It took over a half-century, but someone in Washington is finally using common sense regarding America’s relationship with Cuba.
Thank you, Mr. President, for re-establishing ties with our Caribbean neighbor. It’s about time.
Ever since the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion 53 years ago, America’s policy has been to isolate Cuba through a strict embargo, hoping to collapse its socialist government. Given that nothing positive has been achieved — let’s repeat that: There have been absolutely no favorable results — it’s safe to say that not only is our policy flawed, but the die-hard adherents who refuse to acknowledge its obvious failures give new meaning to the term "pigheaded."
With bold leadership and foresight (along with a little humility), America can gain a huge victory for freedom and free enterprise by befriending Cuba. Yet, many refuse to even try, viciously criticizing those, such as President Obama and Pope Francis, who are attempting something new. Their "my-way-or-no-way" close-mindedness would make even the Castro brothers blush with envy.
Despite a majority of Americans favoring the re-establishment of ties, Republicans (primarily) are threatening to derail the process. Why? One of two reasons:
A.) The GOP is the more patient party, believing that the current policy should be given a more appropriate amount of time to work — say, 150 years. Or,
B.) Because it was President Obama who initiated the proposal to foster a more open relationship; in other words, pure partisanship. Given that Republicans now control Congress, it’s a good possibility that partisan politics will once again rule the day, to the detriment of both Cubans and Americans.
To be fair, enacting the embargo and restricting access to Cuba during the Cold War, when Castro cozied up to the Soviets, was reasonable. But common sense should have told us that if it didn’t produce results in several years, it would never work. Since, however, political common sense is an oxymoron, the sanctions continue — sanctions that only Congress can end.
Consequently, American products are denied a huge market within close proximity. We lose access to cheap Cuban goods, and the relatives of Cuban-Americans continue to suffer while U.S. law makes family reunions in Cuba all but illegal.
Since it would be beneficial to lift the embargo, why aren’t we? Consider the following:
1). Too many presidential candidates, including Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (along with much of Florida’s congressional delegation) still bow to the demands of a small but highly vocal minority of Cuban-Americans who detest "helping" a Cuba ruled by anyone named Castro. At one time, a candidate opposing this lobby could lose the state (much like opposing ethanol subsidies in Iowa). But the pols have failed to see that the Cuban voting bloc is no longer tied to the embargo issue. Each successive generation not only places less importance on the sanctions, but views closer ties as the path to prosperity.
Being beholden to a special interest is never good, but placating one that doesn’t exist is stupidity.
2.) Development in Cuba is on the upswing, fueled by European businesses snatching up prime real estate and business opportunities. The embargo’s objective to collapse the Cuban economy is a train that has already left the station. Time for America to get in the game.
3.) Fifty-three years of isolation with nothing to show? We can’t wait for three minutes at the drive-thru without complaining, yet we patiently adhere to a woefully ineffective law that will soon approach six decades of failure. What do we think will miraculously change?
4.) The embargo hurts the Cuban people by denying them economic opportunities. The way to winning hearts is through wallets, as a growing middle class produces stability and respect for the law. Yet that lesson continues to be lost on many of our politicians.
5.) Embargo defenders love to rattle off conditions Cuba needs to meet: human rights, fair elections and freeing political prisoners. Gee, that’s nice. And it would be great if the world were filled with rainbows and lollipops! Except that it’s not. Making those demands shows a naiveté at best and hypocrisy at worst, since adhering to such prerequisites would see our trading partners shrink to Antarctica and Santa’s workshop.
Take China. It violates human rights, ignores international law, sends toxic products to America, pollutes on a global scale and rapes the land. Oh, and it has nuclear missiles pointed at the U.S. Yet, American dollars have made it an economic powerhouse, so much so that Wal-Mart ranks as China’s seventh-largest trading partner.
So China gets a free pass, but Cuba, on whom we can exert infinitely more economic leverage, must be angelic?
Under the "human rights/democracy" rationale, anyone opposed to Cuban ties should bike to work (since, despite low fuel prices, much of America’s gasoline comes from Middle Eastern nations, not exactly bastions of freedom), and buy virtually nothing from overseas — both ludicrous propositions. Fact is, the best way to expand America’s ideals is through the exchange of trade, culture, and, most of all, ideas.
Looking at the big picture, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said it best: "You can’t build a future on top of resentments."
In lifting the embargo, America would showcase that freedom and capitalism are its biggest exports. China still has a long way to go, but America has transformed that nation in a revolutionary way, guiding it towards liberalism (small "l"). A vibrant middle class has been born, tasting the good life as more freedoms are earned and opportunities realized.
If we can accomplish that with China, doing the same with Cuba should be a walk in the park.
So let’s build a bridge to our neighbor and, as a great American once said, tear down that wall.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]