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President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba reminded me of an aphorism: even a broken clock is right twice a day.
And so it is that Barack Obama — a man who is objectively terrible at his job — is right about Cuba. He is right because he is reversing (or trying to, anyway) a policy that has been an utter failure for half a century. Obama’s plan is (1) to normalize relations, (2) lift the travel and financial restrictions, (3) build an embassy, (4) seek to lift the embargo.
The response was predictable to anyone who has paid attention to politics long enough: opposition to change, support for preserving the status quo. Senator Marco Rubio held a press conference and angrily denounced the plan. He used the occasion to play the Cuban heritage card. When asked, Speaker Boehner played the terrorism card.
The one card that they couldn’t play — because it’s not in their deck — is the this-policy-works card. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Because this policy has been an utter failure.
Let’s consider the record of our Cuba policy, which has been stuck in time since the Kennedy Administration:
- If the goal was to bring freedom to Cuba, it has failed.
- If the goal was to isolate Cuba, it has failed.
- If the goal was to bring the Castro regime to its knees, it has failed.
Senator Rubio angrily complained that Obama gave away the store; that he received no guarantees from Castro of freedom for the Cuban people. And he therefore complained that Obama is a terrible negotiator. Did Senator Rubio really expect a sudden mea culpa from Raul Castro for half a century of communism? Did he expect that, in turn for an embassy, Castro would dismantle his regime? Senator Rubio brought a lot of anger to his press conference. What he did not bring was any alternative to the current policy which, again, has been a complete failure.
What will restoring relations and eventually trade with Cuba accomplish? First, it’ll help elevate the standard of living. Cuba is a third-world country 90 miles off of Florida. People live in poverty. An influx of American cash will help lift them out of despair.
Second, if Americans travel there to visit relatives or to trade they’ll be bringing with them the truth: that communism doesn’t work and that freedom brings prosperity. The reason North Korea, for example, still survives, is because it remains tightly cloistered. No information gets in without government approval. Once Americans start traveling to Cuba… well, Castro isn’t going to be able to put that cork back into the bottle. It’ll be a new era.
What will follow will be a slow liberalization. This has been done in China. We liberalized trade with China, their economy exploded, and that brought pressure to liberalize. No, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not an immediate thing. But it will. There have only ever been two communist dynasties: North Korea and Cuba. Cuba’s is nearing its end. Raul Castro is 83. He’s going to kick off at some point. When he goes, a new generation of Cuban leaders will take over.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic. But even if this liberalization doesn’t happen, at a minimum it’ll help lift the people of Cuba out of poverty. It will reconnect families. The wounds of communism will begin the long process of healing. At a minimum, normalizing relations with Cuba will be an improvement.
We should let the current policy meet the death it so richly deserves.Published in