Frances Robles and the Power of Omission

The written word can obviously influence, but what is left unsaid can influence as well. In a way, what is omitted can be more even effective, since the reader is unaware of how they were influenced. I will use a couple of recent articles by the Miami Herald’s Frances Robles on the U.S. policy towards Cuba to make my point.

Portions of her Miami Herald article posted on Thursday:

The Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, D.C., assembled a group of 19 academics, diplomats and ”thinkers” to chart out a road map for Obama to take action on Cuba.

”Let’s forget the hostile regime-change strategy and begin a policy of critical engagement,” said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who co-chaired the report.

Obama, many conservatives believe, would lose bargaining power and leverage over Cuba if he starts offering Cuba perks before it makes any changes.

Huddleston, who has long urged normalization of relations, said many of the group’s members were more conservative in their Cuba policies, but they agreed on all the recommendations.

My observations:

  • The Brookings Institution is a liberal think tank. Ms Robles does not ascribe a political point of view to the organization. See below for how the Heritage Foundation–a conservative think tank– is typically described in the Miami Herald below.
  • There are two references to what conservatives believe.
  • Huddleston claims that ‘many of the group’s members were more conservative in their Cuba policies.’ If true, this would add weight to the notion that the think-tank’s findings are non-partisan. But Ms Robles leaves that key assertion unchallenged and undocumented.
  • I would love to know which persons, ‘conservative in their Cuba policies,’ the Brookings Institution would have put on a committee whose findings would be released as part of a coordinated strategy to reexamine the U.S. policy towards Cuba with an incoming Democratic Administration. If a liberal think tank would have returned with anything other than ideas for easing restrictions, that would have been an upset worthy a Jimmy Valvano led team.
  • The word liberal is not used in the article. Even though Robles ‘admits’ — an example within an example: I could have used the term ‘described’ here. By using ‘admits’, I make Robles seem like a partisan, which I don’t mind because I am in the midst of showing just that — that Huddleston has ‘long urged normalization of relations.’ However, even that does not earn her the liberal label, in an article which clearly points out that conservatives have a point of view on this issue.
  • Why is this important? Because when people or organizations are described as liberal or conservative, that indicates that they are predisposed to a certain point of view. Which makes their conclusions less influential that if a non-partisan had come to the same conclusion. Think-tanks dream of having their views presented as non-partisan.

Portions of her Miami Herald article posted on Wednesday:

A group of well-known diplomats and academics at The Brookings Institute think tank is expected to issue a report Thursday that also calls for more dialogue with Cuba.

Conservative Cuban-American lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone said if anything, momentum for more restrictions is increasing.

”All of a sudden, everyone is paying attention,” said Sarah Stephens, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which advocates more normalized relations with Cuba. “Things seems to be changing a little bit in Cuba, and that feeds off itself.”

Most conservative advocates believe it is unfathomable to offer Cuba anything, such as increased travel to the island or the ability to make purchases on credit, without a real show of change on the island.

My observations:

  • The views of the Center for Democracy in Americas–a group who sympathizes with Castro and Chavez–are not characterized.
  • Again, the Brookings Institution’s views are not characterized.
  • Again, two more references to conservatives – total for the two articles is four.
  • Again, zero references to liberals.
  • Again, Ms Robles declines to characterize the views of someone as liberal, Ms Stephens, even though the article acknowledges that there is a conservative position on the issue and that Ms Stephens is the director of a group which ‘advocates more normalized relations with Cuba.’
  • After reading both her articles, it would be fair to ask; What would it take for Ms Robles to describe anyone as a liberal on this issue?

Examples of how the Heritage Foundation has been described in the Miami Herald recently:

  • Feb 13 – Economic stimulus plan called ‘unfocused’

    ”All this is 25 years of government expansion jammed into one bill and sold as stimulus,” said Brian Riedl, the director of budget analysis for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research group.

 

  • Feb 18 – Analysis: Obama offers carrots for mortgage firms

    “You still have the very serious question of what kind of incentives you’re providing for what’s essentially bad behavior,” said David C. John, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

 

All articles referenced are copied in full at end of post, because no one, and we mean no one, pays for the Miami Herald’s archive services.
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Think tank urges Obama to ease U.S. policy on Cuba

Posted on Thu, Feb. 26, 2009

BY FRANCES ROBLES

President Barack Obama should not wait for Congress to begin making key changes in Cuba policy and should start by using his presidential authority to make adjustments to the U.S. trade embargo, a new report issued Thursday said.

The Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, D.C., assembled a group of 19 academics, diplomats and ”thinkers” to chart out a road map for Obama to take action on Cuba. The panel — led by a former top U.S. diplomat in Havana — argues that Washington’s hostile rhetoric has failed to make changes in Cuba and needs to stop.

”Let’s forget the hostile regime-change strategy and begin a policy of critical engagement,” said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who co-chaired the report. “This means no shouting across the street at each other.”

The report, unveiled in Miami, comes on the heels of a series of moves that signal what some Cuba experts consider serious momentum to change Cuba policy. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget bill that defunded enforcement of the Cuban family travel ban and, among other things, offered more licenses to travel to Cuba. The Senate Foreign Relations committee released a report Monday making many of the same recommendations that the Brookings panel came up with.

Among the Brookings’ U.S. Policy Toward A Cuba in Transition group’s suggestions:

• Allow more ”purposeful travel” to Cuba for American academics, artists and such.

• Review Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. terrorist nation list.

• License the sale of radios and TVs.

• Once the Cuban government begins responding with serious human rights improvements, license more imports from Cuba and goods to be sold to the island.

”The president can do this himself,” Huddleston said. “It would be a big win in terms of his image and a big win in terms of getting away from failures of the past.”

Many Cuban exile leaders — and South Florida’s Cuban-American delegation in Congress — oppose such measures, because they believe Cuba should release political prisoners and make other human rights improvements before Washington makes any concessions. Obama, many conservatives believe, would lose bargaining power and leverage over Cuba if he starts offering Cuba perks before it makes any changes.

The report urges the president not to set ”tit for tat” conditions for any changes he makes.

Huddleston, who has long urged normalization of relations, said many of the group’s members were more conservative in their Cuba policies, but they agreed on all the recommendations. They did not agree, she said, on whether to lift the travel ban altogether.

They did agree that authority should be put back in the president’s hands.

”Engagement does not mean approval of the Cuban government’s policies, nor should it indicate a wish to micromanage internal developments in Cuba,” the report said. “Legitimate changes in Cuba will only be made by Cubans.”
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House to cut Cuba travel enforcement

Posted on Wed, Feb. 25, 2009

BY FRANCES ROBLES

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a huge spending bill Wednesday that tweaked U.S.-Cuba policy, making it easier for Cuban Americans to get away with illegally traveling to the communist country.

The bill, which is likely to face some opposition in the Senate, cuts off funding for enforcement of the rules that limit how often Cubans living here can visit home.

The 2009 budget also contains several revisions to Cuba policy that signal a trend toward further engagement with Cuba — a momentum that could lead to the end of more sanctions, Cuba-watchers said. The budget bill passed the House days after the Senate Foreign Relations committee and a senior Republican on the panel issued a strongly worded report that said the embargo’s isolation of Cuba wasn’t working.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar recommended increased engagement in drug trafficking and migration but fell short of advocating a wholesale lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. A group of well-known diplomats and academics at The Brookings Institute think tank is expected to issue a report Thursday that also calls for more dialogue with Cuba.

A few black representatives in Congress and aide groups were scheduled to meet Wednesday night with Cuban diplomats in Washington to discuss the state of U.S.-Cuba relations.

”All of these pieces have to be viewed in the aggregate: it’s clearly a trend,” said Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who sponsored a bill that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba. “The trend is to engage incrementally, and travel is a centerpiece of that. There is a momentum that’s evolving here.”

Cuban-American lawmakers scoffed at the suggestion that the recent flurry might signal a significant change on Cuba.

BATTLE AHEAD

The budget bill, which passed the House on a 245-178 vote, was hatched behind closed doors, they say, and it faces a tough battle in the Senate.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-FL, have told the Senate that they oppose any change in the U.S.-Cuba policy.

”There is nothing new here,” said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a South Florida Republican. “I’m fascinated when the press thinks all this is new, when all it is is a restatement of people’s long-held positions.”

Conservative Cuban-American lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone said if anything, momentum for more restrictions is increasing.

”I’ll begin to worry when members that formerly supported current Cuba policy switch their position,” he said. “Thus far, the only true momentum is the other way, as the number of supporters of current policy has dramatically increased every single Congress in the last six years, not vice versa.”

The latest movement toward freer travel to Cuba is an offshoot of President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island more frequently. Former President George W. Bush changed the rules that allowed people to visit once a year, limiting those visits to every three years.

Obama is expected to allow Cuban Americans to visit annually, but he has yet to move on the campaign promise.

Cuba watchers say it’s unclear whether he will lift restrictions not just for Cuban Americans, but for American academics, church groups and others as well. Key administration posts in charge of such decisions have yet to be filled.

When Bush created the rule in 2004, it was immediately controversial. Cuban immigrants with a dying parent were forced to choose: visit your loved one alive now — or attend the funeral later.

”All of a sudden, everyone is paying attention,” said Sarah Stephens, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which advocates more normalized relations with Cuba. “Things seems to be changing a little bit in Cuba, and that feeds off itself.”

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said the bills moving through Congress are like ”oncoming trains” destined to derail.

”There is a rush to put pressure on [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton and Obama on Cuba,” he said.

WAITING GAME

Obama should not bow to pressure, he said, and should instead wait for serious concessions from the Cuban government.

The debate over changing Cuba policy is largely over who should make the first move. Most conservative advocates believe it is unfathomable to offer Cuba anything, such as increased travel to the island or the ability to make purchases on credit, without a real show of change on the island. For the United States to make the first move, Suchlicki said, would be “giving away its foreign policy.”
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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