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Time to open a dialogue with Cuba, at last.

Last month, a bipartisan delegation of 10 members of Congress traveled to Cuba to meet with Cubans and assess the situation on the island.

In addition to the usual talks regarding the promising U.S. food and agricultural sales to Cuba (now over $2 billion since 2000), the delegation--led by Rep. William Delahunt (DMA) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)--held discussions about the future of relations between Washington and Havana.

Prior to that visit, during a Dec. 2 celebration in Havana commemorating the landing of Fidel Castro's guerilla incursion in 1957 to topple the former Batista regime, Raul Castro publicly expressed a willingness to open a dialogue with the United States, which the Bush Administration regretfully shot down.

Raul Castro wants to talk with us with no preconditions for the talks, but the administration has said it will only talk when Cuba frees all political prisoners and holds democratic elections.

But we have provided public funding to those prisoners, directly and indirectly; we broadcast TV and radio programming into Cuba which is ultimately jammed; we embargo Cuba; we deny Americans normal travel and trade with Cuba; and we are demanding that Cuba, a sovereign nation, summarily change its political system at our command as a precondition in order to first have a conversation. These are not very promising positions in order to begin a dialogue.

The definition of dialogue is a conversation between two or more parties. Some can argue that tension and conflict in the world has been increased by our failure to engage in conversations with other countries, especially those who are our adversaries for one reason or another. After more than 48 years of failed policies and actions with Cuba, why not begin anew and have a conversation with Cuba that has been long overdue?

For millions of affected Cubans and Cuban-Americans, it is time for a change.

How can Cuba and the United States have a meaningful conversation with each other? For one thing, each country can take steps to create an environment upon which a meaningful conversation can occur.

However, before we can get there, where is each side now in the areas of controversy and dispute? Among the most critical human issues right now in both countries is the fact that the United States and Cuba each hold political prisoners, wanted men, and fugitives of the other.

Cuba has jailed several hundred Cubans who are political dissidents; many of them received funding and support directly or indirectly from U.S. taxpayer resources.

We jailed five Cuban nationals for spying on us, when they were really here spying on Cuban-Americans who were planning to resort to violence to change things in Cuba.

Cuba is haven to a number of American fugitives who fled from justice here. We are currently detaining a Cuban exile, Luis Posada Carriles, who has admitted to being involved with killing and acts of terrorism against Cuba. We won't release him because he once worked for the U.S. government. There is enough on both sides to point to.

Ask a Cuban official to release prisoners to improve relations, and he'll tell you it's a nonstarter and an issue of national security for them. When they have done it in the past, it has got them nothing in return from the United States and our fundamental policies do not change with Cuba.

And as long as it is the policy of our government to provide funding and resources to individuals and groups in Cuba for the purpose to destabilize and overthrow their government, what is the point?

In order to truly have a meaningful conversation, remove the thorny issue of prisoners from the table, not as a precondition to anything, but simply to remove an issue that is required in order to have a meaningful dialogue. This is a no-brainer.

Cuba agrees to release its several hundred political prisoners with the proviso that they may be allowed to emigrate abroad or remain in Cuba with the understanding that they will not receive funds from the U.S. government directly or indirectly.

In return, the U.S. agrees to pardon and release the five convicted Cuban national spies and return them to Cuba. We further agree, as a matter of policy, that the U.S. government will no longer fund and provide taxpayer resources to any individual or group to destabilize and overthrow the Cuban government.

Let's face it, if a foreign government provided funds and resources to you for the purpose of overthrowing our government, you would be in deep trouble or behind bars too.

The Cuban government does not need our meddling to let the Cuban people know what it already knows about the flaws and failures of their system. They have to figure it out, not have us as a nation figure it out for them

Besides, the record shows that such policies are not effective. Finally, each side can agree that on the subject of fugitives and wanted persons, face-to-face discussions should commence on how to resolve this in order to bring those fugitives and wanted persons to face justice in a courtroom.

What about a transition to democracy in Cuba? The seeds of democracy are already there in Cuba. The seeds are reflected in the general discontent of the Cuban people and their living and economic conditions. When Castro dies, his successors will have to confront these challenges head-on and will no longer be able to rely upon the charismatic figure to sustain their system.

Castro's successors will be focused on their political survival. In the United States, the seeds of democracy are the Cuban-American people themselves. Fifty percent of the island population in Cuba has relatives living in the United States.

People are the seeds of ideas and the true currency of democracy. It is time to allow a true flow and exchange to take place.

The task to undue 47 years of distrust, fear, anger, resentment and revenge will not be easy. If we are ever going to play a meaningful role as a nation in the future of Cuba, it will be by us working to reconcile the two sides of the Cuban family, those two million here in the United States with the 11 million in Cuba, who have been made all the worse by the current policies of both countries.

When each side takes a step like freeing political prisoners, an environment for change will have been created and given a great stimulus to talk and most importantly, much-needed relief to those prisoners and their families who suffer this firsthand

If each country truly cares about those political prisoners, each knows what it can do right now to move forward towards resolution of the crisis. It is time to begin lifting the fog of war that both countries are caught in. Only a dialogue can do that.

In the peaceful resolution of great conflicts, what is required by both parties is a willingness and the maturity to transcend that conflict's history. That can only begin first with a conversation. Let the dialogue begin.

Group calls broadcasts illegal

A Washington-based watchdog group has called for an investigation into TV and Radio Marti's use of private South Florida media to beam anti-Castro programming into Cuba, reported the Miami Herald.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics asked the Government Accountability Office to probe the legality of TV and Radio Marti's deals with Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM) and Azteca America (WPMF-TV).

"Taxpayers should not be paying for the illegal transmission of government propaganda within U.S. borders," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, a nonprofit group that gets some of its funding from Democratic-leaning donors.

"These broadcasts are clearly aimed at Cuban-Americans in Florida, not Cubans themselves," she said. "We hope that the GAO immediately investigates and forces an end to these illegal broadcasts."

Antonio C. Martinez II is a lawyer and former board member of the Latin America Working Group in Washington, D.C. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CubaNews itself.
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Author:Martinez, Antonio C., II
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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