Saturday, June 06, 2009

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Changeman!


In January 2006 I was invited to attend a book fair in Cuba, where one of my books, newly translated into Spanish, was being presented. All my expenses were to be paid by the Cuban government and I was very much looking forward to the visit. Only one problem — the government of the United States would not give me permission to go. My application to travel to Cuba had also been rejected in 1998 by the Clinton administration. (On that occasion I went anyhow and was extremely lucky to avoid being caught by the American Travel Police on the way back and being fined thousands of dollars.) I mention this because Obama supporters would have us believe — as they themselves believe — that their Changeman has been busy making lots of important changes, Cuba being only one example. But I still don't have the legal right to travel to Cuba.

The only real change made by the Obama administration in regard to Cuba is that Cuban-Americans with family on the island can travel there and send remittances without restrictions. The April 13 White House announcement listed several other provisions concerning telecommunications companies, but what this will actually mean in practice, if anything, is unknown, particularly as it affects Cuba's access to the Internet. American anti-Castroites have long blamed Cuban's deficient Internet access on the proverbial "communist suppression", when the technical availability and prohibitive cost were to a large extent in the hands of American corporations. Microsoft, for example, bars Cuba from using its Messenger instant messaging service.4 And Google has long blocked Cuban access to many of its features.5 Venezuela and Cuba have been working on an underwater cable system that they hope will make them less reliant on the gringos.

The multifarious US economic embargo, which causes unending hardship and expense for the Cuban people, remains in place. Here is Changeman in a recent press conference:

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President. You've heard from a lot of Latin America leaders here who want the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba. You've said that you think it's an important leverage to not lift it. But in 2004, you did support lifting the embargo. You said, it's failed to provide the source of raising standards of living, it's squeezed the innocent, and it's time for us to acknowledge that this particular policy has failed. I'm wondering, what made you change your mind about the embargo?

The President: Well, 2004, that seems just eons ago. What was I doing in 2004?

Reporter: Running for Senate.

The President: Is it while — I was running for Senate. There you go.6

Yes, there you go; you shouldn't confuse campaign rhetoric with the real world and the real Changeman.

The case of the Cuban Five is another chance for Changeman to come to the rescue. This outrageous perversion of justice whereby Cubans were sent to the United States to try to learn of further terrorist attacks in Cuba planned by anti-Castroites in Florida and were themselves arrested by the FBI on information partly supplied to the US by the Cuban government as their contribution to the War On Terrorism.7

The Cuban Five have been in US prisons for more than 10 years. Around June 15 the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on whether or not they will hear the appeal of the Five. The Clinton administration arrested them. The Bush administration continued the awful, mindless, crimeless persecution for eight more years. But now comes the Changeman administration. Hooray! Oh, in late May, the Changeman administration filed a brief urging the Court to deny the Five a hearing, and on June 2, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an Organization of American States meeting: "I want to emphasize the United States under President Obama is taking a completely new approach to our policy toward Cuba."8

Another opportunity for Changeman to come to the rescue also involves Cuba — closing the Guantanamo prison. But our hero is once again displaying a woeful lack of political courage and imagination. If there's good evidence that certain detainees are a danger to anyone, then try them in US civilian courts with full rights, a decent defense team, and excluding secret evidence and coerced confessions. If they're found guilty — and with an American jury sitting in judgment of "terrorists", this, in almost all cases, would be the verdict — then imprison them in one of America's maximum security prisons, which already houses about 355 men labeled as "terrorists".9 The new ones will not be any more of a danger in prison than the ones already there.

However, if they're found innocent, then declare them free men. It would be much easier then to find a country to accept them, including the United States. Until now, the world has been told repeatedly by Washington that these men are "the worst of the worst". Small wonder that no country or community wants them near. But if they've been tried and acquitted, this situation should change markedly.

So Mr. Obama, we're waiting for you to step into a phone booth.

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World's Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at:

  1. Associated Press, June 2, 2009
  2. Does Google Censor Cuba?
  3. White House Press Office, April 19, 2009
  4. Cuban Political Prisoners ... in the United States
  5. Washington Post, June 3, 2009.
  6. "There Are Already 355 Terrorists in American Prisons", Slate Magazine, May 29, 2009