An Opportunity For Change, If Not Hope

No, this isn’t a post about Barack Obama, but about Cuba and the coming post-Castro era. Despite Fidel Castro’s “retirement” announcement, we have yet to enter that period, but it now appears within reach. Raul Castro will not make any significant changes to Cuba’s policies while his brother lives, and even after that will only make incremental changes. After Raul passes from the scene, Cuba faces tremendous choices — and will the US be in position to influence them? Not if we continue our failed 49-year policy, as Anya Landau French argues:

Fidel Castro’s leaving office on his own terms is not the kind of change that successive American presidents have envisioned for Cuba. In fact, it’s a sign that U.S. efforts to isolate that country and bring down its socialist government have failed.
Today Venezuela, China, Canada, Spain and Brazil all have a robust presence on the island. Venezuela continues to trade cut-rate oil for Cuban doctors. Canada, Spain and China have made major investments in Cuba over the past decade in tourism, nickel and energy. These relationships helped enable Cuba to achieve 7 percent economic growth last year (a CIA estimate) in spite of U.S. efforts to limit hard-currency flows to the island.
As interim leader, Fidel’s brother Raul has spotlighted longstanding economic problems, criticized the government’s performance and raised expectations of policy changes that will improve conditions for the average Cuban.
Regardless of whether Cuba’s next president delivers or disappoints, Cuba is on the verge of generational change as Fidel Castro and his cohorts leave the scene, one by one. America’s next president faces a choice: Continue a Cuba policy rooted in ineffective sanctions or tailor U.S. policy to new possibilities.

First, let us recognize the obvious: a half-century policy of isolation has utterly failed. Fidel leaves office under his own steam, and still running the show behind a veneer of retirement. He has handed off power to his brother, ensuring the continuity of a regime that five decades of American policy attempted to end. Almost a lifetime has passed as the US has ensured that the people of Cuba would suffer for the sins of its dictator, and it never resulted in one serious attempt to overthrow the author of their misery.
With that in mind, why not take this moment to rethink the Cuba policy? Of course Raul will be no better than his brother, but it still provides a moment for the US to change course. We no longer have to make a deal with the bete noir of Republican and Democratic presidents since Eisenhower plotted the Bay of Pigs invasion and Kennedy botched it. It gives us just enough diplomatic cover to save face while we admit that 49 years of failure is enough.
The Castros will not live forever. If we engage Cuba now, we can increase contacts with all of the factions that will compete to replace them once they are securely underground. That will give us much more influence over the direction Cuba takes in its real post-Castro era. Once we have engaged in a less-hostile relationship, we can use our economic and diplomatic leverage to help improve conditions for dissidents and press for human rights, much as we have done (imperfectly at times) in Viet Nam, China, and other communist regimes.
That will also improve our standing in Latin America. Hugo Chavez has pressed for a Leftist agenda in the region; we need to press back for free-market economics, but we have to have some credibility first. Pursuing a 49-year failure with Cuba undercuts that credibility and creates more hostility in the region than it’s worth. Most of the nations in this hemisphere have normal relations with Cuba and see our punitive policies as intemperate and excessive.
In short, we need to prepare for the inevitable change in Cuba now if we want to help channel that change in positive directions, rather than wait for events to overtake us once again. That means we have to start changing our own policies now rather than later.

One thought on “An Opportunity For Change, If Not Hope”

  1. Is it going to bring freedom to end Cuba embargo?

    I was reading an article written by Ed Morrissey over at Captain’s Quarters. In the article he outlines his desire to end the embargo in order to expose Cuba to American freedom. The essences of his argument is that by removing the embargo we c…

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