Spain’s Tango With Cuba

Sometimes you read an article or blog post which offers an analysis and forecast of something which may or may not occur down the road, and you’re reminded of it several months later but can’t remember where you read or saw it.
Well, I think this Andres Oppenheimer column in yesterday’s Miami Herald qualifies as one of those that you bookmark and revisit 6 or 9 months from now. Oppenheimer’s latest piece is on Spain/Cuba relations, and the merits and/or pitfalls of Spain’s decision to engage with castro and his regime.
I think most of us can agree that the result of Spain’s engagement with Cuba will be “more of the same”. Still, it’s always good to go back and see how well the “experts” really know their stuff.
Full article follows. You can also check out Oppenheimer’s blog here.

Spain’s new opening to Cuba a risky gambit
MADRID — The Spanish government’s recent decision to improve ties with Cuba ”is bearing its fruits,” and the process will continue without abandoning the island’s dissidents, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told me in an interview last week.
Moratinos, who was criticized widely at home following an April visit to Cuba in which he met with top Cuban officials but not with dissidents, is still in the midst of a fierce political fight over Spain’s Socialist government’s new overtures to Cuba.
At a recent congressional hearing, the right-of-center Popular Party pounded Moratinos with questions over why he had failed to meet with dissidents, and why he stood silent when, at a joint press conference in Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque claimed that there are no political oppositionists in Cuba, but only ”mercenaries” of the United States.
”This is an ongoing issue for us,” says Gustavo de Arístegui, a foreign affairs spokesman for the right-of-center opposition Popular Party’s legislative bloc. “This government’s mistakes on Cuba and Venezuela are scandalous.”
The trip also was criticized by influential Socialist Party supporters in the media. Spain’s ruling Socialist Party has had good relations with Cuba’s peaceful opposition since former President Felipe González’s 1982-96 rule.
Are you pursuing a pro-Cuban, pro-Venezuelan, Third Worldish foreign policy, as the opposition says? I asked Moratinos.
”I don’t think so,” Moratinos said. “What this government has done is to recover Spain’s capacity to exert influence in a continent that is essential to Spanish interests.”
”We have strategic association agreements with the countries with which we consider we have to have a privileged relationship: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and now we want to add Colombia,” he added. “And then, we have relations with all, obviously including Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, because it’s what the different citizens in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia have decided.”
Asked about the controversy over his recent trip to Cuba, Moratinos noted that a senior member of his delegation — Latin American affairs director Javier Sandomingo — met with the dissidents during his trip to Havana, and that higher-ranked officials often meet with them on other occasions.
”I have the support of the majority of Spanish citizens, who didn’t understand why the government of Spain is not more present in Cuba at a key historic moment for the future of Cuba,” Moratinos said. “What we have done is to open a new way, a new mechanism of dialogue, which is bearing its fruits.”
He said that after years without a regular high-level diplomatic dialogue, Spain and Cuba are holding talks without taboos, which are expected to lead to the reopening of the Spanish Cultural Center in Havana, closed in 2003, and to a resumption of Spanish development aid to the island.
This dialogue includes human rights, and also will benefit dissidents, he said.
Trinidad Jiménez, Spain’s secretary of state for Iberoamerican affairs, was a little bit more forthright. Asked about Cuba’s foreign minister’s claim that oppositionists on the island are ”mercenaries,” Jiménez said. “If we believed that the dissidents are mercenaries, we would never have met with them. For us, they are people for whom we have a profound respect, who we support, and for whom we feel solidarity.”
My opinion: I hope that Moratinos misspoke when he included Cuba among the countries that represent the will of their citizens. Cuba’s citizens have not had a free election in nearly five decades.
I don’t think Spain’s new effort to start a dialogue with Cuba should be criticized outright, despite Moratinos’ mistakes in his April trip. (He should have sent at least his No. 2 to talk with the dissidents, rather than his No. 3, and not remained silent when the Cuban foreign minister made his ”mercenaries” statement.)
If Moratinos’ actions during his trip to the island were one-time concessions that will lead to a new Spanish political and cultural presence on the island, and to a stronger voice in support of fundamental civil freedoms, it may have been a price worth paying. If not, it will amount to having given diplomatic oxygen to a decrepit dictatorship and a step back from Spain’s Socialist Party’s own previous support to pro-democracy activists on the island. We will know in coming months.

2 thoughts on “Spain’s Tango With Cuba”

  1. Moratinos has a “diplomatic” case of Tourette’s Syndrome. Every time he says something about Cuba, what comes out is, in effect, a vile obscenity. Based on the evidence, he can’t help it. Yes, he’s an utter disgrace, and yes, his boss is as much of a statesman as Paris Hilton is an intellectual, but they’re not the real problem.
    In a democratic system, the electorate has the last word, and it is up to Spanish society and its voters to decide this matter. Unfortunately, from Franco onwards, Spain has never done the right thing by Cuba, not even under Aznar (although he certainly did better than the rest).
    I will not buy the line of conservative Spaniards that this is just the fault of Zapatero and the PSOE, just as I will not buy the line that what happened in Cuba was just the fault of Castro and his immediate circle. That’s bullshit, even if it’s much less painful and easier to handle than the actual truth.

  2. I meant to add that Oppenheimer, like all manner of “Cuba experts” (especially non-Cuban ones) leaves me distinctly underwhelmed by his supposed expertise. It doesn’t even matter if such people mean reasonably well (which is hardly a given); they almost invariably overestimate their “wisdom” and forget that the only true experts are those who know the Beast firsthand and have the scars to prove it.

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