Gerald Caplan is an African scholar, former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power and Politics.
The early talks between the U.S. and Cuba are encountering obstacles. How could it be otherwise? America brings to these negotiations the values that have characterized it since the 1776 Revolution. Cuba brings its own values from the 1959 Revolution. Can the twain ever meet?
In their very first foray to Havana last week, President Barack Obama's negotiating team emphasized the yawning gap. In the matter-of-fact words of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, "There is no doubt that human rights remain at the centre of our policy. We have a profound disagreement with the Cuban government when we talk about democracy and human rights." Indeed.
Maybe the two governments need a high-level intermediary, someone sensitive to nuance and with exquisite tact and scrupulous impartiality. Maybe John Baird's available.
Here's an example of the human rights gulf. Cuba is known to use crude, primitive techniques to torture its political prisoners. Yet the U.S. has developed far more modern methods. As the recent congressional report noted, when the U.S. tortured alleged jihadis the practitioners were advised by two psychologists. Poor Cuba, punished for decades by both the U.S. blockade and Fidelista dogmas, can of course afford nothing like the $80-million the two mavens earned from their government for their futile efforts. So why can't the U.S. share its knowhow with Cuba? Indeed, President Obama has allowed 200 CIA officials who participated in the torture regimen to maintain their positions, so there they are, only a few kilometres away, ready and able to align Cuba more closely with American values.
To bring America's devotion to human right even closer to home – literally – the U.S. can invite Cubans on guided tours of the famed Guantanamo detention facility, with its 100-plus detainees who've been held there for over a decade with no charges or trials. And it'd be easy as pie for Cubans to get there since the prison is inside the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base which – in case it slipped your mind – is actually in Cuba on Cuban soil despite a half-century of insistent protests by the Cuban government.
But that's only the beginning of future co-operation. Although tourists might be unaware, Cuba has a large black population that suffered from severe racism before 1959 and still endures considerable discrimination. Who's better equipped to help here than the U.S.? Why not an American Police Corps, modeled on the original Peace Corps, with American cops advising their Cuban counterparts on how to serve and protect Cubans of colour. The dramatic possibilities boggle the mind.
It's also true that Cuba's aged dictators have lost their taste for foreign military adventures to spread socialism and have relegated their country to humanitarian missions. They have restricted themselves to making vital contributions of well-trained health workers to humanitarian disasters in places such as Haiti, west Africa to confront the Ebola scare, plus what's laughingly called "socialist" Venezuela.
Yet as most Americans will tell you, you can't spread human rights and democracy around the world without military aggression. Paradoxical for some perhaps, but not for American exceptionalism. The United States is always righteously at war with someone somewhere outside its own boundaries. Indeed, once or twice it was against Cuba itself. There's no reason whatever why Americans can't share the proficiency thus gained with Cuba.
Indeed, as we saw only last week, Henry Kissinger is still around and revered for his decades of disseminating American values around the world. Dr. K. is possibly the world's greatest living authority on violently overthrowing governments that don't share America's democratic values; just ask Chileans or Bangladeshis or Vietnamese. And he may not have added Cuba to this honour roll, but you can bet he knows everything about the CIA's multiple ingenious attempts to murder Fidel. If Cuba plays ball, one day American and Cuban imperial policies could well be coordinated, value-wise.
Other crucial American means to promote democracy could also be shared. Instead of simply relying on local neighbourhood committees to spy on their own citizens, as they have for six decades, the Cuban government can ask America's National Security Agency to share the snooping it already does on Cuba. Then there's the cherished human right to carry sub-machine guns in public, to go bankrupt from medical bills, to buy elections if you can afford them, to launch drone attacks against anyone you want anywhere in the world, and so many more revered American values that would introduce American-style human rights and democracy into benighted Cuba.
Viva la nueva Cuba! Viva la Cuba Americana!