It’s fine to thank Pope Francis, but let’s not overplay the idea that the Vatican took a significant role in the historic change of U.S.-Cuban relations after more than half a century.
Officials in Washington and Havana have been in contact all along, albeit at lower levels through their periodic and sometimes secret meetings in Havana and Washington. They didn’t need an intermediary–they needed a political moment, and the timing is perfect.
It is great that the pope could provide a meeting room, write some letters to presidents Obama and Castro and express his concern on humanitarian grounds for Alan Gross and the other prisoners on both sides. But the Vatican involvement is probably little more than diplomatic cover. Cuba is a Catholic country, the pope is seen as a progressive peacemaker; perhaps the idea of his participation soothes the animus of a few Cuban exiles in Miami with the inference that President Obama listened to a higher power.
Neither did the countries need to meet in Canada, other than for the sake of following through on diplomatic protocol.
Rarely have two countries known one another as well as do the United States and Cuba. The change in relations has its own moment. First, President Obama can do it now without expending much political capital. He need not face elections again and taking this step right after the midterm elections can cushion the eventual Democratic presidential candidate from what he has done. Meanwhile, the profile of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the key opponents to a modern rethinking of Cuban policy, is on the wane. He will move aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take over in January.
In addition, a persistent domestic political problem for Democrats is wasting away with time. Florida International University’s most recent survey about Cuban-American views of the embargo is emblematic of change. This year for the first time the tri-yearly survey shows that a majority of Miami Cubans support an end to the Cuban embargo. Florida was once a more troublesome problem. Democrats thought they could not win Florida’s 29 electoral votes without taking a strident anti-Castro position. President Obama, however, took Florida both in 2008 and 2012 with the support of Cuban-Americans.
Times are changing. The pope is Latin American and his support cannot hurt. But the eventual resumption of Cuban-American relations has everything to do with two presidents of two countries, one term-limited out and the other dealing with actuarial tables.
Dick Cheney claims that “waterboarding” “stops short” of torture, but victims knew the reality. Torturers have been executed for submitting prisoners to simulated drowning, now tagged with that indistinct, even innocuous-sounding term.
Go no further than John McCain, who is unequivocal on the subject. He says waterboarding is not “enhanced interrogation” — it is torture.
In World War II, German and Japanese interrogators — and their commanders — were punished, imprisoned and executed for such crimes:
“The torture of the bathtub consisted in plunging the patient into a bath of icy water, his hands handcuffed behind the back, and keeping his head underwater until he was on the point of drowning. He was dragged to the surface by the hair and, if he still refused to speak, was immediately plunged underwater again.”Jacques Delarue, an anti-Nazi French intelligence officer during World War II.
The quote is from The Freedom Line, my book about the rescue of Allied pilots rescued by underground fighters in occupied Europe during World War Two. One key practitioner of simulated drowning at Gestapo headquarters in Paris was Jacques Desoubrie — aka Jean Masson. Desoubrie, a double agent who had infiltrated the underground, was captured by the United States after the war and executed in France.
What do we find in our Sunday newspaper this morning? An opinion piece that conflates the Koch brothers and Pope Francis as being on the same page.
It is clear, we are told, that the Koch Brothers and the pope (who by golly the writers have met) are fighting the same fight–the “preferential option for the poor.”
The authors are John and Carol Saeman, fawning friends and moneyed allies of the Koch brothers, the benevolent pair who oppose climate change legislation and Affordable Health Care, using their billions to support the Tea Party and other ultra right-wing causes, and to control American politics and election outcomes. This ‘umble opinion piece is topped off by photographs of the brothers, David and Charles, flanking Pope Francis.
Yea, as we walk through the valley of American fear, the Koch brothers are our saviors. Progressive social programs, welfare and anything else created since the New Deal are the enemy. No mention of Democrats, or the name of the president, just code–“centralization” and “bureaucrats…collude to protect politically favored companies and crowd out competitors.”
“This phenomenon isn’t found only in Third World Dictatorships. It’s increasingly evident in Washington….”
Not to worry, the Koch brothers are here. “We believe the Kochs are doing more to help the poor than the “social justice” campaigners who so often attack them.”
It is a strange argument and, at the least, difficult to believe.
More about the Koch Brothers?
The Emancipation Proclamation was an Executive Order by President Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation provides the foundational precedent for President Obama’s executive order on immigrants in the country illegally. Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale
The proclamation was criticized by the so-called Copperhead Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy. The Copperheads were northern members of Congress who wanted to oust Lincoln from office along with the Republicans who supported him. They saw him as an imperial president destroying American values.
The titles have reversed, but how much has changed?
I only met Marion Barry once, a lunch meeting at a downtown Washington, DC eatery in 2006. He had just finished lunch with an attractive woman, showed her to the door and then turned heels without missing a beat for lunch number two. He displayed all the charm and political savvy one had heard of and imagined. His goal, in dealing with one of what have been an endless progression of Washington Post reporters and editors he had met–was to show me that he was nobody’s fool. He understood politics, he understood nuance and human nature. I knew and had read all of the backstory of his life — but I was impressed.
The Washington Post obituary by Bart Barnes:
Marion Barry Jr., the Mississippi sharecropper’s son and civil rights activist who served three terms as mayor of the District of Columbia, survived a drug arrest and jail sentence, and then came back to win a fourth term as the city’s chief executive, died around midnight Saturday at United Medical Center in Washington. He was 78. [read more]
El fallecimiento de mi amigo y colega, el periodista argentino José “Pepe” Eliashev, me recuerda una historia que merece ser contada. Pepe falleció de cáncer de páncreas en Buenos Aires, el 18 de noviembre de 2014. Tenía 69 años. Durante décadas fue un comentarista y locutor de radio muy popular en la Argentina.
Como jóvenes periodistas de la Associated Press en Nueva York en los años 70, Pepe y yo nos convertimos en conspiradores para frustrar el intento de los editores que supervisaban América Latina de censurar o de limitar las noticias sobre la dictadura militar derechista.
Yo trabajaba en el World Desk en la oficina de AP en Nueva York. Mi trabajo consistía en editar, transmitir y a veces cubrir las noticias del exterior, en inglés, para nuestro servicio mundial en Europa, Asia y África.
Pepe se sentaba a unos metros de mí en La Prensa Asociada –la sección de América Latina que traducía y transmitía noticias en español a México, América Central y Sudamérica. Algunos redactores de esa sección eran, como Pepe, exiliados de países cuyos regímenes represivos dificultaban el periodismo y lo volvían peligroso.
Quedó pronto claro que algunos redactores eran también escandalosamente de derecha e incluso hacían comentarios despectivos sobre los periodistas que trabajan a su lado. En particular, algunos de los editores latinos apoyaban la dictadura argentina, la que en aquel momento estaba sumida profundamente en la Guerra Sucia, que acabaría matando o “desapareciendo” a más de 20.000 personas. Esos editores no sabían que yo hablaba español y que podía oír lo que estaban diciendo.
Pepe me dijo que algunos de los jefes estaban interceptando –“desapareciendo”– historias que podían “avergonzar a la Argentina”. Los editores latinos podían desechar las historias que llegaban habitualmente y además impedir que Pepe, y otros de la sección, cubrieran historias que eran relevantes para la Argentina y una vergüenza para la dictadura.
Sabíamos, sin embargo, que no podían bloquear esos artículos –las inquietudes del gobierno de Carter con respecto a los derechos humanos o el papel de la Iglesia Católica, por ejemplo– si éstos se originaban o seleccionaban en la sección en inglés. Así es como Pepe me informaba cuando alguien trataba de eliminar una historia que pintara negativamente a la dictadura argentina. Todo lo que yo tenía que hacer era guardarla y publicarla en la línea internacional en inglés. Los forzábamos, de esa manera, a traducirla y trasmitirla vía las líneas noticiosas sudamericanas.
La maniobra tenía su importancia, porque muchos diarios de América Latina censuraban sus propios reportajes internos por razones de seguridad, pero las historias que venían de la AP en Estados Unidos podían publicarse con mayor facilidad.
En 1978, en plena Guerra Sucia, hubo una historia que recuerdo en particular. Pepe me dijo que una de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo estaba en Nueva York lista para ser entrevistada. Hice la entrevista y redacté una historia nacional e internacional sobre los esfuerzos del grupo para encontrar a los niños robados de sus padres prisioneros y asesinados.
Pepe y yo tratamos de no llamar la atención –esa historia y otras aparecieron en el cable latino como era nuestro propósito. Nuestro único objetivo era asegurar que se pudiera acceder a todas las noticias. Fue una gran satisfacción.