I read a piece about Cuba this afternoon which was notable because… I was reading the news! My memories from the last week have taken up residence in a thick fog, so I can’t tell you why I was news deprived. I can tell you that I’m more than a little worried that this fog seems to follow an increase in dosage of a drug I’m taking to prevent headaches. I may have to do something about that.
However, I didn’t really want to talk about my head (a sore subject), so let’s go back to Cuba.
You’ve probably heard that Fidel Castro resigned this week, but if you haven’t… well, guess what? Fidel resigned this week! This news could mean everything… or nothing. The article I was reading was really about the differences between Clinton and Obama regarding their “Cuba position.” However, what jumped out at me was the hard line McCain takes on Cuba. Not surprising mind you, but it’s the inspiration for this post.
“Freedom in Cuba is not at hand,” he said, referring to the resignation of Castro and how it wasn’t a reason for change in U.S. policy towards Cuba. This crystalizes the Cuba debate for me, but not the way McCain intends. I’ve written about it here before (or spoken at length with friends, I can’t remember which), so none of this is new, even for this blog. But it’s timely again, with an election coming up and all.
As I see it there are three main reasons (which may be good or bad) for continuing the embargo and travel restrictions with/to Cuba: 1) to protect our national security, 2) to foster freedom/democracy in Cuba (by creating the circumstances that make it ripe for regime change), 3) to fulfill a need for revenge – mostly by the older Cuban refugee population in south Florida.
The security argument is the only one I buy, even a little bit. However, I’m going to qualify that by changing the verb tense on you… to the past tense. Cuba was a security threat to the U.S. in 1962. Based on one (albeit notable) event, you could argue that Cuba was a potential security threat (and probably rightly so) right up through the 1980s. However, while I’m no foreign policy expert, it seems that Cuba ceased being a real danger when the economy of the Soviet Union crumbled, and the country that supported it followed suit. I always thought Cuba was a threat only so long as it was used as a tool by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Left to it’s own devices, it became an afterthought to everyone but Cubans (or those concerned with the welfare of Cubans). I could be wrong, but I guess I figured Cuba was no longer a threat of any significance. You might say it’s not a threat because of the embargo… that it’s harmless because it’s impoverished. I’ve got a slightly different view: I think it’s probably more of a threat because it’s impoverished. Poverty is the fertile soil of fanaticism (the dangerous variety), and in that regard we may be lucky that Fidel ruled with an iron fist. It’s easy to see that fanaticism (if it was allowed to ferment and bloom) spilling over on our shores; especially if we’re one of the primary causes of their poverty (not just in rhetoric, but in reality). If, on the other hand, Cuba was relatively prosperous and relied on the U.S. as it’s primary trading partner to maintain that prosperity, what Cuban in their right mind would do anything to endanger that prosperity… even a government we find oppresive/objectionable. Think Saudi Arabia, but instead of oil, think of lavish vacation resorts on the beach and agricultural exports. Hell, with it’s relative proximity to the ports of Louisiana AND the east coast, I wonder if the U.S. might be shipping some manufacturing jobs to Cuba instead of Mexico. (Though, if I know little about foreign policy, I know even less about global economics and trade.)
That leads me to my second reason: freedom. Can any of you say with good conscience that Cuba is any closer to a free and open society now than it was 50 years ago; or if it is, it has anything to do with U.S. policy (rather than Fidel’s losing battle with nature)? You could, but as respectfully as I could I’d suggest you’re very, very wrong.
Unfortunately, I think the third reason is the real reason for our policy towards Cuba, and that’s a shame. To be fair, if I was a Cuban exile and victim of Castro’s oppression I might feel very differently. But you know what? I’m not – but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion – one that may be a little more objective. While I can understand the sentiment, when is revenge ever a sound basis for foreign policy? In this case, does any part of our current policy even make sense? One day the Castro family will not be in power in Cuba, and what will our relationship be with those who inherit the reigns of power? Will they think of us as would-be imperialist oppressors hell bent on taking our frustration with Fidel out on the Cuban people? Will they even distinguish our dislike of Castro, interpreting it as a general dislike/distrust of the Cuban people?
How do we reconcile our attitudes with Cuba and other regimes in the world. Our rationale for keeping trade open with China (in the earlier days, when everything wasn’t made in China, they didn’t hold a chunk of our debt, and we didn’t rely on them economically) was that we’d win them over with the fruits of capitalism: the old foot in the door technique. Why wouldn’t the same rationale apply to Cuba? Imagine a Cuba that openly trades with the U.S. Imagine a more open Cuba, with a baseball loving ruler, with an itch for an MLB franchise in Havana? Maybe that’s a bit farfetched, but maybe not… who knows? It’s no worse that expecting roses from Iraqis.
But seriously, would Cuban policy be different without the prominent (re: have money, will make contribution) Cuban population in south Florida? Would our current policy stand up based solely on it’s merits?