New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade
11 November 2014 Last updated at 21:18 GMT Share this pagePrint
New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade
By Thomas Sparrow
The Times editors think circumstances are ripe for a thaw in US-Cuba
Cuba clearly is on the minds of the editors of the New York Times.
In the last month the paper has published five weekend editorials in
English and in Spanish asking the US administration to re-establish
diplomatic ties with Cuba.
In the pieces the Times has asserted that the US trade embargo on Cuba
is “senseless” and should be dismantled, and it has criticised the
administration’s “stealth efforts to overthrow the government” in Havana.
In addition, they have suggested that the White House should remove Cuba
from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist
organisations and should propose a prisoner swap that would see the
release of Alan Gross, the American development contractor who has been
in a Cuban prison for nearly five years.
“Washington should recognise that the most it can hope to accomplish is
to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society,”
says the most recent editorial, published on Sunday. “That is more
likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”
Andrew Rosenthal, the New York Times’s editorial page editor, tells the
BBC that the five editorials have been in line with the newspaper’s
longstanding position on Cuba and the embargo.
Nevertheless, it is intriguing that the Times has been running so many
consecutive pieces on the same country, with clearly defined intervals,
in two languages and in moments when President Barack Obama is defining
his agenda for his remaining two years in office.
The motivation behind the paper’s month-long crusade is that the editors
believe that “for the first time in more than 50 years”, the situation
both in Cuba and the US favours such deep political change.
The newspaper has highlighted how reforms implemented by Cuba mean that
the island is positioning itself for a “post-embargo era”, while in the
US there is a growing number of voices that are in favour of deepening
ties with Havana.
Moreover, Cuba analysts in the US have argued that President Obama now
has an important window of opportunity to signal change on his Cuba
policy, in the run up to the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which will
be held in April in Panama. With President Raul Castro also in
attendance, it presents the opportunity of a meeting between the heads
According to Rosenthal, what the Times ultimately wants with its
editorials is to “influence American policymakers as they continue to
contemplate Cuba policy” and “encourage reforms on the island that would
empower ordinary Cubans and expand personal freedoms”.
This bet coincides with the hiring of Colombian journalist Ernesto
Londono, a former correspondent for the Washington Post, as a member of
the newspaper’s editorial board.
Since Londono joined the team in September, the newspaper has been
publishing frequent bilingual editorials and has increased its focus on
Latin America with additional texts on Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Speaking of the Post, their editors have also weighed in on
Cuban-American relations but take a pessimistic view of the Times’s calls.
“While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalisation and lifted travel
restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are
loosening their grip,” they write. “Fully lifting the embargo now would
reward and ratify their intransigence.”
Mr Rosenthal says that he is pleased the editorials have “invigorated a
debate here, in Cuba and across Latin America”.
The articles have certainly been discussed on the island, and on Monday
the online edition of Cuba’s official newspaper Granma prominently
featured the most recent editorial under the headline: “New York Times
editorial recognises US policy of interference towards Cuba.”
In a column published on state media, Cuba’s former President Fidel
Castro also cited nearly word for word one of the early editorials,
which called for the end of the US embargo. He notes that the Times
“under certain circumstances follows the political line most convenient
to its country’s interests”.
He grouses, however, that the Times also criticises his nation’s human
rights policies, but ends with praise for the editorial.
“The article is obviously written with great skill, seeking the greatest
benefit for US policy in a complex situation, in the midst of increasing
political, economic, financial and commercial problems,” he writes. “To
these are added the effects of rapid climate change; commercial
competition; the speed, precision and destructive power of weapons which
threaten the survival of mankind.”
The articles have also found an interested audience among the large
Cuban exile population in Florida, many of whom have criticised the
Times for supporting a possible prisoner swap.
Despite this reaction both in Cuba and in the US, some analysts are
sceptical about the influence that these editorials can actually have.
“I wouldn’t make too much of the New York Times, but it is yet another
pillar of support for the White House to take action,” says Ted Piccone,
who specialises in Latin American affairs at the Brookings Institution,
a Washington think tank.
Talking to the BBC, Mr Piccone says the Times “sometimes has an inflated
sense of power and influence” and he believes the editorials are “not
very influential in and of themselves”.
Irrespective of those perceived levels of influence, Times editor
Rosenthal says he is pleased with the outcome so far, and he signals
that more editorials are to come.
“We will continue to look for angles that can inform the debate,” he says.
Source: BBC News – New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade –