Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence Wilkerson’

Who’s Behind the Restoration of US-Cuba Relations?

March 12, 2015


A Cuban-US caravan of academics, social movements and trade organizations were at the centre of negotiations leading to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, says Larry Wilkerson.
Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled “National Security Decision Making.”


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

Discussions between Havana and Washington about the restoration of diplomatic relations are currently underway. One item of serious concern to Cuba is that they continue to be on the list of state sponsored terrorism. They would like to be removed from it.

According to the State Department and the Cuban officials, however, things are going and progressing quite well. But how did all of this come about in the first place? Thawing of relations between Cuba and the U.S., which has been on and going on for fifty-four years. That is the topic of our next discussion with Larry Wilkerson.

Larry is, as you know, the former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell. He’s currently the adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary. Thank you so much for joining us, Larry.


PERIES: So Larry, this is very intriguing. We know that the thawing of relations between the two countries didn’t just pop up and get resolved. How did all of this come about?

WILKERSON: I think there have been … I don’t think, I know, there have been quite a few people … I’m trying to adjust my screen right now. There have been quite a few people working on this for quite a long time.

If you want to, if your viewers want to read a really good text on this, the new book by Billy

LeoGrande at American University, who is an expert on Latin America, and Peter Kornbluh at the National Security Archives at George Washington University, who has done seminal work on getting, uncovering, grasping and pulling out of the government official documentation. Their new book, Back Channel to Cuba, is an extraordinary read on all of the attempts, from the very beginning. Dwight Eisenhower through John Kennedy, through Lyndon Johnson, through Richard Nixon, on up to Bill Clinton and then to George W. Bush, and the attempts we have made over those half-century worth of years plus to have better relations with Cuba.

You can imagine that, among others, Wayne Smith, former member of the U.S. Intersection in Havana, who under Al Haig’s secretariat actually resigned his position based on his objections to U.S. policy and so forth. A host of others, including myself, were in Cuba for a conference in December, and on 17 December we were in a conference room with the Cubans, and we were able to pipe the TV in and listen to Raúl Castro, President of Cuba, and President Obama announce this latest attempt at a new relationship, a closer relationship. I guarantee you that in that room of some two hundred or so people, there was not a dry eye in the room, Cuban or American.

PERIES: Larry, the latest version of these negotiations that actually lead to the official announcements were, were being done through a committee, I understand, that have been working at it for a very long time which you have been a part of. Tell us a little bit about that process.

WILKERSON: I don’t want to take too much credit for it, because there are all manner of nonprofit organizations that have been oriented towards better relations with Cuba. Trade organizations, just, organizations involved with democracy and freedom and liberty spreading, and so forth.

I’ve been involved for the last four or five years with a group sponsored by a host organization that tries to mediate between states in terms of antagonisms, tensions, and so forth. Under their guise, meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, with then President Lula’s people. Meeting in Buenos Aires, meeting in Mexico City, meeting in Toronto, and meeting in Havana, we conducted this sort of track to a diplomacy. We tried to meet in Washington, but OFAC at Treasury wouldn’t allow us visas for the Cuban visitors, so we doubled up on Havana.

What we did was put together—Meeting with Cubans. Cuban academics, Cuban economists, Cuban environmentalists, and so forth. Moving as we needed to into the various sectors of the Cuban ministries, and into U.S. government, too, and consulting for time to time. We put together a road map for better relations between the two countries. We delivered that to Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, in May of 2013. We were told by the Assistant Secretary that it was read line-by-line. And so we like to think that we had a little bit to do with putting together, perhaps, some of the specifics of what now is beginning to take place.

PERIES: Larry, in this road map, what were some of the points of contention, or what was perceived to be points of contention, that are transpiring now?

WILKERSON: One of the things you see from Peter and Bill’s book that I mentioned, Back Channels, and one of the things we learned very, very up close and personal, as we went through this some five years of talks and other activities that have been going on around them, the first prerequisite for Cuba is to be treated with respect. To be treated as an equal. Not an equal in power or economic might or financial might, but an equal in terms of diplomatic and political relations. To be treated as a sovereign country, and not to be always treated as if until you change what you’ve determined to be your governance system, we won’t talk to you. So that was the first prerequisite, that we treat Cuba with human decency.

Probably the second one was that everything’s on the table. This has particularly become true since Raúl took over from Fidel and has been more or less the leader of the Cuban government. In this case, it meant that we would talk about anything. If we were Cubans, we would talk about anything, so long as you respected our sovereignty and treated us with respect and equality, we were willing to put any issue on the table.

We’re willing to talk about migration, we’re willing to talk about oil spills, hurricane preparedness, disaster relief. We’re willing to talk about human trafficking and drug trafficking, and all the things that we have been more or less cooperating in ever since JFK’s time, but on a very, very limited, narrow focused basis.

We’re willing to talk about anything including approaching a normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, with the Cubans understanding what the Mexicans understand. You know, so close to the United States, so far from God. That’s sort of the mantra. And when you’re close to the United States, you’ve got to be very careful about how you deal financially, economically, and so forth.

In fact, one of the things that I warn the Cubans about, they don’t need any warning on this but I felt it would be especially significant coming from an American academic and a military man. I warned them about opening too fast. If this is a genuine opening, if it is a genuine attempt to normalize relations, lift the embargo, take them off the State Sponsors of Terrorism list which they haven’t belonged on for at least ten years, maybe twenty. If it is that, then be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

That is to say, you don’t want the United States coming back in in its enormously predatory, capitalist way, and ruining some of the real gains of the revolution, like crime-free states, universal health care—indeed, some of the best health care in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world, and the other gains of the revolution, you don’t want to ruin those. They protected the environment really well, for example. You need to be careful about how you let this colossal economic and financial giant re-enter your country.

PERIES: Now, we know that Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Senator Marco Rubio in Florida are all challenging President Obama about these negotiations and the restoration of diplomatic relations, and promising to undo it. Where do you think that stands?

WILKERSON: I think it’s about as Luddite a stance as I can identify in my Republican party, and that is saying something because all they’ve been is Luddites for the past decade or so, and I say, all they have been—There are some holdouts. There’s a Jeff Flake, there’s a Susan Collins, there’s a Lamar Alexander. There’s apparently a Bob Corker in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now that have a pragmatic approach to politics and really want to get something done.

But the innumerable members of the Republican Party now, and I put that in a category of forty or so, maybe a little more, that are just simply bent on punishing this president, just simply bent on doing anything that’s contrary to the President, even if it’s in the disinterest of their country, that alarms me greatly. I would put a few Democrats in that category too, with regard to Cuba. You mentioned one of them, Senator Robert Menendez, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will do anything he can, as will Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and others, to stop the President in this attempt to normalize relations with Cuba and eventual lift the embargo and take them off the state sponsored terrorism list.

They are out of sync with Cuban-Americans. Poll after poll now shows that the majority of Cuban-Americans are for closer relations with Cuba, are for better relations, are for eventually eliminating the state sponsor of terrorism stigma, and lifting the embargo. These are young Cubans, I would say forty-five and below. They are dominating the Cuban community in New Jersey, Nevada, and of course Florida now, the Miami area in particular. They are beginning to shift this, so Senator Menendez, Mario Rubio, they’re on the wrong side of history and I’m frankly very glad about that

PERIES: All right. Well, we’ll continue to keep a watch on this. Larry, thank you so much for joining us.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

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

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson Sends Letter to Obama in Support of the Five

November 3, 2014

Lawrence Wilkerson is Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
His last position in government was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the U.S. Department of State (2002-2005). He served 31 years in the US Army (1966-1998).

November 5, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

It is time to correct an injustice that is in your power to amend. This injustice mars majorly the American system of justice, the U.S. record on human rights and, as importantly, the lives of five men whose dedication to the security of their own country against terrorist attack should be admired and respected, not punished. No doubt you have heard of these men: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labaniño Salazar, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Fernando González Llort, and Rene González Sehwerert. The world knows them as The Cuban Five.

Two of these men are today out of prison, two more might be out in the far future, and one might never see the dawn of a free day. This latter individual, Gerardo Hernández, I tried to visit-unsuccessfully-in the maximum security prison in Victorville, California. Though I was unable to visit him, a true and trusted colleague who accompanied me, the late Saul Landau, was able to do so and reported to me that Gerardo remains as courageous and undaunted as ever yet still puzzled over the failure to act of what is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy.

The Cuban Five suffered a gross injustice when they were arrested in 1998. After their arrests they spent 17 months in solitary confinement. Their trial took place in Miami, Florida and in 2001 they were sentenced to long prison terms. At a legal minimum, the trial through which they suffered in Miami should have been moved to another location, as change-of-venue arguments alone were not only persuasive they were overwhelming, testified to amply when the appeals court in Atlanta, voting in a three-judge panel, supported a change of venue. Later, however, this decision was reversed when the political power of George W. Bush’s administration-an administration in which I served-compelled the court, voting in its entirety to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision and vote differently; they ratified the sentences of two of them, and the case of the other three were sent back to the court in Miami for re-sentencing. The court recognized that the guide of sentencing were wrongly applied and as a result reduced their prison terms.

But there is more, much more. In fact, there is the now-indisputable fact that the five were not guilty of the substantive charges brought against them in the first place. The politics surrounding the trial were in the hands of hard-line Cuban-Americans in Florida, as well as in the US Congress. Without their blatant interference with the course of justice, the trial never would have taken place. Moreover, these people spent taxpayer dollars to enlist journalists in Miami to write condemnatory articles, to influence the jury pool for the trial, and to predispose public opinion to a guilty verdict. This trial was a political payoff to hard-line Cuban-Americans and every person in the United States and across the world who pays attention to these matters, knows it. Indeed, you know it, Mr. President. This kangaroo-court trial is a blemish on the very fabric of America’s democracy. It sends a clear signal to all the world-who judge us not as we judge ourselves, by how we feel about issues, but by our deeds.

You, Mr. President, cannot erase this blemish; it has lingered too long and too many years have been stolen from these men’s lives by it. But you can mitigate it, you can make it less formidable. And, vitally, you can clean the reputation of our justice system, and, in the case of Gerardo and the other two men still in prison, you can free them.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, in May of 2005, declared the imprisonment of the Cuban Five to be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, placing the United States alongside some of the most heinous countries on earth. The Working Group requested that the U.S. take action to remedy the situation. You, Mr. President, can do just that.

Mr. President, you said that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” But in certain instances, that is wrong and you know it. Would you have us not look back to our Civil War? To the depredations of Black slavery that led to it? To the century-long economic slavery that followed that war? To the racism of our past-a racism that still plagues us today? I think not. And you should not deny the need to look back, review and reverse this mockery of a trial.

Take action, Mr. President. Release immediately the three remaining imprisoned members of the Cuban Five. Admit publicly the gross injustice done to all of them and elaborate the reasons. Apologize to the Cuban people and to our citizens and, most of all, to the Cuban Five and their families. Listen to “the better angels of our nature” and put the United States back on the side of justice.

Very Respectfully,

Lawrence B. Wilkerson
Colonel, US Army (Retired)

November 5th for the Cuban 5
Remember: On Wednesday November 5th, call Obama and demand the freedom of the Cuban 5


By phone:
202-456-1111 (If nobody answers the phone leave a message)
If calling from outside the United States, dial first the International Area Code
+ 1 (US country code) followed by 202-456-1111

By Fax: 202-456-2461
If fax is sent from outside the United States, dial first the International Area
Code + 1 (US country code) followed by 202-456-2461

To send an e-mail:

To send a letter:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States

To learn more about the Cuban 5 visit:,

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