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A Designation Cuba Doesn’t Deserve

Posted on Jan 5, 2010
Flickr / Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha"

By Eugene Robinson

Under new rules prompted by the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack, airline passengers coming to the United States from 14 nations will undergo extra screening: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. For our first quiz of the new decade, which country doesn’t fit with the others?

The obvious answer is Cuba, which presents a threat of terrorism that can be measured at precisely zero. Cuba is not a failed state where swaths of territory lie beyond government control; rather, it is one of the most tightly locked-down societies in the world, a place where the idea of private citizens getting their hands on plastic explosives, or terrorist weapons of any kind, is simply laughable.

There is no history of radical Islam in Cuba. In fact, there is hardly any history of Islam at all. With its long-standing paranoia about internal security and its elaborate network of government spies and snitches, the island nation would have to be among the last places on earth where al-Qaida would try to establish a cell, let alone plan and launch an attack. Yet Cuba is on the list because the State Department still considers it—along with Iran, Sudan and Syria—to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Really? Despite the fact that the U.S. interests section in Havana was one of the few American diplomatic posts in the world to remain open for normal business, with no apparent increased security, in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?

The Obama administration has made many admirable moves to bring U.S. foreign policy into closer alignment with objective reality. But progress toward a fact-based relationship with Cuba has been tentative and halting, at best. Obvious steps that could only serve U.S. interests—and, in the process, almost surely make Cuba a more open society—remain untaken.


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Last month, New York Times correspondent Tim Golden and I hosted a lunchtime conversation—and mini-concert—in Washington with Carlos Varela, a singer-songwriter who is often called Cuba’s Bob Dylan. The event, sponsored by the New America Foundation’s U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative and the Center for Democracy in the Americas, was notable for the fact that it could take place at all: Varela’s only previous trip to the United States was in 1998. He wanted to come again in 2004, but the U.S. government refused him a visa.

The George W. Bush administration adopted a hard-line policy of denying visas to most Cuban artists, including some who were trying to come because they had been nominated for Grammy awards. The fact that Varela got a visa this time is indicative of a partial thaw, but there has not yet been a full return to the pre-Bush status quo, when the question that preoccupied Cuban musicians was whether the Castro government would let them out, not whether the U.S. government would let them in.

In May, the Obama administration denied a visa to world-famous Cuban folksinger Silvio Rodriguez, who had hoped to perform at a concert in New York marking the legendary Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. I suppose it’s possible to draw a distinction—Rodriguez is known as a true believer in the communist system that Fidel Castro installed, while Varela, without explicitly criticizing the regime, uses nuance and metaphor to question the government and express the impatience of Cuban youth. But since when is the United States afraid of exposure to a competing ideology?

The Obama administration has inched forward in the right direction. Last April, the president lifted restrictions on how often Cuban-Americans can visit relatives on the island and how much money they can send to family members. Basically undisturbed, however, are the main pillars of a half-century’s worth of failed policy toward Cuba: the ban that effectively keeps almost all other Americans from traveling to Cuba, and the trade embargo that forbids U.S. companies to do business there.

Granted, the president already has plenty on his plate. He may be reluctant to introduce yet another variable. It’s not hard to imagine a senator or a group of House members holding, say, health care reform hostage over Cuba policy.

But it’s difficult for me to believe that Barack Obama fails to see how insane our current policy really is. He needs to change it—and he can begin by ceasing to pretend that looking for al-Qaida terrorists on flights from Cuba is anything but a big waste of time.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Thong-girl, January 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment

Sol, if only you are right, though the obstacles are scary.  I think most of us believe that our democracy is dysfunctional to the point of no return.  Call it nihilistic, but I do not feel that we can turn it around simply by voting in a new group of puppets.  Further, the idea of a “revolution” whether intellectual or otherwise, may not be possible.  Just as we see it becoming impossible for the people of Iran, China or many other countries to change the way things work, militarism, and yes empire, have become simply too powerful and hegemonic to turn the ship around.  Add to that, that the “progressive” movement, which I include most of us as part of, cannot gain any steam.  The media has sold out, the general public is too self serving and the government too corrupt.  If I missed anything, I hope you will correct me but do you see any changes coming that will bear teeth?

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By gerard, January 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

“But since when is the United States afraid of exposure to a competing ideology”
  Like, since Communism and Socialism were invented, say, since early 1900s.  Up till along about 1890 there was plenty of land, plenty of resources, plenty of work, plenty of energy. Then the “Robber Barons” kind of overdid it, and the former slaves and the workers started to revolt.  WWI temporarily sidetracked “progress”, followed by the Depression. Then more wars again saved the day by providing jobs.
Then WWII was necessary to “kill off” Communism (and, by extension, Socialism.)  But they rose up again here and there in places like Cuba and China, God forbid!  And Sweden and Denmark, sort of.
  Of course the Army operates as a kind of hidden “socialism,”  Under Roosevelt public works and welfare were adopted of necessity, but without calling them such in deference to the irrational fears on the part of the Repubican opposition.  (“Nothing to fear but fear itself)”
  Even still a large percentage of the population goes automatically “ape” when the words are mentioned.  (op.cit. the recent “health care” battle)
  In fact, being afraid of all ideologies except its own outrageous form of “capitalism”  is an American hallmark.

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By Sol, January 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment

Most of the entries in this blog are excellent and that makes me feel better. It is insane what the US is doing around the world. It is time to close the bases, get the troops back, commit to real peace, spend the billions of dollars at home developing green technologies, better conditions for Americans and make the country the beacon of real democracy, kindness and sustainable development. The US is in my opinion at the verge of a revolution that will stun the world.

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By Sol, January 5, 2010 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment

The US is not only a fallen Empire just like all the other ones before but is also becoming a backwards nation. It is so sad to see all of this happening. This policy with Cuba is to say the least retarded and president Obama should not even blink about it. Unfortunately he does not seem to have the guts to face those that are just leaving in a fascist dream. Someone will have to clean house and it does not seem that Obama will. I am worried about where the US is heading to.

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By ajay, January 5, 2010 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cuba Disappointed by Inclusion on Security Threat List

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, January 5, 2010 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

bozhidar, January 5 at 12:07 pm #
(Unregistered commenter)

“Idarad,well put,
Money rules US. To be more accurate-adequate, people with money rule US.”

Money is half of it the other half is power to rule, indeed money flows from power. They know how to use it too.

Cuba a terrorist exporting state? Where? How? Stunned to see that. But them Barry Obama isn’t a Liberal nor a Progressive but a Regressive with eyes wide open. Don’t continue to be fooled.

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By david dixit, January 5, 2010 at 10:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The U.S. remains the bully it always was. The difference with U.S. - Cuban relations is that the U.S. is not only a bully, but a stupid bully… and hypocritical to boot !

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By serenade, January 5, 2010 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The military industrial media complex has been running this country since they
were emboldened by the terrorist act of Nov. 22, 1963. The USA has never
recovered itself and the citizenry is in total agreement to live The Big Lie. Ask
questions about The Big Lie (9/11, 2000 elections, Iraq, the “Cold War”, etc. ad
nauseum) and you’re labeled a conspiracy nut, brushed aside by the
complacent and complicit.

Isn’t it fairly evident? The wealth of this nation is invested in the MIMC, the
leading producer and supplier of weapons worldwide with print and screen
media completely in cahoots to stir up fear and “patriotic” fervor. The CIA is but
the “marketing arm” of the enterprise, stirring up or creating conflicts,
boogeymen and false flags.

Castro will never be shown to be anything but a “bad guy”, no matter how
many doctors, farming experts, educators, etc. Cuba sends around the world;
no matter what example of a “good neighbor” Cuba may model.

The CIA, on the other hand, has its track record bleeding out in the open more
and more these days, proving to the world that the central front of the war on
terror is in Langley, VA.

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By FRTothus, January 5, 2010 at 10:04 am Link to this comment

“But since when is the United States afraid of exposure to a competing ideology?” asks the naive (or is it willfully ignorant?) Mr Robinson.  As John Ellis (January 5 at 1:06 pm) correctly points out, Cuba’s “crime” is the threat of a good example, the same threat Vietnam posed, and various other official enemy States (Venezuela, Bolivia, Haiti, Guatemala, and Chile, just to name a few out of many) pose. As Noam Chomsky has noted, “The U.S. is the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism-for “the unlawful use of force” for political ends.”  To quote Chomsky at greater length, “Control of Latin America remains a central policy goal, partly for resources and markets, but also for broader ideological and geostrategic reasons. If the US cannot control Latin America, it cannot expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world,” Nixon’s National Security Council concluded in 1971 while considering the paramount importance of destroying Chilean democracy. Historian David Schmitz observes that Allende “threatened American global interests by challenging the whole ideological basis of American Cold War policy. It was the threat of a successful socialist state in Chile that could provide a model for other nations that caused concern and led to American opposition,” in fact direct participation in establishing and maintaining the terrorist dictatorship. Henry Kissinger warned that success for democratic socialism in Chile might have reverberations as far as southern Europe - not because Chilean hordes would descend on Madrid and Rome, but because success might inspire popular movements to achieve their goals by means of parliamentary democracy, which is upheld as an abstract value in the West, but with crucial reservations. ...These pervasive concerns are the rational form of the domino theory, sometimes more accurately called “the threat of a good example.” For such reasons, even the tiniest departure from strict obedience is regarded as an existential threat that calls for a harsh response: peasant organizing in remote communities of northern Laos, fishing cooperatives in Grenada, and so on throughout the world. It is necessary to ensure that the “virus” of successful independent development does not “spread contagion” elsewhere, in the terminology of the highest level planners.”

“Cuba has ... been condemned for not allowing its people to flee the island. That so many want to leave Cuba is treated as proof that Cuban socialism is a harshly repressive system, rather than that the U.S. embargo has made life difficult in Cuba. That so many millions more want to leave capitalist countries like Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, El Salvador, Philippines, South Korea, Macedonia, and others too numerous to list is never treated as grounds for questioning the free-market system that inflicts such misery on the Third World.”
(Michael Parenti)

“For the third time in the last hundred years, the U.S. has invaded and occupied Haiti. Working behind the scenes, the U.S. conducted a destabilization campaign aimed at toppling the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This is a message to the rest of the region: If you don’t obey, the U.S. will impose sanctions, overthrow your government, install a client regime, and support death squads to crush any resistance.”
(Ashley Smith)

“From 1945 to 2003, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements fighting against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US bombed some 25 countries, caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.”
(William Blum)

“Our rulers for more than half a century have made sure that we are never to be told the truth about anything that our government has done to other people.”
(Gore Vidal)

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By Thong-girl, January 5, 2010 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Obama didn’t promise a rose garden, as the saying goes, and it surely is not easy to find any consensus with this Congress, which possesses the power for change.  The myth that any president can simply make the right choices and sweep away the bad and the ugly is not realistic.  I think the health care fiasco demonstrated that but don’t kid yourself, the majority of Americans are scared to death and don’t really care about fairness.  Most simply file away Fidel as a “commie” and don’t give it a second thought. Couple to that, the well healed Miami militias, and you see what a president is up against.  BTW, I didn’t vote for him, I went for the rose garden.

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By Thong-girl, January 5, 2010 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

No matter which issue it is you look at regarding Obama’s behavior, the same question keeps coming up:  Is he in charge, or is he the puppet many expect he is?

I’m not trying to disparage him, but it is undeniable who runs foreign policy, and it is not coming from the White House.  I suspect that one day we will look back at 911 and ask, what if that plane had taken out the Pentagon and all those Nazi generals we hear prevent change at every turn?  That may have been the one chance we had at becoming an actual democracy and restoring our place in the world.

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By bozhidar, January 5, 2010 at 8:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Idarad,well put,
Money rules US. To be more accurate-adequate, people with money rule US.
And there is no law, agreement, pact they haven’t broken or won’t broke if they deem it as an impediment to self-promotion.

Robinson appears afraid to say explicitly that he wants to destroy socialism in cuba.
An islet in the ocean of faschism, socialism can only succeed if guarded like a tyke.

Cuba has, just like all the e.european lands had and have now, its share of domestic fascists who wld die in order to restore plutocratic rule.

I think that chinese know how to deal with domestic and foreign fascists.
Socialism, once fully developed, wld be loved deeply. And once that is accomplished fascism and fear of it wld evanesce.
We wld thus reverted to an idyllic society that we surely had prior to rise of shamanism and despotic nobles, priests.

I can’t see how a small group of people wld have survived 15k yrs ago if they had been ruled by gangsters such as we have today in all plutocraticly-ruled countries.

And had our ancestors, who adapted to nature for their survival, known what kind of bastard they wld have spawned, they’d have- being very honest-trustworthy, surely commited mass suicide.

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By idarad, January 5, 2010 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

US Foreign Policy -

Rule 1
We own the world.
Rule 2
We make the rules the world lives by
Rule 3
We are exempt rule 2

Cuba challenged Rule 1

We made a rule that Cuba doesn’t exist.

Got a problem with that ... see rule 1

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By the tshirt doctor, January 5, 2010 at 5:49 am Link to this comment

Commune115, the same thing, not following orders, could be leveled at the Venezuelans, the Iranians, and the North Koreans.  i just wonder why our news media doesn’t fill us with fear about Cuba as it does with Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea.

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By ardee, January 5, 2010 at 4:11 am Link to this comment

Our policies towards Cuba are about as irrational as are our policies about most everything else.

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By Ralph Kramden, January 5, 2010 at 3:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Martin Luther King said: “My government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” And this same government has the chutzpah to decide who is a terrorist and who isn’t? Unreal.

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By Commune115, January 5, 2010 at 2:50 am Link to this comment

Why do these writers keep hoping Obama will one day open his eyes and show us all that he’s really the reformer everyone hoped for? The reason Cuba remains a target is because it refuses to follow US orders, it refuses to do what the big next door neighbor tells it to.

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By P. T., January 5, 2010 at 1:57 am Link to this comment

The U.S. has committed terrorist acts against Cuba.  But when has Cuba committed a terrorist act against the U.S.?

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