The lies about Castro and Cuba, and America’s relations with our communist neighbor, have become so preposterous, I need to respond.
At the Summit of the Americas during the weekend, President Obama offered a conciliatory approach to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and had nice things to say about Cuba. Obama praised the Castro regime for sending doctors to neighboring Latin countries and made the ridiculous suggestion that the U.S. helped our southern neighbors only with drug interdiction programs.
The president obviously believes he has more to gain by smiling and shaking hands with our enemies. This is his prerogative. I do not believe, however, that such an approach is the best way to open up Cuba.
There has been this consistent belief, one Obama apparently shares, that the United States has been at fault in our relationship with Cuba.
Discussing the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Obama said, "The policy that we've had in place for 50 years hasn't worked the way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free."
The truth is that the Cuban people are not free because a crazed dictator has subjugated a whole nation for almost 50 years.
Our failure to engage Cuba with trade and tourism would have had meaning only if Castro had responded by reforms. He never has.
Indeed, Castro and his brother Raul have acted as if the island nation is their personal plantation, treating their citizens far worse than medieval lords would have dealt with their serfs. The Cuban people have been enslaved by one of the most repressive leaderships in the world.
It has been amazing to hear the media spin, from both left and right, this past weekend supporting Obama’s new policy because our embargo of Cuba had “failed.”
There is nearly five decades of historical baggage between the United States and Cuba. Let’s cut through some of the fog.
1. The Castro regime is murderous. It has violated the most basic rights of its citizens over decades. Human rights organizations across the political spectrum have condemned the regime.
2. The claim that America’s embargo keeps Cuba subservient to Castro is simply nonsense. Cuba has opened its doors to trade from almost every nation on the earth, including Canada and most of Europe. The result? Nothing has changed in Cuba except the inflows of cash have propped up the Castro regime — and left Cuba’s trading nations with bag loads of unpaid debt — an estimated $29 billion.
3. The United States has offered olive branches to Castro before. Several U.S. administrations have sought to open relations with Cuba. In fact, during the Elian Gonzalez episode in 2000, it was argued that the return of the immigrant child to Castro would open an era of better relations with the regime. Some human rights groups said Castro’s regime became even more repressive after Elian was returned. The 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II was supposed to lead to a new era for Cuba. And so was Jimmy Carter’s peace initiative in the late 1970s, including his opening of new diplomatic ties and his allowance of U.S. citizens to visit their relatives on the island. He also OK'd the Mariel boatlift. Kindness to Castro has been seen only as weakness. Castro is a thug and respects only power and force.
4. American tourists and trade will not transform Cuba. With Soviet support, Castro eschewed trade and tourism with many countries. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of its cash support did Castro open his country to European trade, tourism, the use of the U.S. dollar, and allowance of remittances from U.S. citizens to their relatives in Cuba. In fact, one can argue that the inflow of money has kept Castro on life support. His regime would have collapsed soon after the demise of the U.S.S.R.
5. Another phony claim is that the United States won the Cold War by engaging Russia and Gorbachev — an argument for opening up to Cuba. Again, this is another lie. During most of the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies restricted trade and tourism with the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan campaigned against U.S. détente policies. When he did become president in 1981, he engaged the U.S. in a massive military buildup to challenge the Soviets and started a “Star Wars” missile shield program. For the early part of his administration he rebuffed meetings with Soviet leaders. It was not until Gorbachev and their demonstration of “glasnost” that Reagan moved to open up better relations.
6. The other view is that Castro simply poses no dangers to the United States, so why do we punish him and the poor Cuban people? Do we forget that President Kennedy threatened nuclear war with the Soviet Union after Castro opened up his island to nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at our cities? Castro’s devilish games against the U.S. have never really stopped. In the late 1960s he secretly sought to give Russian nuclear submarines a haven close to our shores. In the 1970s and ‘80s, he sought to spread revolution through Latin America and Africa. Only Reagan’s policies to push back Castro in Grenada, El Salvador, and Nicaragua thwarted him.
Castro is dying. But Raul and the regime are alive and well. His brother has made some minor concessions and indicated that he is willing to open a full dialogue with the Obama administration.
There is nothing wrong with dialogue.
And Obama did say, pragmatically, this past Sunday, "The test for all of us is not simply words, but deeds."
If Obama demands solid steps toward reform from Cuba, this could be the basis of a new era in Cuban-American relations. But America should not be naïve about the Castro family’s past and their intentions.
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