Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Backlash to U.S.-Cuba Normalization and the Misuse of Human Rights

In the bitter campaign to reverse the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations that has been driving forward since December 2014, human rights have again entered center stage. Critics of President Obama’s rapprochement with the Cuban government are “claiming vindication this week,” according to yesterday’s front-page article in The Washington Time titled “Cuba’s Communists dig in despite Obama’s outreach.” The article claims that Communist Party hardliners are maneuvering to cement their grip on power once Raul Castro steps down from the country’s presidency in 2018. This charge is based on news that the Cuban leader will nonetheless remain in his post as first secretary of the Communist Party and that fellow “old-line enforcer of party orthodoxy” Jose Ramon Machado will retain his post as the party’s second-in-command. The article cites Ana Quintana, a Latin America and Western Hemisphere policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and a former student trainee at the Defense Intelligence Agency,[1] who argues that, “by every indicator, in terms of progress, this was a sign of failure.”[2]

Apparently for Quintana, this later development proves beyond a doubt that every last one of President Obama’s overtures of the last two years, from reopening the Cuban Embassy to removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, “have only served to embolden the Cuban government.” As a result of this policy of appeasement, “the Castro government’s treatment of human rights and democracy activists has grown only more harsh.” Yet, the Times hastens to add, not all is lost since Washington “does still hold one key bit of leverage – the continuing U.S. embargo on most direct trade with Cuba.” In the final paragraph the article notes that Republicans in Congress won’t accept an end to the embargo “without clear evidence that the government in Havana has taken steps to improve its record on human rights.”[3]

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The Washington Post Reaches New Low in Calls for Political Intervention in Venezuela

The Washington Post, in an op-ed issued yesterday by its Editorial Board, suggests that the remedy for the “accelerating spiral toward an economic and political crash” that now awaits Venezuela is “political intervention by its neighbors.” It recommends intervention by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Charter, which, the Post claims, “provides for collective action when a regime violates constitutional norms.” Amongst these allegations of constitutional violations, the Post accuses the government of President Nicolás Maduro of waging “scorched-earth warfare with the National Assembly,” which since December of last year has been controlled by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), and of illegally packing the Supreme Court with government supporters in order to “strip the opposition majority of its constitutional powers and reject every measure it has passed.”

The Post could have added some balance to the discussion by mentioning, for instance, that upon winning their two-thirds majority the opposition’s first order of business was passing an amnesty law that, in addition to including a worryingly broad set of crimes, has unsettled victims of right-wing violence, some of whom view it as sanctioning impunity. In addition to open acts of provocation such as taking down all symbols of the Bolivarian cause from the walls of the legislature and immediately laying out a plan to ensure Maduro will be out of office within six months, the opposition have wasted no time in introducing legislation to privatize the public housing mission and roll back progressive labor law.

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Venezuela’s Outages and the Western Press’s Confirmation Bias Problem

Recent reports about Venezuela’s ongoing infrastructural difficulties have given particular attention to such matters as electrical grid outages, which are said now to be chronic across the country. Much has been made, for instance, of President Nicolás Maduro’s announcement this month that his government is implementing a three-day weekend to conserve energy resources.[1] Similarly, increasing attention has been given to the water shortage, which is said to be leaving Venezuelans without access for weeks on end.

The tone of these reports, like most of the coverage of Venezuela in the Western-controlled press, is laced with undercurrents implying that news of doom and despair is all that ever emanates from the South American country.  In a special report for USA Today, for instance, Peter Wilson claims that President Maduro’s recent moves have become necessary to “avert a collapse of the power grid.”[2] A Wall Street Journal article claims “the nationwide water shortage is crippling Venezuela, leaving faucets dry and contributing to rolling blackouts.”[3]  Words like disasterbreakdown and ruin adorn the prose of these reports and communicate a sense of ominous foreboding, as if Venezuela were about to fall into a dark hole toward the center of the earth. The implication is that as long as the Chavistas are in government all Venezuela news is bad news and that every last piece of it represents one last nail in the coffin of a failed political project.

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