I’ve been thinking over the recent announcement by President Barack Obama that he is moving to normalize the United States’ relations with Cuba after more than a half century of isolating Fidel Castro’s Communist regime. Looking at this action from a wider global and historical perspective, it is a policy shift that makes a great deal of sense.
It should be readily apparent that the United States’ previous efforts to topple Castro have failed. The fumbled Bay of Pigs invasion, multiple assassination attempts, support for various radical anti-Communist groups, an economic embargo that has been in place since 1963… none of it has worked. Even a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was the major political & economic supporter of Cuba, nothing has changed. Castro is like the Marxist version of John Gotti; he is the Teflon Communist.
There is an argument to be made that isolating Cuba diplomatically and economically has actually enabled Castro to remain in power, to keep his oppressive regime in place. It has prevented the influx of outside investment and culture that would over time have chipped away at his iron grip, that giving the Cuban people a taste of economic freedom and access to information about the outside world would result in a clamor for greater liberty. This is a pattern that has repeated throughout the globe in a number of other countries. In addition, by continuing to isolate Cuba long after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the United States has enabled Castro to paint himself as the victim, to lay all of his nation’s economic woes at the feet of imperialist, fanatical American capitalists.
Obviously the major stumbling block to normalizing relations with Cuba has been the small but politically influential Cuban-American population in Florida, many of whom fled from the island in the wake of Castro’s take-over. A swing state in nearly every presidential election, no candidates in either party have been willing to risk losing Florida’s 29 electoral votes by appearing soft on Cuba in the eyes of a population of politically active exiles and their descendants who more than half a century later still regard Castro as the devil incarnate.
I readily admit that I have no conception of what these people have had to endure. They were forced to flee their homeland when Castro came to power, to settle in a foreign country and start their lives from scratch. It is understandable that all these decades later they still despise Castro, and dream of the day when he finally drops dead so that they can return home.
Certainly I have no sympathy for Castro himself. He promised to free Cuba from the grip of the corrupt, oppressive Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a military coup. However, once Batista was overthrown, Castro threw in with the Soviet Union. He became as much of a tyrant as Batista, seizing control of private industry and suppressing civil liberties in the name of “the workers’ revolution.” Castro allowed the Soviets to station nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, an act that nearly led to World War III. Despite the subsequent thawing of the Cold War and then the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro has never backed down, never offered any concessions or reforms, maintaining his hard line approach to the obvious detriment of his people.
I am not saying that the United States was a saint in those days, as the government and private industry colluded to influence foreign policy in numerous foreign spheres in order to prevent any possible encroachment by Communism. But certainly the United States was the lesser of two evils, as the Soviet Union and Red China were undoubtedly brutal totalitarian regimes.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that anything is going to change in Cuba as long as the United States maintains its own inflexible approach. More and more people seem to be recognizing this. Over time there has been a shift in public opinion, both throughout the general population, and in the Cuban-American community in Florida. The children & grandchildren of the original refugees, as well as more recent exiles from the island, are much more open to the idea of negotiating with Castro’s government, perceiving that where force and rhetoric have failed, diplomacy and economic investment may very well weaken their adversary, open the way to reforms, and enable them to finally re-connect to their familial homeland.
Some critics of Obama’s actions have stated that he is reckless and irresponsible in negotiating with a dictatorship, that it is immoral to do business with a totalitarian regime which oppresses its citizens. To that, I have one thing to ask: Am I to assume that none of you have ever purchased any products with the words “Made in China” stamped on them?
The United States and American-held private corporations do billions and billions of dollars in business with the People’s Republic of China each year. Yet China is an extremely tyrannical nation. Political dissidents are regularly imprisoned, and free speech & religious expression are brutally suppressed. It has been alleged that in 2013 China executed 2,400 prisoners, an appalling figure. Yes, China has one of the worst records on human rights in the globe, yet we have absolutely no compunctions about doing business with them.
So why not re-establish relations with Cuba? Why not open our doors, and wallets, to our neighbor 90 miles to the south? Especially since in this case there is much more of a chance that positive reforms might occur.
I will admit that I have been unimpressed with many aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. While a more nuanced, intellectual approach is a relief compared to George W. Bush & Dick Cheney’s reckless cowboy diplomacy and saber-ratting, Obama’s policies have often been unfocused, tentative, or overly optimistic. However, this appears to be one of his more sensible initiatives. With so much chaos and conflict throughout the rest of the globe demanding our attention, it makes sense to tone down the rhetoric and attempt a more peaceful approach to dealing with an adversary who no longer represents any real threat to us.
Having said all of this, I am pretty damn disgusted at the declaration by Daily Kos that “Only crusty, bitter, old, out-of-touch Cuban-Americans still support embargo.” In addition to being an incredibly crass & insensitive remark, this is exactly the sort or arrogant, smug posturing that gives Liberals a bad name. So just cut the crap. How about attempting to offer a reasonable, thought-out rebuttal to people you disagree with instead of insulting them?