Fidel and the Future of Cuba

I turn 50 this year. So does the Cuban Revolution. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when I was born -- to be followed by JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2. That's ten presidents.

For 50 years Castro has been persona non grata. We've made peace with Russian, China, and even talk on occasion with North Korea and Iran. But, as for that little Island off the coast of Florida, we've had little connection. Alone among the world's powers, we have kept our distance from Cuba -- largely as a result of the political clout of the Cuban emigre community in Florida.

US Law prevents any meaningful contact as long as Fidel (or his brother Raul) are in power. Today, Fidel resigned from the Cuban Presidency. His younger brother is likely to be named President in his stead and the transition will begin.

You would think that after 50 years of a failed policy we would be interested in a course change. But for some reason we live in fear of what would happen if we would engage Cuba. My sense is that engagement with Cuba would lead to reform and renewal. Isolation has done nothing but damage our image in the world and create hardship for the Cuban people.

My sense is that Barack Obama is the most likely candidate to reengage. His principle is that we should sit down even with those we don't like. Don't negotiate out of fear, but don't fear to negotiate -- he likes to quote JFK. Too bad JFK didn't do this in 1961 rather than adopt a CIA hatched plot doomed to failure. Remember the Bay of Pigs?

Now, I'm no communist and I'm no apologist for Fidel, but enough is enough. Indeed, America is bigger than this! I see a new day is dawning in Cuba, let's join them in building it. Let's put away fear and live in hope!


I favor lifting the embargo and normalizing relations (if we can trade with China, why not Cuba?), but I would urge Obama to be cautious, here. Few issues inflame the Right like Cuba. If he wins the presidency, he should use back-channel, 3rd party talks with Raul Castro. But he should wait until he's won his 2nd term before lifting the embargo and normalizing relations. (Remember how the Panama Canal helped derail Carter's presidency.)

If the Cuban people were suffering under our embargo as they were during the '90s, I would urge bolder action. But they aren't because the rest of the world is ignoring the embargo: Canada, the UK, Europe and China are heavy investors and Cuba now gets cheap oil from Venezuela. So, the people can afford to wait while a Pres. Obama (or Clinton) works for incremental changes toward democracy while trying to ease us toward a policy of normalization.

There's too much else that must be done to blow by angering the Right too soon.
Mike L. said…
I hope these are the areas where Obama's speaking and motivation skills will help him. Michael is right that president Carter took too much heat for Panama and this could be a similar situation. The key is to sell America on the fact that trade embargos only hurt poor people, help keep dictators in power, and bolster anti-american sentiment. We need a president that can sell the truth to America rather than hide behind a cloud of secrecy. It isn't enough to implement good foriegn policy, you also have to get the nation behind you.

Carter had so many great ideas, but had little political clout and tried too much too soon.
-kf said…
I have a better idea. Let's make Cuba the 51st state of the Union. Regime change is a beautiful thing.
And, I'm sure they will be there waiting for us with flowers in the their hands! Oh, that was Iraq.

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