Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced yesterday that the US and Cuba were finally going to normalize their relations. This move is long overdue. Indeed, the very first edition of this journal called for it. A great many are pleased with the decision, but there are a few Cold War dead-enders who have yet to realize that the Embargo was a failure, and that a new approach is needed.
It is commonly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results from each repetition. In this particular instance, the relations between the US and Cuba have been icy since the Embargo began in 1960. After 54 years, it is clear that the US has failed to topple the Castro regime. At the same time, it is clear that the Castro regime has failed to deliver for the Cuban people. Years 55, 56, 57, 60, 70, 100 of the same policies would not change the situation.
With relations on a more normal footing, Havana and Washington will have methods of addressing the huge number of differences that exist. President Castro said it himself when qualifying what the establishment of diplomatic relations would mean, “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been solved. The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.”
Exactly when and how that gets done is a problem. Over the past five decades, the Embargo has been codified into American law by acts of Congress. Constitutionally, they can only be undone by acts of Congress. And in January, the Republicans will be in charge of both houses of Congress. Only a madman would expect them to lift the Embargo — that would be to hand Mr. Obama a major victory. Instead, what one can expect is an initial round of talks about talks, and then, perhaps, some low-level technical contacts on how things are going to be executed.
The problem in Washington is the professional clique of anti-Castro politicians in the Cuban-American community. Refugees tend not to be forgiving toward those who drove them from their homes, and Florida in particular has a large number of voters and donors who view politics through a single-issue lens. If elected, will a politician tighten the screws of the Havana regime? Hardliners get money and votes; others don’t.
Already, the GOP is gearing up to do what it can to keep the Cold War going. Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida, said on his Facebook page, this move was “the latest foreign policy misstep by this President, and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority. It undermines America’s credibility and undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.” If there has been a quest for such in the last 50 years, the search party needs a new map.
One of his possible rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination is Marco Rubio, whose parents left Cuba before the revolution. Senator Rubio (R-FL) said, “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.” One can think of nothing quite so permanent in global politics as the Castro regime.
There are Democrats who oppose the decision, too, mostly Cuban Americans. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said that shift was “misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years.” One cannot find a single instance in which he calls for an Embargo on the Chinese Communist party’s control over the Chinese people for 65 years.
This journal is second to none in anti-communist, anti-dictatorship, anti-totalitarian views. It is for that reason that one supports the normalization of relations and an end to the embargo. The approach of the last 54 years failed. A new strategy is needed. If one truly believes in the American Way, in market capitalism and liberal democratic institutions, exposing Cuba to those in a tsunami of openness offers a chance to render the ideology and oppression of Marxism-Leninism irrelevant.
The Castros are in their 80s, and won’t live much longer. The US can either establish relations with Cuba to influence the succession, or it can continue with a failed policy that allows no leverage with the new generation. Engagement might not work, but the Embargo certainly didn’t.