Yoani Sánchez on why it's time to end the embargo

Dissident blogger and FP contributor Yoani Sánchez is currently touring the United States after recently receiving permission from the Cuban government to travel outside the country.

Along with activist and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo, she spoke today at the Cato Institute in Washington. When asked by a member of the audience to explain her opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba -- particularly in light of the fact that fellow leading dissidents including Óscar Elías Biscet, Berta Soler, and Guillermo Fariñas want it to remain in place -- she replied:

I want to begin by saying that all the people you have mentioned are brothers and sisters in the struggle and I have excellent relationships with them. Unlike the Cuban government that forces a monolithic vertical structure and only reflects one point of view, one of the excellent things about the dissident movement is that it reflects a wide variety of viewpoints. This diversity does not stop us from sharing the same goal, which is a transition to a democratic system in Cuba.

I come from a generation of Cubans that have grown up with an official discourse constantly running through my ears that has expertly used the embargo as it foremost excuse -- blamed for everything from the lack of food on our plates to the lack of liberty in the streets. I have seen since I was a child how the official media constantly presents the embargo as the big bad wolf from the fairy tales I read as a child.

I would love to see how the official propaganda apparatus would function without this big bad wolf. I doubt that it could.

Sánchez spoke about the increasingly vibrant online independent media scene in Cuba and discussed plans to start an online newspaper when she returns to her country. "You can't even imagine the speed with which information is circulating on the island of Cuba," she said. "There's a whole alternate web of circulation where things [are] taken off the Internet and put on a thumb drive and passed from citizen to citizen in a manual way." 

She continued: "It took me a full 10 years to see images from the fall of the Berlin Wall. But my son was able to witness the images from Tahrir Square almost exactly as they were happening."

Sánchez wrote for FP about her struggles to travel outside Cuba last November. She has traveled to Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the Czech Republic since she was granted a passport, and has been met at several of her stops by pro-Cuban protesters, who have disrupted her events. At today's event, she said she suspected that the Cuban government may have granted her permission to travel in order to set up the very public disruptions, or in hopes that she would remain abroad. "They made a bad bet," she said. 

Jose Castañares/AFP/Getty Images


Why Japan and China could accidentally end up at war

The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed "senior Chinese military officials" admitting for the first time that it happened -- but only by accident, they said.

It's worth noting, especially in light of Beijing's official denial, that we don't know who these Chinese officials are, or why they're speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, "emergency decision" taken by the commander of the frigate -- one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo's report does not inspire confidence:

"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance."

Great. At a time when Chinese authorities seem to be making efforts to dial down tensions with Japan over disputed islands, could a war between East Asian superpowers be sparked by accident -- by some frigate commander gone rogue?

That nuclear war could come about in just such a scenario was, of course, a major concern during the Cold War. But decades of tension, as well as apocalyptic visions of global annihilation as a result of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. locking horns, produced carefully designed systems to minimize the damage any one rogue actor could inflict (only the president can access the nuclear codes), and to minimize misunderstandings from more minor incidents (the Kremlin-White House hotline).

But East Asia -- relatively free of military buildup until recently -- doesn't have these same systems in place. A soon-to-be-released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the danger that emerges when a region's military systems develop faster than its communication mechanisms, and finds that accidental war in East Asia is a real possibility:

Across East Asia, advanced military systems such as anti-ship missiles, new submarines, advanced combat aircraft are proliferating in a region lacking security mechanisms that could defuse crises. Bilateral military-to-military ties are often only embryonic. There is a tangible risk of accidental conflict and escalation, particularly in the absence of a strong tradition of military confidence-building measures."

The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating.

That being said, it's important to note that historians still question whether any wars have truly been started by accident. (War "is almost by definition a deliberate and carefully considered act," writes Michael Howard.) The origins of World War I -- sometimes dubbed the accidental war -- are still hotly debated, for example. But Reuters recently noted that China, while seeking to cool tensions with Japan, is at the same time taking steps to increase central control over its military (putting paramilitary agencies under a single command, for instance) to prevent accidents -- a sign, at least, that one party in this conflict is taking the possibility seriously.

SAM YEH/AFP/GettyImages