Tag: Cuba

“Castro is Our Hitler”

Ozzie Guillen
Photo credit = Dirk Hansen.

Last Friday, April 6, Time magazine published controversial excerpts from an interview with Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen:

“I love Fidel Castro,” Blurts Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins, in his Jupiter, Fla., spring-training office before an early-March team workout….After a second of reflection, the most unfiltered figure in baseball, if not sports, wants a do-over. “I respect Fidel Castro,” says Guillen, a Venezuela native who also says he respects Hugo Chavez. “You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother—— is still here.”

Those remarks set off something of a firestorm in Miami, where a very large Cuban-American community resides. Cubans may love baseball, and Ozzie Guillen may have been hired to appeal to the local Latino community, but expressing admiration for Castro is the dangerous third rail of Florida politics. And because Florida is important in national politics, American politicians frequently bow to the Cuban American community’s concerns.


Then again, Guillen is somewhat used to controversy. He famously apologized in 2006 for making a gay slur about a Chicago sportswriter — but he apologized only to the gay community, not to the journalist. He commonly describes players, umpires, and others using profanity. His twitter feed is popular precisely because of his off-the-cuff nature.

Moreover, this is not even the first time Guillen has openly expressed admiration for Castro’s endurance in power. In 2008, Men’s Journal asked Guillen, “Who’s the toughest man you know?” His answer:

Fidel Castro. He’s a bullshit dictator and every-body’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him. Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.

Yet, the latest remarks have essentially forced Guillen to offer multiple apologies — and caused his team to suspend him for five days.

Obviously, context is everything. In 2008, Guillen worked in Chicago. Now, he works in Miami, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

To me, the most interesting dimension of the story is the comparison some Cuban Americans are making between Fidel Castro and Adolph Hitler.

Dan Le Batard, a Cuban-American writer for the Miami Herald, who also hosts a radio show in Miami and a show on ESPN with his father, a Cuban exile, went on SportsCenter yesterday to explain why Ozzie Guillen’s recent comments were so hurtful to the Cuban-American population in Miami.

Le Batard calls Guillen’s comments “the worst possible thing that [he] could have said.” Le Batard also explains just what Castro means to the local population…

“For Cuban-Americans, he’s our Hitler. Without getting into a comparison shopping on atrocities, let that marinate for a second. For Cuban-Americans, Fidel Castro is our Hitler.”

R.J. Rummel estimated years ago that the Castro regime was responsible for between 35,000 and 141,000 deaths through 1987. The median figure was 73,000. In 2008, Genocide Watch, the Coordinator of the International Campaign to End Genocide, put the total to-date Cuban death toll in the thousands and Cuba Verdad’s careful effort to document each death established the figure at just under 8,000 dead — plus nearly 78,000 Balseros victims through 2007. I cannot readily determine if Rummel’s figure includes the death toll from Cubans lost at sea fleeing the regime.

These numbers reflect the acts of an autocratic regime, to be sure, but the comparison to Hitler seems like a huge stretch. In a much shorter period of time, Germany under Hitler’s rule managed to kill over 11 million noncombatants and launch a world war that killed tens of millions of people. Hitler is generally rivaled only by Stalin in these sorts of debates. In 2005, when Fidel Castro was still in power, he didn’t even crack a top 10 list of the world’s worst dictators.

Perhaps Cuban Americans are not familiar with Godwin’s law: “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” Or, as one US News political columnist wrote, there is “an unwritten rule in public speaking: comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany never work.” One oft-mentioned corollary to Godwin’s law suggests that “whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

I say, tell that to whoever it was that compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler.

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Is Obama channeling Bush?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Barack Obama is behaving just like George W. Bush. Reuters, June 25:

Obama said on Tuesday he was “appalled and outraged” by a post-election crackdown and Washington withdrew invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend Independence Day celebrations on July 4 — stalling efforts to improve ties with Tehran.

“Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things … our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously (former president George W.) Bush used to say,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

“Do you want to speak with this tone? If that is your stance then what is left to talk about … I hope you avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it,” he said.

Obama, of course, famously said last year that he would negotiate with Iran without precondition — even though the Bush administration considered Iran part of an “axis of evil.”

Conservatives have generally been criticizing Obama for failing to employ Bush’s brand of cowboy diplomacy toward Iran — talk tough and carry a big gun.

Yesterday, Obama made his toughest statements to-date about Iran:

“the United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.”

The U.S. has few ties with Iran, so it has almost no leverage with which to bargain. Thus, the Bush-Obama divide largely reflects the problem of trying to advance foreign policy interests in such at environment.

Bush used tough rhetoric and threatening sticks to try to coerce Iran into doing what it wanted.

Obama apparently wants to soften U.S. rhetoric and offer potential carrots. He wants to find common interests that might set the table for some horse trading.

Neither approach is guaranteed to work, of course, but the U.S. has been using the stick approach for about 30 years. I would also note that the policy hasn’t worked very well toward Cuba either — and Obama recognizes that as well.

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Back to the Future IV

Do you have secret longings for the cold war? Vladimir Putin apparently does. Here’s the AP lede from 2 days ago:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is calling for Russia to regain its influential position in former Cold War ally Cuba, Russian news reports said Monday.

The statement comes amid persistent speculation about whether Russia is seeking a military presence in a country just 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the United States in response to U.S. plans to place missile-defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“We should restore our position in Cuba and other countries,” Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

A former Russian defense advisor is quoted in the same story:

“It is not a secret that the West is creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Russia, involving countries in central Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic states and Ukraine,” the agency quoted Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, as saying. “In response, we may expand our military presence abroad, including in Cuba.”

To be fair, United States policy toward Cuba is basically the same as it was for decades during the cold war.

Back in February, I noted that Barack Obama says that his presidency would reverse some US cold war era policies towards Cuba.

In May, Obama spoke to Cuban Americans in Florida and basically affirmed his previously announced polices — though he framed them somewhat differently. John McCain attacked him for being soft on Cuba.

Just what has been achieved during 5 decades of hard-line policies towards Cuba?

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Con–Sonar: Crazy Ivan!

Yesterday I was running a short simulation exercise on the Cuban Missile Crisis for students in my summer program, and lo and behold, what appeared in the paper, but:

Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons could be deployed to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a Russian newspaper reported Monday, citing an unnamed senior Russian air force official.

The report in Izvestia, which could not be confirmed, prompted memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war after Nikita Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. The weapons were eventually withdrawn in an apparent Soviet climb-down, but President John F. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Joke? One wishes:

Some Russian experts dismissed the possibility of a new Cuban crisis. “It’s very silly psychological warfare,” said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, in a telephone interview. “Putin and Medvedev are very militant in words but very cautious in practical issues. They have not taken any step that can be seen as a real threat to the West, and I cannot see any reason to raise this threat against the U.S.”

But “if it’s true, it looks like a repetition of the Caribbean crisis” he said, using the common Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis.

Interesting here, I think, is the return to the commonplace of the Crisis as a turning point in superpower relations. Russia, in invoking the crisis seems to be signaling that they are, shall we say, upset, with the Bush missile defense project.

Putin has in the past invoked the Cuban missile crisis to register opposition to the missile defense project, saying it could touch off brinksmanship as dangerous as in 1962.

Now, it would take a great deal to bring the world anywhere near as close as it was to nuclear Armageddon in 1962 (and, as the recent studies of the crisis show, we were a hell of a lot closer to nuclear war than most actually appreciate, and that should rightly be scary). But, I think one lesson of the crisis is worth remembering.

At the time of the crisis, the USSR had something on the order of 4 working ICBMs (the actual missile gap), and despite a substantial manpower advantage in the European theater it had a decided disadvantage strategically (in nuclear weapons) vs. the USA. The decided not to face the US from a position of weakness again, and sought strategic parity. Thus began the Soviet military build-up that would eventually bankrupt the country. However, it was successful. By the early 1970’s the US and USSR essentially reached nuclear parity (leading to ABM and SALT and the like).

Today, under the Wolfowitz defense guidance (now called the national security strategy of the USA), the US uses its position of global preeminence to achieve policy victories. However, in good realist fashion, such stark and humiliating demonstrations and assertions of power lead to balancing (no!– yes, it is true).

So, while it reeks of historical symbolism that is borderline laughable in its actual implementation given today’s Russian military, it is perhaps a signal that merits a bit more attention.

(or maybe the Russians are just bitter, who knows these days…)

PS: speaking of the Cold War— the Soviets is everywhere these days. I’m watching the Hunt for Red October on AMC as I type this. I love this movie… Also, that should explain the post title, if you’ve made it this far.)

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Foreign Policy and Presidential Elections: Appeasement Part Deux

How do electoral politics influence US foreign policy? Look no farther than Miami Dade County and US relations with Cuba. Cuban-Americans remain a highly mobilized electoral block in that state’s largest county, and they tend to be single-issue voters, supporting the candidate who is tough on Fidel’s Cuba. So, you have a history of candidates talking about the need to crack down on Castro to curry favor in the Cuban community and put Florida in play. Do a few hundred more votes in Florida really matter? Well, since 2000, making this point is like shooting fish in a barrel. Recall that Clinton signed the Libertad Act in early 1996 on his way to re-election, winning Florida.

So of all the countries that McCain could accuse Obama of “appeasing,” its not surprising to see at the top of the list Iran (stoke fears of terrorism, still a Republican strong issue), closely followed by… Cuba. Yes, McCain is now saying that Obama’s statements that he would consider loosening the Embargo and initiate talks with the Cuban Government constitutes appeasement. We’ve already been over why McCain’s statement is nonsense. But, given electoral politics, is it any surprise why he’d try to bring Cuba into play?

Or, put differently, you’d have to wonder if the Republican party was already dead (and maybe they already are…)* if they didn’t play the appease Cuba card.

*Really, this parenthetical is an excuse to link to the Packer article that is a very good read on the state of conservativism in America–it is worth a read and deserves its own post, but I just couldn’t resist tossing in the link.

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Cuba: El Tiante’s pitch

Let me followup Peter’s post on Cuba. Legendary and colorful retired pitcher Luis Tiant had this to say about the Cuban embargo:

“I think it’s crazy,” Tiant said. “Everybody does business with Cuba – Latin America, China, everybody – and what is the difference? We are 90 miles from Cuba. We don’t have a relationship with them. That’s crazy. It makes no sense to me.

“The people have suffered enough. They’ve gone through a hard life. Forty-six years I’ve been out. I hope it changes.”

As for Peter’s question about the choice between domestic politics and the national interest? While neither of the two remaining Democratic candidates for president have called for lifting the economic embargo, it seems pretty clear that Barack Obama’s position is less hawkish.

Indeed, Obama wrote an op-ed about Cuba last summer for a Miami paper suggesting that the US should reduce some restraints on travel and remittances.

Clinton’s response was not promising.

Hillary Clinton continued her recent attacks on his perceived foreign policy naivete, insisting that “until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new [Cuban] government, we cannot talk about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba.”

It’s too bad the Democrats didn’t have a real primary in Florida this year so that these issues could have been debated more publicly.

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Domestic Politics vs. the National Interest

If there is one domestic lobby that has captured US policy toward another country, it is the Cuba lobby that pushes for ever stricter sanctions on the Castro regime. The power of this lobby in Presidential politics can’t be overstated—it is a very large, issue specific, and highly organized voting bloc in Miami Dade county in Florida. Win Florida, win the White House, we all know that story well. Thus, we regularly see leading national politicians competing to out-tough the other in order to make inroads into the Cuban vote in south Florida.

Today’s big news, that Fidel would formally step down as Cuba’s head of state, offers an interesting chance to view the power of this domestic political lobby at a moment when the national interest might suggest an alternative different policy.

The Libertad Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in the election year of 1996 wrote the US embargo of Cuba into law, significantly strengthening it (Clinton won Florida and won re-election that year). From JFK through 1996, the embargo was a series of Executive orders. The difference: a future president could end the executive orders at any time. Changing the law requires a subsequent act of Congress. A central point of the Libertad act was that the Embargo will remain in force until there is a transitional government in Cuba that does not include Fidel Castro or his brother Raul.

This brings us to today. Fidel stepping aside certainly marks a sea-change in Cuban politics. It does mark a transition in government, but for the time being, Raul Castro remains a part of the picture. This change also presents a unique opportunity for the United States.

Cuba faced tough times after the end of the Cold War. The USSR was a valuable patron, buying its exports and providing funds to subsidize its economy. Without the USSR, Cuba suffered. Recently, though, Hugo Chavez has stepped into that role, using its vast oil profits to funnel money into Cuba.

Here’s the opportunity for the US: take the transition in Cuba, from Fidel to a successor government, to lift the embargo and allow US capital, business, and tourists to pour in (and it would—see the Godfather or Guys and Dolls). Engaging Cuba could steer them away from Chavez and toward the US. The US has identified the rise of Chavez as a national security challenge, and has identified a clear interest in reducing Chavez’s influence in Latin America.

So, here’s the question: Given a clear national security argument for taking this opportunity to engage Cuba, end the embargo, and peel Cuba away from the Chavez camp, does this National Interest trump the domestic politics of pandering to CANF and Cuban voters in Miami in an election year. Do we see the Cuba lobby press for a continued embargo, further driving Raul and the transition government closer to Chavez? What does Bush do, what does Congress do, and what to the Presidential Candidates press for?

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