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    Time to rethink ‘concession’ mentality on Cuba

    By Ric Herrero, Special to CNN

    Editor’s note: Ric Herrero is the executive director of #CubaNow, a
    Miami-based democracy advocacy group. The views expressed are the
    writer’s own.

    Late last month, 44 former high-level U.S. officials and thought
    leaders, including prominent members of the Cuban-American community,
    signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to revise our Cuba
    policy to allow Americans to better engage with the island’s growing
    civil society, particularly its fledgling entrepreneurial sector.
    The logic behind the letter is simple: by empowering the Cuban people
    with more access to U.S. contacts and resources, they can create greater
    freedoms for themselves.
    Unfortunately, that concept appears to be too difficult to understand
    for those who depend on keeping things just the way they are. Almost
    immediately, the predictable responses began to flow from a tag team of
    shrill hardliners in Washington DC and Havana, all trying to protect the
    status quo.
    In Washington, the pro-embargo lobby – or what is left of them – began
    to mischaracterize the letter as a “concession” to the regime, and
    cherry picked quotes by some dissidents and exile leaders to make it
    seem as if there is widespread opposition to increasing support for
    Cuban civil society.
    In Havana, the supposed beneficiaries of these “concessions” reacted in
    equally predictable fashion. As they’ve done every time there’s been a
    potential thaw, the Cuban regime’s hardliners are going out of their way
    to thwart political momentum in the U.S. for a new approach. Let’s face
    it, one of the regime’s favorite strategies is to blame American policy
    for all of their own shortcomings. It has helped them stay in power. If
    they wanted better relations, they would release Alan Gross, or stop
    beating up the Ladies in White, or cease detaining pro-rights activists,
    or loosen customs and import restrictions. They haven’t, of course,
    because like the hardliners here, they want everything their way.
    Both sides have something else in common – they will twist anything to
    fit their view of the world, even when it makes no sense. Washington
    hardliners are quick to pose for photo ops or send press releases
    praising the bravery of Cuban activists. Yet by denying those activists
    real support, and refusing to accept that civil society needs economic
    resources to thrive, they are doing them a disservice.
    To suggest that an increase in the flow of contacts and resources to the
    Cuban people is a “concession” to the Castro brothers plays directly
    into the hands of the most unyielding forces within the Cuban
    government. As WLRN’s Tim Padgett noted last month, “Incredibly,
    [hardliners] somehow convinced themselves that denying Cuba’s fledgling
    entrepreneurs more seed money, cell phones and sage advice – that
    keeping them in the micro-economic Middle Ages – is the best way to
    change Cuba.” It isn’t.
    The “concessions” talking point might be a cute sound bite, but it’s
    wrong. For decades, the American people have been force-fed the baseless
    notion that any reform of Cuba policy, no matter how practical, is
    tantamount to rewarding the regime for its iron grip over the island.
    In fact, easing the embargo to support the island’s nascent
    entrepreneurial class puts more pressure on the Cuban regime to respect
    human rights because they have a stronger independent private sector and
    civil society with which to contend. And if the argument from hardliners
    is that we should not support entrepreneurs because there can be no
    private sector without rights, then that would mean we couldn’t support
    dissidents either. We must do both.
    Dissidents are battling to create a better and more inclusive future
    where their families and fellow Cubans can be free. They do so in simple
    but powerful ways – a peaceful street protest, a petition tens of
    thousands strong, a blog post, an independent media outlet. The same
    logic applies to self-employed entrepreneurs, and to every single Cuban
    seeking to increase their independence from the state, whether they are
    a hairdresser, a computer programmer, or a taxi driver.
    Entrepreneurs may not be allowed to legally incorporate, or to have
    foreigners legally “invest” in their businesses, but they are fighting
    every day to gain these rights. How? By using remittances, mostly from
    the United States, as seed capital. By hiring and paying salaries far
    above those of state workers. By taking government officials to court
    over zoning, licensing and property disputes. They are conjuring every
    creative interpretation of Cuban law to scale their businesses or press
    for new categories of self-employment that were previously prohibited.
    We should encourage that, not stand in its way.
    After 54 years it’s time to call a spade a shovel. The only real
    concession the United States can make to the Cuban regime is to continue
    to treat Castro’s favorite propaganda tool as a sacred cow. We can do
    better.

    Post by:
    CNN’s Jason Miks
    Topics: Cuba

    Source: Time to rethink ‘concession’ mentality on Cuba – Global Public
    Square – CNN.com Blogs –
    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/06/12/time-to-rethink-concession-mentality-on-cuba/