US, Cuba Open Embassies

The United States and Cuba have formally reopened their embassies in each others’ capital cities after 54 years. As President Obama stated, this is “a historic step forward,” and in truth, it is long overdue. While it might have made sense in the 1960s to close the embassy, the failed policy of embargo was past its sell-by date by the 1970s. It didn’t work. Meanwhile, the US opened an embassy in Beijing, treating with a nastier (because it was bigger) communist nation. The lack of an embassy throughout the 1980s to today has merely been historical stubbornness on the part of anti-communists who never understood how to fight communism. The fight can now be engaged.

The president said in the Rose Garden yesterday, “This is another demonstration that we do not have to be imprisoned by the past. A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag over the embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”

For his part, President Raul Castro wrote, “In making this decision, Cuba is encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments.” Then, he went on to blather briefly about self-determination, international law and non-interference in domestic affairs of other states.

Embassies, despite the instantaneous communications and air travel of today, still serve valuable purposes. Embassy staff provides useful insight to developments locally. Extensive person-to-person contact also allows business relationships to develop, trust between individuals. The presence of an embassy allows governments to work closely on a day-by-day basis on the details of relations.

Naturally, there are some dead-enders who can’t accept that the Castro regime didn’t collapse at some stage in the last 54 years. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it “unconditional surrender,” as if admitting that a strategy failed for more than five decades was somehow a betrayal of American values. Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stated that the important question “whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people. The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the administration’s policy is failing this test.” That never caused the US to close its embassies in Moscow or Beijing. Moreover, since the embassy has been officially open for a matter of hours, it is far too early to declare the policy a failure.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, also criticized the president, saying that “the message is democracy and human rights take a back seat to a legacy initiative.” Again, opening an embassy after 54 years is merely an admission that democracy and human rights didn’t come to Cuba with the embargo. Trying something else is the only plausible way to achieve those goals. This might not work, but continuing to do the same thing is merely reinforcing failure.

President Obama answered these charges head on and rightly, “Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation … but that has not worked for the past 50 years. Nobody expects Cuba to transform overnight. But American engagement … is the best way to advance our interests and support democracy and human rights.”

The point ultimately is that improving relations with friendly powers is nice but rather pointless. Improving them with hostile regimes can bring advantages that otherwise wouldn’t exist. American culture is seductive; that has been its strength over the years. That’s what made blue jeans, chewing gum and rock and roll popular in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. Cuban communism cannot withstand prolonged exposure to what America can offer the Cuban people. Decades have been wasted. The embassy openings are long overdue.