1979-82)

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Comments (29)


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Elizabeth Newhouse:

Wayne Smith is absolutely right. The Bush policy is nothing short of delusional.I've just been in Havana and have seen the suffering it has wrought: the greatly reduced flow of dollars and the limitations on family visits have made the Cubans' difficult lives painfully more so. (The scenes at the airport are heartbreaking.) And the Cuban government? It's doing fine. And misses no opportunity to blame the U.S. for every misery.

Erik M. Faraldo:

As a Cuban-American B.C. (before Castro) I applaud the Washington Post for publishing Wayne Smith's Op Ed piece, with which I agree wholeheartdly.
In 2001, I returned to Cuba after a 41 year absence, stayed for five weeks and traveled all over the island. I was so depressed that on my return I joined several pro-Cuba organizations and started working toward lifting the embargo.
I also started organizing trade trips to Cuba from California.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration, cut off our legs by revising OFAC regulations and making it nearly impossible to travel to Cuba.
Don't get me wrong, Fidel Castro is a dictator who has done some good, (health,education, etc.) but in my opinion, has done much more harm. Unfortunately, the regime in Cuba, has been a "fait acompli" for many years and the US needs to acknowledge this fact, and at the very least, remove all travel restrictions. Someone said that the best way to undermine the Cuban regime is to send all of the college students to Cuba during Easter break.
Also, I submit, all of us need to do something concrete, i.e. walk the talk, to convince the US Congress to reverse the madness called "Cuba Policy".

Gus Tapias:

First of all, Cuba has to be resolved by the Cubans. In order to achieve democracy people have to be educated and appreciate a free from of Government. The Government has made an attempt to educate everyone and is a matter of time where you will see an evolution into a Democratic/Socialist system. Just like Franco did in Spain, Castro will achieve the same.

Second, Cuba up to now had nothing to trade as to peak the interest of the USA. Now, there is oil and that changes the game. They appear to hold more known reserves than the ANWR. This has peaked the interests of several oil executives which have pressured Congress to act in behalf of us in the USA.

Eventually they two interest will merge and you will see a transition of open markets initiated by both countries which will create an economic change that will benefit both countries. At that time, you will see the Cuban people once they have something to protect such as property, etc. demand changes to a government that up to now has no laws other than the word of Fidel.

I see no other way of resolving this issue other than time and patience. Don't worry about the Cuban community in Miami or elsewhere, they have no interest in seeing their family members bleed in a protracted war. Instead by merging these interests, both sides will save face and will start to economically cooperate.

Long term animosities between the exiles and the locals, will end. After all, the exile community can buy Cuba several times over without firing one single shot. And I know that when the time comes, Cubans will help their brothers there. We are very family oriented people, sometimes emotional in nature, but overall, we all want the same thing. Goods and Services to flow freely as to provide for our families that are in dire need.

Don't wait for George Bush to solve this issue. He is too busy being a lame duck president and has problems of his own at this time. Don't wish him bad, but hopefully in due time after his administration, the oil business and the economic prosperity brought in due to cooperation, the change will come.

Gus Tapias, Placentia, California

Ronald Kohn:

Wayne Smith sure hit the nail on the proverbial head. Que lastima - What a shame that there aren't more like Wayne, so correct and up-to-date on the frankly absurd Cuban situation. Enough is enough. In all the media, print or filmed, is there absolutely no one capable of informing just what is the true reality of that beautiful island? I truly can't ever recall one piece of fully honest reporting. My connection with Cuba goes back to 1950 when I was a student at the University of Havana. It is interesting to note that the Cuban problem goes across political party lines in the USA. Some of the leaders in the fight to open trade and tourism to Cuba are members of the Republican party, meanwhile there are Democratic members of congress almost violently opposed to any opening. There are so many ridiculous instances, that of course have not been fully investigated. I think first of all of the case of Sgt, Carlos Lazo. Medic in the USA army in Iraq. Decorated for his excellent military service. I met Sgt Lazo in Newark at the meeting of the National Summit on Cuba. An excellent documentary of his ongoing problem has been faithfully filmed. Sgt Lazo, as most know, in spite of his military record was not permitted to pay a short visit to Havana to visit with his ailing son. Incredible. I have spent some time in so called Little Havana (Miami). There are of course still many die hards, waiting for the demise of Castro and the return to the good old days of Batista and the mafia. However, I have found if you have one on one private conversations with members of the Cuban community, an entirely different, far more realistic impression is gathered. It should also be noted that Little Havana is no longer a so called strictly Cuban enclave. Very possibly one half of the inhabitants of that area are of very non-Cuban backgrounds.


Since the Revolution, Cuba "has on several occassions offered to begin a dialogue with the United States. Each time, the offer has been rejected." Worse than that,the US has repeatedly initiated hostile actions against Cuba, amounting to no less than acts of war. That part of recent US-Cuban history should be revisited by all.

Should be revisited also the older history of Cuba. Those who revisit it will soon notice that Cubans have shown not to be the type of people to be told by others, not even the United States of America, how to run their country. Depite all propaganda to the contrary, including on those Radio and TV that have nothing Marti about them, but the name, Cuba is unlikely to become anything else than a free country. Time to wake up to reality and get used to it.

Justin Sanchez:

The comunist goverment of Cuba will out last Mr.Bush forty or fifty more years long after
Mr.Bush is gone. They just dont get it. Cuba
Has never operated under pressure from any Goverment. Everything has been acomplish by
Dialoge. Mr.Bush did not get it right with
North Korea. Until he started with negociation
Please the American Embargo has not worked in
48 years. Please give it up. The only country
That you can view TV Marti is this country on
On satelite chanel 38. Only 22 more months
Of George Bush Doctrine. Please approve the
New Cuban policy from Senator Mr. Enzy its more
In reality with the Cuban policys.

Elena Freyre:

As aCuban American from Miami, Icouldn't agree more with Wayne Smith's comments. It's past time to stop this cruel insane policy. Let the Cuban families come together in peace as they should. Stop listening to the same old, tired misguided voices in Miami and Let my People Go!

Richard Grove:

Thank you Wayne S. Smith for your intelligent and comprehensive article on Cuba.

I am the president of the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance. I just returned from another trip to Havana. Let me reassure your readers that Cuba is not, in anyway, in reaction mode, life goes on as usual. Cubans are not looking forward to Fidel’s death and they have fully and without a hint of revolution accepted the appointment of his brother, Raul Castro.

While I do feel that Fidel Castro should have created a democracy by now I am in full support of Fidel’s persistence in not capitulating to the U.S. of A. Only a megalomaniac like Bush would even think about thrusting self will on a peace loving country like Cuba. The US embargo needs to be lifted. If George W. Bush would like to see change he would be better off lifting the embargo and let the natural order of exchange between two countries take place. USA president George W. Bush’s policy is nothing short of delusional. He should spend his energy on fixing up his our country.

Richard Grove
Brighton, Ontario, Canada

Matt from D.C.:


If you think paperwork is the problem, you have a lot to learn. I would suggest educating yourself before you condescend. You'll sound like less of an idiot that way.



To James Buchanan:

You, sir, like the US Cuban policy, are a hypocrite. I ask you this: Why Cuba? Why do you talk down to Cubans like that?

China is a far more repressive regime and a real threat to you and the rest of the world, yet your leaders and politics kiss China's ass every day. Cuba is harmless, yet US policies make it even hard for decent Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives.

Why the hypocrisy?

Matt from D.C.:

Not only is Mr. Smith correct in his analysis of the situation, I would like to point out that his conclusions about the ineptitude of our Cuba policy are NOT disputed. There isn't a single intellectual or political circle in the entire world outside the neo-con cabal that has said a single positive word about it. At least, not in my lifetime.

The closest thing resembling credible praise for the embargo that I can remember was something along the lines of that it "may have appropriate in 1979 given the tensions that persisted at the height of the Cold War," and I've been researching this issue all year. Those probably aren't the exact words... check out www.cubacentral.com if you want details. There are a ton of articles there from both domestic and international media about Cuba issues. I don't know who runs that site but it's awesome.

I won't even mention that the travel restrictions have torn apart hundreds of Cuban families. That is hideously immoral, at least according to our standards. Angus Reid and Gallup, two of the most prestigious organizations specializing in measuring global opinion, have shown that the majority of the American people are in favor of dropping the embargo and normalizing our relations with Cuba. By the people, of the people, for the people? Not on this one, folks.

Last point...The 2006 United Nations resolution condemned the embargo by a vote of 183 to 4.


P.S. Yes, there is something you can do right now. Get your congressman/woman to support H.R. 654! It's a bill meant to end the travel ban. Write to them!

Sarah Stephens:

Dr. Smith makes a number of valid points about the futility of our Cuba policy, but another larger point is in order; not only has this policy failed to overthrow Cuba’s government and system, but it harms the image of our country throughout the region. Fidel Castro’s illness in 2006 offered the United States an opportunity to forge a new relationship with Cuba, surpassing enmity built since the Cold War, while demonstrating a new realism and openness for critical audiences in the region and elsewhere. Against all reason, the Bush administration not only continued but hardened this archaic policy at a time when leaders across the world were lionizing Castro. This is antithetical to our interests. As Dr. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations has argued, “With U.S. credibility in Latin America and the rest of the world at an all-time low, it is time to put to rest a policy that Fidel’s handover of power has already so clearly exposed as a complete failure.”[1]

It is in these terms that the Cuba policy debate ought to take place. What is in the national interest of the United States? If the policy fails and harms the U.S. throughout the region, why must we continue to injure our interests with a policy that doesn't work. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that we need to change course. But let's not forget who we're dealing with in Washington.

[1] “Fidel’s Final Victory,” Julia Sweig, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007, 40-41.

James Buchanan:

To the Cuban exiles whining about US policy towards the island, if its so miserable to deal with the paperwork from the State Department, go back the way most of you came: on a boat with the clothes on your back. Currents flow both ways, ya know? As for the rest, the US will deal with Cuba in any manner that puts them in their place. A minor nation insignificant in the world, and forever to remain such. If its so great, stay there, keep kissing the ass of the Castro family and enjoy yourselves. If national sovreignty and security are of greater concern than your own personal freedoms, you do not deserve to be free.


As a Latino American who's grown deeply dissapointed at U.S. policy toward Cuba, I'd like to thank the Washington Post for incorporating the thoughtful views of Dr. Wayne S. Smith on this critical debate. The real issue surrounding the U.S.-Cuba debate is in the main, national sovereingty. That is, whether or not nations have the right to choose their own political, cultural, and economic paths. Since 1959, Cuba has answerd this question clearly, and in the affirmative. So has the U.S. Unfortunately, our country, which emerged as a nation from a revolutionary war, persists in ignoring every nation's right to determine what's in their best national interests. That is unfortunate, and tragic, because our government is suppossed to represent what is in the best interests of the majority of the American people, as long as those policies are in conformity with international law, and human rights. Like a majority of the American people, I strongly believe the time to change our failed Cuba policy is long overdue. Juan Jose Gutierrez, Coordinator, Latino Movement USA.


I am also a Cuban American with family in Cuba. My mother passed away two years ago and I wasn't able to even attend the funeral and that's something that I have to carry for my entire life. I will never forgive this administration for all the harm they've done to me and many others in my situation. Shame on you Mr. Bush.

Geoffrey Gordon:

The Bush Administration and Cuban-American exile community rhetoric about building democracy in Cuba is really quite hollow. While I am certainly no friend of Fidel, I really don't see US being a positive influence in the country, as it has not been in the region. Most of American aid in the region has gone to military assistance of right-wing and right-of-center governments (democracies or not) and counter-narcotic programs that have been very costly in terms of lives and economic losses to the people in the region. If Plan Colombia is what the US calls support for democracy in Latin America, it is no wonder why democracy is at risk in the region. I have little hope that US policy towards a post-Castro Cuba would be any different. What the US needs is a drastic policy shift, away from supporting governments that are completely beholden to paramilitary death squads (like Colombia, the largest US aid recipient in the region) and ineffective anti-drug programs, and towards promotion of social justice and improving the region's standard of living. While I certainly do not like Hugo Chavez's bellicose rhetoric, bullying of other countries (he's becoming a lot like America in that regard), or abuse of civil rights domestically, his aid programs are doing more to aid development in the region than the US's. US policy in the region seems to be left over from the Cold War, with a focus on undermining the left in the region. US aid should focus on building democratic institutions (even when they bring people from the left to power) and promoting the rule of law, both of which the US has historically undermined in the region.

The Cold War is over. Communism crossing the Rio Grande was never a serious threat, even less so now. It's time for the US to start doing some good in the region, rather than continuously bullying other countries into submission.

Jose Latour:

I have met and talked to Canadians, Americans and Spaniards that, in their own country, passionately defend their rights to found political parties, publish newspapers, criticize their governments, and organize political rallies and marches where they yell at and stone the police. I admire how they defend those human rights; that is democracy. What I don’t understand is that some among these democrats support and rabidly defend a government that denies to its people the same rights they so fervently want for themselves.

The only rational explanation I find to that is that they have no idea of what has been going on in Cuba along half a century, no idea at all.

Walter Lippmann:

As always, Wayne Smith provides us with thoughtful comments and recommendations which our country would be well-advised to follow. He knows Cuba better than most of us, having lived and worked there before and after the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

My father and his parents lived here in Cuba during World War II. They were German Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and if it weren't for their ability to find refuge here, I never would have been born. I learned about Cuba from my father and have been following this country's evolution for most of my adult life. Now I come as a journalist and researcher working hard to see how this country has been able to survive despite nearly fifty years of bad neighborly efforts to re-impose Washington-backed rule on this place. No one complained about human rights abuses when the Batista dictatorship was in place. Today, despite its many problems, Cuba's health care system is the envy of the third world, and provides help to poor and struggling peoples everywhere.

Cuba even offered to send 1500 doctors to work for free in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They don't involve themselves in Haiti's domestic politics, where Cuba provides the backbone of that sad country's medical system. We have much to learn from Cuba, and should open ourselves to that.

I'm sitting here in Havana, and from where I sit, calmness prevails in this country. I've traveled around the island over the years when I've been coming here, since 1999, and there's little likelihood that it's much different in the rest of the country. Cuba has plenty of problems, but the solution to NONE of them can be found in a Washington-imposed solution. It's time to wake up and smell the coffee. And it's time to normalize relations with this small neighboring country.

To follow the Cuban story as it continues to unfold, I welcome readers here to join in my own voyage of discovery as I try to follow developments in this country. I'm based in Los Angeles but travel here to Cuba frequently and continue to share information and impressions via a Yahoo news group and a personal website which I continue to maintain while visiting.

Thanks to the Washington Post as well for opening this kind of discussion here as well.

Walter Lippmann
Havana, Cuba

waldo Parravicini:

My name is Waldo F. Parravicini. I am Cuban-American Civil Engineer with family in Cuba, and weall hurt because of the cruel, obsolete and counterproductive US polycy against our native land. Why Cuba, but not China or Vietnam?
One example of millions: our Cuban mother Haydee G. Rodriguez died January 13, 2007 at age 95 in my sister Yleana Mason's home in South Carolina. Mother was terminaly ill and for the past eight months we have been trying to bring our other sister Haydee V. Parravicini from Matanzas, Cuba so that she could see and say good bye to our mami. My sisters and I filled all kinds of USA's papers and forms, spend all kinds of money, made all kinds of phone calls, worked in internet and even asked our respective US Senators for help. Well our mother died and our sister Haydecita is still in Cuba. Haydecita, who visited us here in the US for the last time at the end of 2003, recently and finally got her US visa to come; but kind of late, do not you think? There was no traveling problem with Havana, all of the impediments, delays, cruelties and lack of freedom were Washington's.

Waldo F. parravicini
1552 Ridge Crest Way, Monyerey Park, Ca. 91754

David (Expat living in Mexico):

Bush is a religious fanatic. Crazy as a loon and like the "Blues Brothers," thinks he is on a mission from God.

Herr Bush cares not what the majority of Americans want, from Iraq to Cuban policy.

May God save the U.S. from George W.

I love America, with all it's faults, but Bush must go.


President Bush adopted with fanfare the 2006 report of his commission for regime change in Cuba. The commission had predicted widespread uprisings in Cuba as soon as Fidel Castro became unable to govern, even a desperate call for the US to intervene. As we all know now, nothing of the sort happened. All of the President's wise counselors, all of the chiefs of the agencies involved in the report, all of his Cuban advisors, and he himself, were dead wrong.

The President's response to a journalist's subsequent question was that he did not know what was going on in Cuba. Mr. Bush explained that that was because Cuba was "opaque." This, despite his briefings from the CIA, the reports from the US Interests Section in Havana and the State Department (Condoleeza Rice was co-chair of the commission, along with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, born in Cuba), information from other friendly embassies, information from Echelon, and the constant reports from the independent--from the Cuban government--reporters and dissidents who work closely with the Interests Section.

In the face of what the "reality-based community" likes to call "facts," the President persists in hanging on to his policy, even if the rest of the world disagrees. (And the rest of the world does disagree, as the vote at the UN's General Assembly every year shows.)

Wayne Smith is correct: the President's policy is delusional.


I am cuban-american and want to visit my family, but the congressmen and senators from Florida think they have the right to tell me when, and how often, I can visit my dying father.

They deny my husband the right to see his dying father-in-law.

Controlling my most basic right - to visit and see and help my own flesh and blood. That seems facist to me.

Yes for Cuban-american family rights act!


Wayne smith rocks!@

the problem is the Cuban-American community of miami has a stronghold on us policy (ironically showing the undemocratic nature of their own community). They will never see the issue through objective eyes and will never by persuaded. .they think Wayne is a communist.. All cubans seem the same, extreme right in miami and extreme left on la isla.. where are the moderates?

John Parke Wright:

Wayne Smith brings up the question of American Policy with Cuba. Cordial and formal discussions are needed now to move towards some form of friendly relationship. What is the alternative ? War . Are we considering an attack on Havana ?

I propose a policy of peace , economic development and tranquility in the Caribbean. This will include open and free trade, 2-way travel , and cultural relations with Cuba. As I am shipping cows to Cuba form Maine,New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Florida, togeteher with animal feed from Tampa to Havana: why can't people also travel to see their families, friends and as tourists ?

We are out of step with the process of making peaceful friends with the Cubans in Cuba.

See you in Bayamo !

John Parke Wright
Naples , Florida

Jorge Gonzalez:

George W. Bush is not a trust worthy person. He is a captive of the extreme ultra-right of South Florida.

They have not given up on their goal of returning Cuba to the pre-1959 neocolonial era when U.S. supported corruption and exploitation was everywhere.

Cuba does not need "made in USA freedom." What it needs is to continue to defend the island-nation's sovereignty and national independence.

Talks, yes, but they must be based on mutual respect and not on an imperial-master and vassal relationship.

George W. Bush has rejected talks. Let the Cuban people continue with their lives to make sure that the system they have freely chosen becomes a better one. They should be proud of their accomplishments.

There will be no impositions by an imperial power. The Cuban people will see to that.

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