How can opinions threaten dialogue?
A recent shake-up in the Cuban Committee for Democracy, an exile
promotes dialogue with the island, has brought to light the tricky nuances of
attempting meaningful exchanges with the Cuban government.
It was reported last week that one of the group's top officials
had resigned amid
speculation that a planned conference between exiles and Cubans on the island
had been put in danger by the expressed views of the CCD's new leader.
The tension flared over the writings of new president Alejandro
Portes, a Princeton
sociologist and respected researcher on the South Florida immigrant experience.
Most scandalous to the Fidel Castro government was Portes' characterization
mid-level Cuban officials living the fat life, while less privileged comrades suffered
Portes wrote a provocative analysis of Cuba's identity as ``the
country,'' a convenient image kept alive in large part by U.S. sanctions against the
In the article ``Strategic Neglect,'' published in the fall issue
of The American
Prospect, Portes examines Cuba's decades-old survival tactics, particularly its
dependence on U.S. hostility to keep afloat its embattled image.
No wonder the Castro government is up in arms over the article.
exposed the Cuban game: appear to receive dialogue, but reject substantial
exchange -- and change -- at all cost.
That such an article evokes even a stir from a regime that claims
engagement is telling. In the eyes of the world, the chief obstacle to open
relations with Cuba is the ``right-wing exile lobby.'' Popular opinion usually depicts
exiles as the intransigents who reject views that are different from that of the
But in fact the great intolerance rises out of Havana insecurity.
The very fact that
a conference designed to promote dialogue could be endangered by the opinions
of a scholar should tell us something about Cuba's true stand on open talks: We'll
let you talk as long as you say what we want to hear.
Isn't the core of healthy dialogue well-presented differences
Apparently not in Havana, where officials still see a need to skew exchanges by
picking and choosing who will get exit permits to travel to conferences abroad.
``In defense of this intransigence, Fidel and his collaborators
are willing to meet
with outsiders, host foreign leaders and delegations, and posture as reasonable
and tolerant people. But any genuine political or economic threat is met with an
iron fist,'' writes Portes, who believes the U.S. government could strip Cuba of its
``besieged country'' motif by lifting its sanctions.
Ostensibly, the lifting of sanctions is what Cuba also wants.
But is it really?
Portes notes the curious episode of José Imperatori, the
Cuban diplomat ordered
kicking and screaming out of Washington, D.C., last February for his suspected
role in a spy ring. The defiant Imperatori even went on a hunger strike to proclaim
his government's innocence.
``Why should an educated man like Imperatori defend a regime that
he knows to
be economically and ideologically bankrupt?'' asks Portes. ``The standard answer
And the larger answer, as this scholar reveals, is Cuba's need
to stay loyal to its
socialism -- not to any Marxist ideals, but to whatever keeps the revolution going,
be it tourism, foreign investments, cash remittances, and, yes, the U.S. embargo.
A true opening, Portes concludes, might turn Castro into ``just
I guess that's why such opinions can endanger attempts at dialogue.