You Don’t Need a Sign to Send a Strong Signal

Turn off the stupid sign. Turn on the smart diplomacy.

Photo By Enrique De La Osa/REUTERS
Photo By Enrique De La Osa/REUTERS

According to Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer:

The Obama administration has turned off an electronic sign at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana that had displayed pro-democracy and human rights messages to Cuban passers-by and riled the government for the past three years.

The State Department said Monday that the sign, a news “zipper” on the fifth floor of the sea-front American Interest Section in the Cuban capital, was shut down last month amid the administration’s ongoing efforts to engage with Cuba’s leadership that has already seen some U.S. sanctions eased.

My first thought, after reading the first couple of paragraphs of the article, was a pretty simple one: What diplomatic brain-trust came up with the brilliant idea of installing a sign inside the fifth floor windows of a building touting the virtues of democracy to a few people riding by on bycicles? Who would consider such a device, beaming messages to an empty boulevard, a good use of tax-payers dollars?

Well, lets see…the sign was first erected in 2006…and who was in charge of our foreign policy then? Oh, that diplomatic brain-trust. These are the same folks that planned and executed — after lying about it first — the Iraq War; this is the administration that oversaw, because of neglect and arrogance, the embracing of leftist governments by most Central and South American countries; they’re the geniuses that so damaged our reputation around the world and our relationship with our friends and allies, that it will take decades to repair.

What’s needed is effective communication and clear purpose, based on an understanding of our opponents and a refusal to repeat the mistakes of past administrations. More than anything we must deny the Cuban government the opportunity to portray the American government as insensitive, hypocritical or meddling. How did the Cuban government respond to this diplomatic graffiti?

The sign, which frequently displayed quotes from leading human rights activists and pro-democracy supporters, outraged Cuban authorities who had in 2005 erected billboards outside the mission emblazoned with photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners and a huge swastika overlaid with a “Made in the U.S.A” stamp.

It is refreshing to see the Obama administration using a sensible and smart approach to the relationship with Cuba.

President Barack Obama‘s decision in April to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to do business with Cuba would do more to boost the flow of information to the island.


Since he came into office, Obama has sought to reach out to Cuba by easing travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family in Cuba. But he has said he wants to see political or economic reforms before going further.

Besides, why would you need a crappy billboard to promote democracy? less than 90 miles north you find the LIVE version of the original, with all the joy and the celebration — and the imperfection — of an outdoor concert. Cubans don’t need to read a message on a window. They need to interact with Americans. They need to see our students and our athletes and our musicians. And we need to be with theirs.

We need scoreboards, not billboards. We need to play baseball more often.

The rest will take care of itself.

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