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  April 8, 2015

What Is Really Behind Seating Cuba at Summit of the Americas?

Weight of 50 years of failed policy, China and Port of Mariel may have had a lot to do with the US rapprochement with Cuba
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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

I'm in conversation with Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff for the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He's currently and adjunct professor of government at the college of William & Mary, and a regular contributor to The Real News Network. Thank you again for joining me, Larry.


PERIES: Larry, towards the end of this week we are going to be having another Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama City. For the first time Cuba will be participating in this conference, largely because at the 6th summit, most of the countries indicated that they would not be attending the 7th summit if Cuba was not present. So Cuba's going to be present for the first time. What does this mean?

WILKERSON: I think it's a good move for U.S. policy in Latin America. I think it's an excellent move for Cuba, although I did encounter some opposition amongst what you may call hard-right wingers in Havana. Yes, they have them too.

And I think generally speaking for the hemisphere it's a positive development. Eliminating people from the table where problems and challenges that confront us all are to be dealt with and solutions are to be carved out, it is not the right way to go about things. I don't care what kind of government exists within that particular country or countries.

So this is a good thing. For the hemisphere, for Latin America, and particularly I think for the United States and its position within the hemisphere.

PERIES: Now, what happened last time during the Summit is a very important and significant thing, where most countries said unless Cuba's at the table, we will not be attending. And this was seen as an effort by the ALBA countries, another trade formation that has evolved in Latin America lead by, initiated by Venezuela.

Now, the U.S. policy towards Latin America has wavered a bit since that summit, and they have taken this position to re-embrace diplomatic relations with Cuba. Do you think that meeting, last meeting of the Summit had any significance on the rapprochement with Cuba?

WILKERSON: I think it was a pressure point, to be sure. I don't think it was the pivot point, or the decider. But I do think it was a pressure point.

I think the overwhelming pressure on the administration to have a better relationship with Cuba was simply brought about by the weight of 50 years of failed policy, along with the reality of such geostrategic factors as China's influence in Cuba, particularly around the development of what could be the largest and busiest [intraport] in the Western Hemisphere, the port of Mariel. It's so geo--, politically, geostrategically significant in that sense, ultimately, economic and financial sense. To the fact that almost every other country in the world is in Cuba, so to speak. The only country that isn't, that's isolated, in that respect, is the United States.

All of these things, the weight of the failure of the policy, the weight of the current geostrategic and geopolitical realities, the lack of attention to the hemisphere, the fact that anyone codifying U.S. policy in Latin America would say, okay, there's hatred for the drugs in Colombia, there's hatred for Venezuela, and there's hatred for Cuba. What else is there?

At least now we'll all be meeting and we'll all be talking and we'll all be discussing, as I said, [before] the real problems that confront us that we all have to meet. And we can't be meeting them individually or unilaterally. We've got to work together.

PERIES: Larry, Cuba's in a strange predicament here while the relations with the United States is still tender. And yet we have President Correa in Ecuador who is not attending the summit, as he has already indicated that this is some sort of a protest on the part of Ecuador in terms of the aggression that the U.S. still has in Latin America. And particularly in relation to Venezuela as a --

WILKERSON: Can you blame Ecuador? I mean, how on earth could anybody stand up and without laughing themselves to death declare Venezuela as a national security threat to the United States? I mean, just ask yourself that question and try not to die laughing yourself.

PERIES: And President Maduro has indicated that he's going to be arriving at the summit with some 10 million signatures opposing United States aggressions in Latin America, and opposing this particular measure in terms of declaring Venezuela a national security threat. How do you think President Obama's going to respond to this?

WILKERSON: I hope he gets an earful. I really do. I'm convinced that in many respects, issues like this, especially what you might call second, third tier issues, don't get through to the president of the United States because members of the National Security Council staff, and in a larger field, of the cabinet, particularly people in the Western Hemispheres Bureau and State Department, in similar enclaves in the Pentagon and so forth, don't really get their point of view, the expert point of view, through to the president.

What gets through to him is the political and intelligence point of view, and that's not always the smart point of view. Especially with regard to diplomatic relations. So I'm not trying to let the President off the hook here, but I'm quite convinced, in this particular issue, that as I was before with Cuba, that he wasn't getting the full story, and might not even be getting the full story now.

So again, he may get an earful when he gets to La Ciudad Panama, Panama City.

PERIES: Larry, thank you so much for joining us.

WILKERSON: Surely. Thanks for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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