Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan foreign policy think tank. He spoke to the Trib about what Cuban President Raul Castro's recently announced plan to step down when his term ends in 2018 means to Cuba and the United States.
Q: With the recent selection of Miguel Diaz-Canel as Cuban first vice president, there now appears to be an heir apparent to Castro. How significant do you believe that is?
A: I think you have to look at what happens out of Havana with a very realistic and tempered approach. On the one hand, the announcement was made that there is going to be some sort of finality to the long-standing authoritarian rule of the Castro brothers. You'd say that's a positive development. On the other hand, you want to know how that will happen. You want to know if there is going to be an election. You want to know who is going to be able to participate in such an election. You also want to know if between now and 2018, the transition will be a real one. Are they going to start dealing with the dissident community in Cuba? Are they going to start dealing with the human rights concerns that we have with Cuba here in the United States and in other parts of the world? I mean, where is the meat on the bone to this announcement?
Q: So you're skeptical that any meaningful change will occur?
A: What happens in Cuba needs to be viewed with a bit of skepticism because of the track record we've seen in the past. Is this going to be a democratic opening, or is it just going to be the leadership in Cuba designating another leader that's in line with their views on a lot of these sensitive issues like the human rights concerns? How are the folks in Cuba going to ensure that this (transition) actually occurs? Are there steps being put forth to make this transition a reality?
Q: The Boston Globe has reported that Secretary of State (John) Kerry is reviewing U.S. policy regarding Cuba, and there have been discussions about lifting the designation of Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism. Do you see any significant changes in U.S. policy resulting from the Castro announcement and Diaz-Canel being named his likely successor?
A: I don't believe the United States should be reacting to Cuba. We should be focusing more on how we want to shape a policy toward Cuba that's beneficial to the United States and its interests. The conversation about changing the designation of Cuba would entail a multi-agency process to assess (whether) the Cubans are still a threat with regard to biological agents, the things they were accused of working on or had worked on in the '80s and I think part of the '90s. Will this event in Cuba kick that process off? It could, (but first) we need more substantive information as to what (the coming leadership change) really means.
Q: What kind of substantive information?
A: I think we (need) to see specific changes in policies in Cuba, policies having to do with human rights, freedom of expression, opening up the business sector for Cubans. If this is the signal event to start that process, then I think that's a very positive thing. But you can't say (that's going to occur) without knowing more details. With Cuba, nothing is simple.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or firstname.lastname@example.org).