Yesterday, the President announced an historic decision. He announced that the U.S. will “normalize” relations with Cuba. He plans to reopen the embassy in Havana, and is looking to relax economic and travel sanctions against Cuba. After over 50 years of attempting, miserably I may say, to isolate the small nation to force a regime change, the U.S. is going to end its attempt. Of course, conservative heads started exploding all across the country.
The embargo was first begun in 1961 after Fidel Castro took control of this tiny nation. This embargo was actually passed in 1960 under President Eisenhower who wanted them because he feared a communist regime in Cuba, which could open the door for Soviet Troops being stationed just 90 miles off of our coast. The plan was to topple the regime by imposing economic and travel restrictions thus destroying its economy and forcing the people to revolt.
This plan turned out to be a total disaster. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember the fear on the faces of my parents and others in the neighborhood. Most Americans thought the world was going to end during our lifetimes. We were on the brink of war, not only with Cuba but with the Soviet Union. Missiles were surely going to fly. We were able to extricate ourselves from this perilous situation, but one cannot forget that our hostility towards Cuba in the first place was a contributing factor in creating the situation.
We continued with this failed plan for over a half century. The regime did not fall. The regime solidified its power and control over the people of Cuba. Let’s face facts, if a people are being told that the reason they are suffering is because the big bully in the neighborhood is denying them the opportunity to a better life, those people will blame the bully not the people in charge. As a result, there was more anger at the U.S. than there was towards Castro.
All of the talk about “rewarding” the dictators rings very hallow. We did not place an embargo on Cuba when Batiste was the dictator. Batiste took political prisoners. Batiste repressed his people. It was a dictatorship based on a two-class society. The very rich and the very poor. The very rich being his cronies. When Castro took control, he maintained the two-class system of the very rich and the very poor. The very rich being those favored by the government.
We also funded the “overthrow” of a democratically elected government in Iran to set up the Shah as ruler because we didn’t like the elected government. The Shah also had political prisoners. He repressed his people. He refused to hold free and open elections. We didn’t place an embargo on his country. Hell, we made it possible in the first place!
So why all this fuss over Cuba? Look at some of the comments from conservatives yesterday:
“This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve, and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression,” outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a sharply worded statement.
“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called Obama’s announcement “another concession to tyranny” by his administration.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) released a statement saying the Obama administration’s agreement did “nothing to resolve the underlying problem. Indeed, it has made it worse.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took to Twitter after Obama’s remarks to say he will “do all in my power” to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. “Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time.”
As you can see, this not a definitive partisan outcry. However, I have some questions for these people.
In 1961, we assisted Cuban Nationalists in attempted revolution against the regime in Cuba. It failed miserably at the Bay of Pigs. Did we try to assist Russian Nationalists to revolt against the Soviet Union leadership? No.
When Republican President Richard Nixon first started his famous “détente” with the Soviet Union, where was the outcry? Did Nixon demand that all political prisoners be released before opening dialogue? Did Nixon demand that all of the Gulags be closed before opening a dialogue? Did Nixon tell the Soviets that they had to hold free elections with multiple parties participating and ending its dictatorship before he opened dialogue? No, Nixon made no such demands.
When Nixon went to China to “normalize relations” did he demand any of the above from the Chinese? Did he tell the Chinese they must recognize Taiwan before he would normalize relations? Again the answer is no. So, why do we have to include those conditions on Cuba?
I never liked Richard Nixon. I voted against him twice. He did more to unravel our democracy than any candidate before him. Although, admittedly he would never win an election in today’s Republican Party since he would be considered too liberal for the party base. But I will give him credit where it is due. He did help open relations with our enemies. He believed that open dialogue between enemies is the best way to prevent war. He was right. I will even suggest that his “détente” with the Soviet Union was one of the contributing factors in the Soviet Union’s fall.
The outcry from conservatives over “normalizing relations” with Cuba isn’t because it isn’t the right thing to do. It is because President Obama has proposed it. Everything this President has done, or tried to do, has been met with outrage from the Republicans. That is what this is all about. Even Republicans know that our conduct over the last 50 years towards Cuba has failed. Just about all of our allies are trading with Cuba. Why shouldn’t our companies be allowed to trade with them?
This is the right move at precisely the right time. History is on our side. By having normal relations with dictatorships, those dictatorships eventually fall. Isolating a nation because of differences in politics or policies is not the answer to changing a regime. Yes, sanctions do help under certain conditions. But it never changes a regime, it only gives them a reason to be even more repressive. Our policies towards Cuba over the last 50 years have proven that.