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is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cuba’s Olive Branch-Defense Strategy

By Circles Robinson

Cuba is not picking a fight with anybody but it is combat ready if George W. Bush makes good on his threat to launch preventive attacks against more of the countries he lists as his enemies.

While the US continues to use a carrot-and-stick (or sledge hammer) approach to foreign policy, its neighbor to the southeast combines an olive-branch with defense preparations.

The large-scale military parades last Saturday in Havana, and in Santiago de Cuba two days before, showcased the island’s modest defense industry and had two main objectives.

One was to reaffirm the support of the armed forces and the Cuban people for their socialist revolution and its leaders at a time when President Fidel Castro, 80, is on the slow road to recovery from serious surgery at the end of July.

The second was aimed at the United States, to let it be known that Cuba has no plans to let its guard down. The Bush administration has a half trillion dollar annual war chest and a detailed 500-page State Department plan with a secret annex to bring about a regime change in Cuba and virtually annex the island.

Raul Castro’s Offer for Rapprochement with US

Raul Castro, the Cuban defense minister and acting president, gave the Havana parade keynote speech commemorating the landing of the Granma, a vessel that exactly 50 years before brought him and an expeditionary force led by his brother Fidel to the southeastern coasts of Cuba.

From the Plaza of the Revolution in the Cuban capital and before hundreds of thousands of people and a national television audience, Raul moved away from antagonistic politics by extending an olive branch to Washington.

“We feel certain that the way to resolve the pressing conflicts afflicting mankind is not through war, but rather political solutions. We take this opportunity to once again state that we arewilling to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.”

Cuba has previously asked Washington to join it in fighting terrorism, and drug and people trafficking, but the Bush administration has so far turned a cold shoulder.

Rather than exploring Cuba’s proposals for cooperation, the US, under George W. Bush, has “continued to talk about bringing down the Cuban government,” stressed Wayne Smith, the top US diplomat in Havana under the Carter administration.

Nonetheless, the two countries have successfully worked together on some aspects of hurricane warnings and occasionally play on the same baseball field or volleyball court. But that’s about it.

Cuba’s new overtures were met at the State Department with another hasty no thanks in the words of spokesman Sean McCormack.

However, behind the scenes, Cuba experts like Wayne Smith and savvy politicians are seeing an opening worth exploring. They believe engagement and an end to part, or all, of the nearly half-century blockade of its neighbor would present new opportunities to try and influence the island after the policy of eternal hostility and covert and overt operations have flatly failed.

Likewise, Raul Castro’s olive branch comes at a time when several Cuban-American groups, not exactly pro-Castro, have asked the White House to loosen up on the blockade’s travel and trade restrictions.

The combination of these developments is an indication of some possible movement in the icy US-Cuba relations.

For Cuba, such a bold move would present new challenges that islanders are willing to accept. Everyone, be them pro-Revolution or not, would like to see an improvement in the country’s material living standards. Without the shortages or trade barriers presented by the US blockade the government would be expected to deliver improvements.

A repeal of the blockade and an end to other hostilities would turn the spotlight on the capabilities of the Cuban leaders to administer a recovering economy under greatly improved conditions.

While some people joke that the blockade has served as a catch-all excuse for any internal deficiencies and that the government wouldn’t know what to do without it, the country’s leaders have made it clear that they accept any challenges posed by improved US-Cuba relations.

Raul Castro’s offer to negotiate the two countries differences is serious. It has nothing to do with accepting political conditions, which Cuba won’t, nor would Cuba be telling the United States how to improve its’ brand of democracy.

While more members of the House of Representatives under a Democratic Party majority may favor a loosening or elimination of the blockade in the next legislature to be seated in January, the White House, with veto power, and the most radical of the right wing South Florida lobby still seem anxious to tighten the noose.

“In the meantime, after almost half a century, we are willing to wait patiently until the moment when common sense prevails in the Washington power circles,” said Raul Castro.


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