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The Ongoing Failure of U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba

Fulton Armstrong details the attacks by U.S.-funded democracy promotion activists on the Catholic hierarchy in Cuba:

In fact, the administration has supported repeated attacks on the church and its leader, Cardinal Jaime Ortega — the man who has done more to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba than anyone, anywhere. The cardinal has created political space for millions of Cubans to live their faith, personally negotiated the release of more than 100 political prisoners in the past two years, and directly carried to Cuban President Raúl Castro the appeals — subsequently granted — of human rights groups, including the female relatives of political prisoners known as the Ladies in White.

Nevertheless, administration-supported harangues against the church and cardinal have become routine. The most recent was an editorial by Radio/TV Martí, the U.S. government’s radio and television service to Cuba. The station’s director, Carlos García-Pérez, personally penned a commentary accusing the cardinal of “political collusion” with the Castro regime and having a “lackey attitude” toward it. This senior Obama political appointee offered patronizing advice: “Cardinal Ortega, please be faithful to the Gospel you preach.”

This is a good example of what makes U.S.-backed democracy promotion efforts so misguided and obnoxious. Here we have a situation in which the local religious leadership is doing some creditable work in promoting and defending the rights of Cubans and has been making some progress, but because they are not doing it in a sufficiently aggressive or combative way they are being denounced by people living outside the country as collaborators. We saw something similar in some of the negative American overreactions to Pope Benedict’s recent visit, which some critics regarded as insufficiently confrontational and political in nature.

Armstrong explains the attacks:

The primary reason for this campaign is that the church supports evolutionary change in Cuba rather than the regime-collapse scenarios preferred by certain sectors of the Cuban-American community.

In other words, the people living in the country and most familiar with the conditions there are being lectured by Americans on how best to change their country’s politics. The arrogance and presumption of this is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that U.S. democracy promotion policy in Cuba has been a long-running failure:

The U.S. policy adopted by the Bush and Obama Administrations toward Cuba has at its center a series of programs under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 that are aimed explicitly at effecting regime change in Cuba. It’s a 50-year-old U.S. dream, and the State Department and USAID have spent about $200 million on these programs over the past 10 years. The programs have achieved next to nothing on the island, but they have been a boon to a wide array of “democracy promotion” groups and the contractors who work with them.

It won’t come as a shock that the goal of U.S. policy is at odds with what Cubans want for their country:

[Ortega] also knows that the Cuban people, fatigued by years of communism and U.S.-Cuba bickering, don’t want civil strife, government collapse, and all the pain that such events would cause. Most observers of Cuban affairs — and all of the leading Cuban rights activists themselves — firmly believe that the Cuban people want peaceful, evolutionary change.

If the U.S. must take an interest in Cuban political change, it makes no sense for our government’s Cuba policy to be at odds and in competition with what Armstrong calls “the country’s single most powerful NGO and voice for change.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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