More Thoughts On Normalizing Relations With Cuba

 

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.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    skipsul: This is not to either condemn or condone the Cuban embargo.  Cuba is far more similar to North Korea than anyplace else, but even that comparison is limited in its utility as NK is worlds worse than Cuba has ever been.

    Yep.

    Everything you wrote I remember too.  These were very different situations.

    It’s hard for people today to understand why such harsh embargo restrictions were placed on Cuba, but it was the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought them about. Khrushchev said he would “bury yous all,” and then he put missiles 90 miles away from the United States. Cuba was, for all intents and purposes, a satellite of Russia.

    (I’ve often thought that the French intelligence services and diplomats helped us out at that time, and in return, JFK agreed to send those 10,000 military advisors to Vietnam–pure conjecture. :) )

    At any rate, the Castros et al will dance with any devils on the planet.

    So again, why now? Why not six years ago?

    I so wish there were some knowledgeable mature people in Washington.

    • #31
  2. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Differences between South African and Cuban economic sanctions.

    1.  Many countries sanctioned South Africa, as I recall. The U.S. is the only one with an economic embargo against Cuba.  If the Castros want Cadillacs and Coca-Cola, they can just import them from Mexico or some other country in the region.  So in reality, there’s almost nothing they cannot buy if they have the money for it.

    2.  I think countries are more likely to be affected by sanctions from their friends than from their adversaries.  Countries with friendly relations were sanctioning South Africa.  We would certainly be more affected if there were sanctions against us by Canada than by Russia or Pakistan.

    3.  How much the sanctions contributed to South Africa’s reform, I don’t know.  But they did reform.  A half century of sanctions against Cuba has done nothing to reform Cuba.

    • #32
  3. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    MarciN: It’s hard for people today to understand why such harsh embargo restrictions were placed on Cuba, but it was the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought them about. Khrushchev said he would “bury yous all,” and then he put missiles 90 miles away from the United States. Cuba was, for all intents and purposes, a satellite of Russia.

    Even this is somewhat misunderstood.  Khrushchev armed Cuba in no small part to use it as a bargaining chip over Berlin – Khrushchev’s own private notes indicated he didn’t really give a damn about Cuba compared with Berlin, but was delighted to see Kennedy humiliate himself over Cuba – prior to Bay of Pigs and the Berlin crisis, the Soviets weren’t particularly interested in helping Castro.  It was Kennedy’s dithering over Berlin in 1961 that led Khrushchev to believe he could get away with arming Cuba – Kennedy’s sudden showing of some spine over Cuba surprised Khrushchev greatly.

    • #33
  4. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Was it the right thing to do? Hard to know. I don’t trust Obama to ever do the right thing. There is such a trust deficit between our government and its people that only a fool wouldn’t be suspicious.

    • #34
  5. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    skipsul:

    MarciN: It’s hard for people today to understand why such harsh embargo restrictions were placed on Cuba, but it was the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought them about. Khrushchev said he would “bury yous all,” and then he put missiles 90 miles away from the United States. Cuba was, for all intents and purposes, a satellite of Russia.

    Even this is somewhat misunderstood. Khrushchev armed Cuba in no small part to use it as a bargaining chip over Berlin – Khrushchev’s own private notes indicated he didn’t really give a damn about Cuba compared with Berlin, but was delighted to see Kennedy humiliate himself over Cuba – prior to Bay of Pigs and the Berlin crisis, the Soviets weren’t particularly interested in helping Castro. It was Kennedy’s dithering over Berlin in 1961 that led Khrushchev to believe he could get away with arming Cuba – Kennedy’s sudden showing of some spine over Cuba surprised Khrushchev greatly.

    The embargo actually started in early 1962 prior to the Missile Crisis in response to Castro’s expropriation of American property and his entering into formal alliance with the Soviet Union in 1961 after the Bay of Pigs.  He subsequently admitted he’d been a commie all along since the 50s.

    Along with Kennedy’s mishandling of the Berlin crisis, Khrushchev’s success in browbeating Kennedy at the 1961 Vienna Summit contributed to convincing him that Kennedy was weak leading to his miscalculation in placing the missiles in Cuba.

    • #35
  6. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Though many on the left are now lamenting that lifting of the embargo may “ruin” Cuba because McDonalds might start invading the island, I would actually support normalization if McDonalds could freely operate and the company could directly pay its employees the wages it wanted to pay. Seriously.

    • #36
  7. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    We don’t need an active colonization program. Free trade will do that if we let it.

    • #37
  8. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    I found this article particularly interesting on this subject.

    Basically, trade with Cuba won’t be free, and it won’t help the Cuban people.  It will likely enrich the regime far more than it will enrich the people.

    If free trade were a real possibility I think it would be a great thing to lift the embargo, but I’m convinced it will do little to help the people, and much to help the Castro regime.

    • #38
  9. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    Fred,

    Rewarding the Castro regime with an economic lifeline at a time when they are losing support from Venezuela and the Russian support is long since gone is a terrible idea.  This is the moment when the embargo is hurting them more than ever.  I could write many paragraphs about why it is wrong to offer any support to the Castro regime, but somehow I doubt it would convince someone like you who has no emotional connection to the damage and atrocities visited upon Cuba by that regime.  If you care, I would recommend “Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire as a good place to start.  As a child of Cuban exiles, I can tell you that you are dead wrong about the possible long term benefits of this.  Cubans already know how much better things are in the United States.  That is why they continue to risk their lives to come here on rafts and by using smugglers.  They already have a tourist industry in Cuba.  Beyoncé and Jay-Z visited recently in case you missed it.  They are not going to suddenly realize how bad things are relative to the rest of the free world.  All this change from Obama will do is help stabilize Cuba’s economy and prolong the malaise.  Meanwhile the Cuban government has not conceded to any human rights improvements for its people or made any other meaningful change.

    • #39
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Mark: Along with Kennedy’s mishandling of the Berlin crisis, Khrushchev’s success in browbeating Kennedy at the 1961 Vienna Summit contributed to convincing him that Kennedy was weak leading to his miscalculation in placing the missiles in Cuba.

    I hope we are not watching history repeat itself.

    • #40
  11. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Mark:Though many on the left are now lamenting that lifting of the embargo may “ruin” Cuba because McDonalds might start invading the island, I would actually support normalization if McDonalds could freely operate and the company could directly pay its employees the wages it wanted to pay. Seriously.

    Funny story.  One of my mother’s good friends is one of those Europhiles who hates everything American and loves everything European.  Fortunately, she married well so she can “do Europe” several months each year where she has a verbal explosion of hatred whenever she sees a McDonald’s despoiling the bucolic beauty of Europe.

    When we lived in Prague, my mother and her friend came to visit us.  I took them to the top of Wenceslas Square where there is a small plague where Jan Palach immolated himself in protest of the Soviet Invasion in 1969.  I gave a little speech about how Jan committed suicide because he did not want to live in an unfree country, and one of the freedoms that Jan would have enjoyed was the right to visit the McDonald’s at the top of Wenceslas Square, (ie, the one just a few yards from where we were standing) and that McDonalds represented freedom and the American way of life to millions living under a brutally repressive regime.

    She was speechless and after a long pause said, “I’ve never thought of it that way.”  To this day, I have never heard her say another word about McDonald’s in my presence.

    • #41
  12. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Pelayo:Fred,

    Rewarding the Castro regime with an economic lifeline at a time when they are losing support from Venezuela and the Russian support is long since gone is a terrible idea.

    Interestingly, today’s Washington Post editorial excoriates Obama for precisely this reason.

    • #42
  13. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Z in MT:We should have waited for Fidel to die before making this move, or have gotten some concession from the regime like the release of the thousands of political prisoners that are imprisoned and tortured (real torture, not waterboarding) by the regime.

    This is an important point.  Concessions could have been had for this.  Instead, Obama gives it away for free.  Even when right, the man is wrong.

    • #43
  14. inmateprof Inactive
    inmateprof
    @inmateprof

    Z in MT:Question for Fred:

    Do you actually believe this?

    Fred Cole: What will restoring relations and eventually trade with Cuba accomplish? First, they’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.

    The American cash will go directly into the pockets of the Castro regime. There are no markets in Cuba except the black market. I had friends who traveled to Cuba and their tour guide was an M.D. who preferred being a tour guide so he could actually make money from illegal cash tips that he could spend in the black market. The reason why everyone is poor in Cuba is because that is how the Castro regime wants it.

    I agree that the embargo has failed, but I have very little hope that just ending it with no concessions from the Castro regime will do anything for the people of Cuba. The only thing that will help Cuba is for the regime to die (probably literally).

    We should have waited for Fidel to die before making this move, or have gotten some concession from the regime like the release of the thousands of political prisoners that are imprisoned and tortured (real torture, not waterboarding) by the regime.

    Bingo.  As far as I know, the US is one of the few (if not the only nation) that does not trade with Cuba.  That means that Cuba is open to other nations, yet they are still poor as dirt.  Our money will not increase the amount of rice or toilet paper allocated to the people each month.

    As to Fred’s other point, that it will allow Cuban ex-pats to go visit family and bring the “good news” of freedom to the people of Cuba, that won’t happen either.  If they do that, they will go to jail.  Much of the money that the US gives to the Cuban economy will got to the leadership for them to build more prisons, hire more spies, and buy more guns and bullets to continue oppressing the Cuban people.

    • #44
  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Normalizing Trade with China has not stopped them from harvesting organs from people.

    Fire from the sky is the solution.

    • #45
  16. Dave Carter Podcaster
    Dave Carter
    @DaveCarter

    Charles Krauthammer reminded us of the following quote from Barack Obama in 2008:

    I will maintain the embargo.  It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations.  That’s the way to bring about real change in Cuba — through strong, smart and principled diplomacy.

    By the President’s own reckoning, what he is doing now is neither strong nor smart, nor principled.  Then again, he’s also exercising powers he once described as dictatorial, so perhaps someone can lead him to a comfortable room where he can sit down and talk all this out with himself.

    Meanwhile, a blood-thirsty regime in our hemisphere will reap the resources necessary to continue persecuting its wretched people.  The interesting question, also posed by Krauthammer is, “Is there no tyrant or anti-American center in the world that Obama will not appease for nothing in return?”

    • #46
  17. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    MarciN:

    Mark: Along with Kennedy’s mishandling of the Berlin crisis, Khrushchev’s success in browbeating Kennedy at the 1961 Vienna Summit contributed to convincing him that Kennedy was weak leading to his miscalculation in placing the missiles in Cuba.

    I hope we are not watching history repeat itself.

    I think it is useful to look at what the Cuban regime wants out of this (while acknowledging they may not be able to control the outcome).  Unlike Deng Xiaopeng who in the early 80s announced it was okay to be rich, giving permission for a different approach in China there is no indication the Cuban regime is moving towards a fundamentally different view of the economics or of the freedom to earn a livelihood.  Indeed the regime’s emphasis on ensuring there is no income inequality (except for the elite) is very Obama-like.  They are trying to survive for as long as possible which requires maintenance of control of the population.

    In this bargain normally what would have happened is the prisoner swap – each side gets something.  What happened in this case though was there was the prisoner exchange and then Obama threw in normalization without, it appears, getting anything in return.  For the Cuban regime I believe they are banking upon being able to control any new trade in strictly controlled channels in which the monies go directly to them, or from which they can skim large amounts while at the same time sending a message that since the U.S. will do business with them that the regime’s opponents are fighting a lonely battle without any supporters.

    All I know is that when we sell our home and buy our next place I hope we can have Obama or Kerry negotiating on the other side.

    • #47
  18. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Dave Carter: Charles Krauthammer reminded us of the following quote from Barack Obama in 2008:

    This was back when Obama still wanted to pretend he wanted to represent America abroad. He is no longer that person.  As I said earlier:

    Asquared: Obama wants communism to survive and wants his legacy to be helping communism be successful in Cuba. That is the most plausible explanation for this move.

    as for this

    Dave Carter: “Is there no tyrant or anti-American center in the world that Obama will not appease for nothing in return?”

    you forget, “Is there any long-time American ally that Obama won’t needlessly insult.”

    • #48
  19. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    “The response was predictable to anyone who has paid attention to politics long enough: opposition to change, support for preserving the status quo.”

    Aren’t the Castros the ones who oppose change and support the status quo?  I just don’t understand why some criticize American conservatives more so than they do dictatorial regimes.

    I bet Marco Rubio has an alternate solution in mind, by they way, it’s not just that he’s an angry Republican who fears and opposes change.

    • #49
  20. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    I don’t necessarily agree with Fred’s predictions that normalizing relations is going to open up a road to prosperity for the Cuban people.  That may eventually happen and it may not.

    But I quite disagree with the theory that normalizing relations and possibly ending the embargo will give the Castros the money they need to continue oppressing their people. Does it really take a lot of money to oppress people?  The most oppressive recent regimes (North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan under the Taliban) have been among the poorest countries in the world. What about Zimbabwe under the dictator Robert Mugabe?  Is their political freedom growing as their economy sinks further into the toilet?

    And as bad as the communist government of China is today, they were more oppressive when they were poorer.  You think Tiananmin Square was bad?  Compared to Mao’s Cultural Revolution it was a slap on the wrist.

    • #50
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Pelayo: Rewarding the Castro regime with an economic lifeline at a time when they are losing support from Venezuela and the Russian support is long since gone is a terrible idea. This is the moment when the embargo is hurting them more than ever.

    Is anyone in the Castro regime actually suffering?  I don’t think so.  All of the rest of the world has been sending them sufficient dollars for years.

    They’ve set up quite the feudal state in Cuba, where only the serfs suffer…

    • #51
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Asquared: you forget, “Is there any long-time American ally that Obama won’t needlessly insult.”

    All Democrats. Not just Obama.

    I love to give this pop quiz to people: Who was the fourth country in the Allies in World War II? Ricochet people will know, but I have yet to find anyone in my other life who knows who it was.

    • #52
  23. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    MarciN: Who was the fourth country in the Allies in World War II? Ricochet people will know…

    Huh?  Poland?

    • #53
  24. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I agree with others that the embargo on Cuba was anachronistic and counterproductive, but that Obama should never have given away the ranch without extracting more conditions (or any conditions, for that matter).

    But it’s hard for me to get angry at Obama. We have known for years that he is has incredibly strong liberal tendencies, and a unilateral action like this is to be absolutely expected. And yet he was still reelected in 2012- and if presidential elections have any consequences, then especially in the realm of foreign policy.

    I’m not mad at Obama, I’m upset at America for electing him back into office (and of course at the Establishment Republican conspiracy which imposed Mitt Romney as nominee of the party!).

    • #54
  25. Ronaldus Maximus Inactive
    Ronaldus Maximus
    @RonaldusMaximus

    I have mixed feelings on this. I agree that the embargo has not worked. However, I find the argument that an “influx of American cash will help lift them out of despair” and somehow bring freedom to the island profoundly naive. China, Vietnam and Russia have all opened up their economies to various extents and they are still very much NOT free. Economically, US greenbacks that do go to Cuba will not end up in the hands of those who need it but only enrich the Castro family and their cohorts.

    The rich will just get richer.

    As for Obama and his “deals”… good Lord 2016 can’t come soon enough. If the man announced he had given Alaska back to the Russians in order to ease tensions in Ukraine, who among us would be shocked???

    • #55
  26. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Randy Weivoda: But I quite disagree with the theory that normalizing relations and possibly ending the embargo will give the Castros the money they need to continue oppressing their people. Does it really take a lot of money to oppress people?  The most oppressive recent regimes (North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan under the Taliban) have been among the poorest countries in the world.

    Yes.  If you are going to take a huge amount of the population out of the productive part of the economy to act as jailers / secret police, you need to find a way to feed them and buy the bullets.

    All the regimes you mentioned do this in different ways.  Afghanistan grows opium for the world and the Taliban keeps the hard currency profits, North Korea threatens the world with nuclear weapons every few years and agrees to not blow up the world in exchange for hard currency, and Cuba runs a walled-off tourist area in downtown Havana for expats who pay in hard currency ALL of which the Castro regime keeps (as reported earlier in this thread).  The Soviet Union was kept alive for decades by selling it’s mineral wealth for hard currency.

    Foreign Policy mag did a piece several years ago that showed when oil prices were high, the oppressive Middle East states and Putin’s Russia were able to be more oppressive and they were forced to offer more political freedoms when oil prices fell.  There is a direct inverse relationship between hard currency and political freedom.

    So, in essence, yes.  Oppression requires cash.  More cash makes oppression easier. When you can’t keep your prison guards fed and armed, they become less useful.

    • #56
  27. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    I love these threads where I like a comment, then like another comment that contradicts the previous one, etc.  It’s nice to go back and forth when you are formulating your best understanding of an issue.

    • #57
  28. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    Byron Horatio

    I agree. Until the supporters of embargo can convince me why being economic partners with Saudi Arabia (a vile regime that beheads people just like ISIS), Turkey (a regime that has cracked down on journalists and gone increasingly Islamist), and China (a regime that within living memory murdered 50 million plus of its citizens at roughly the same time the embargo was emplaced)…then I will consider their position.

    Because this Cuba regime (the Castros) has been a vile enemy that was ready to place nuclear missiles a spit-shot from our shores aimed directly at us.  And because they supported the Soviet Union over us when it was an existential contest of life and death.  Has anyone heard the Castros admit defeat?  I haven’t.  Now their perseverence turns out to have won the day.  Sorry.  I have too much national pride to capitualte.

    • #58
  29. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    Ronaldus Maximus

    I have mixed feelings on this. I agree that the embargo has not worked. However, I find the argument that an “influx of American cash will help lift them out of despair” and somehow bring freedom to the island profoundly naive. China, Vietnam and Russia have all opened up their economies to various extents and they are still very much NOT free. Economically, US greenbacks that do go to Cuba will not end up in the hands of those who need it but only enrich the Castro family and their cohorts.

    The rich will just get richer.

    Exactly.

    • #59
  30. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Albert Arthur:Of course Fred Cole supports helping the Castros. Perfect. He thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood is the legitimate government of Egypt, too. It all makes sense.

    For too many “libertarians” the fight for liberty ends at the US border. A nativity scene in the town square is an outrage; thousands of political prisoners in Cuba are none of our business.

    As for me, I agree with the ones saying that maybe ending the embargo might be a good idea, but we should have pressed for something in return.

    • #60
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