Barack Obama has cemented his foreign policy legacy with a trip to Cuba. Now in its sixth decade, the US embargo against the Castro regime is no closer to ending the communist dictatorship there than on the day it began. Mr. Obama’s trip marks a new chapter in US-Cuban relations. Whether they will be more productive, peaceful or calmer remains to be seen. The important issue here is that something different is going to be tried. It may not be any more effective in pursuing American goals, but it can’t fail any bigger than the embargo has.
The trip is pretty standard when measured by presidential visits elsewhere. The Obamas arrived at the airport and did some sightseeing. The American president will meet with the Cuban president, and later, Mr. Obama will throw out the first pitch for an exhibition baseball game between Tampa Bay and the Cuban national team. It’s a run-of-the-mill visit, except that it is happening in Cuba.
Mr. Obama will also address the Cuban people on live television, and this harkens back to addresses made in the 1980s by Messrs. Reagan and Gorbachev to the people of the other’s nation. Nothing important will be said, nothing controversial. However, it will be another step toward more normal ties. “See, the American president doesn’t have horns, a tail and cloven hooves.” When the other side’s leader is seen as human, although flawed, relations take on a much different tone than when he is a cartoonish monster from propaganda posters.
There are those on the American side who believe this visit and the general relaxation of tensions with Havana are bad. They believe that the change in policy rewards the communist dictatorship and that giving up the embargo is giving up America’s biggest weapon in the struggle. These people are motivated by the most noble of intentions, but they miss the point of the last 54 years. This journal is second to none in opposing red fascism (what has been called communism colloquially). The collapse of the Castro regime would be grounds for a celebration and future commemoration ceremonies. The problem is that the policy tried thus far has not changed Cuba at all.
In the very first edition of this publication back in September 2002, an article on Cuba read in part, “The embargo has been in place for 40 odd years, and so has Castro. No matter what the exiles in Miami may want, trade with Cuba needs to develop because not trading with Cuba has been a policy failure.
“One of the definitions of insanity is the repetition of actions while expecting different results. The insanity of the Cuban embargo is that President Bush believes that it will, in its fifth decade, bring freedom to Cuba.”
Fourteen years on, the United States has finally decided to try something new. The thing about America that few policymakers on the right want to admit is just how intoxicating the country’s popular culture is. The Soviet Union collapsed because it couldn’t deliver blue jeans, chewing gum and rock ‘n’ roll. Today, Russia actually has rappers and a living breathing hip-hop culture, as does Cuba. The isolation of Cuba from America was never complete, but it was an excuse not to liberalize.
Now, the Cuban government is going to have its hands full. Just how does a regime that outlasted ten American presidents (eleven after Mr. Obama departs office) think it will survive five years of Starbucks, Foot Locker and Hollywood action movies?
The collapse of the Berlin Wall marked the end of communism in Europe. The end of it in the Caribbean will be marked by the opening of an America car dealership in Cuba –something that could have happened any time in the last 54 years.