In 1961, an American-backed, CIA-trained paramilitary force stormed Cuba in the hopes of deposing Fidel Castro. After an initial victory, the counter-revolutionaries were routed, proving a major embarrassment to the United States and reinforcing the notion throughout Central America that the U.S. was a nation hellbent on imperialism. That ill-fated operation came to be known as the Bay of Pigs.
Over the last 53 years, America’s policy has been, and continues to be, isolating Cuba through a strict embargo in the hope that its socialist government collapses. Given that a half-century has gone by with no results, it’s safe to say that the policy is flawed, and the leaders who refuse to change it are pigheaded.
But what else is new dealing with our own hemisphere?
America freely gave away one its most strategic assets, the Panama Canal, while gaining nothing. It is continually at odds with Venezuela, which happens to have the world’s largest proven oil reserves. And it can’t gain Mexico’s good-faith cooperation to control drugs and illegal immigration. Rectifying any of those, let alone all three, is an extremely tall order, no matter what party controls Washington.
That’s not exactly a stellar track record. But with bold leadership and foresight (along with a little humility), we can change direction and gain huge victories for freedom and free enterprise right in our backyard.
It’s called befriending Cuba.
To be fair, enacting the embargo on and restricting Americans’ access to Cuba during the height of the Cold War, when Castro cozied up to the Soviet Union, was reasonable. Common sense should have told us that if it didn’t produce the desired results in five or even 10 years, it was never going to work. But since political common sense is an oxymoron, the sanctions continue to this day.
As a result, Americans and American products are denied a huge market within close proximity. We lose access to cheap Cuban goods, and perhaps most important, the relatives of Cuban-Americans continue to suffer under authoritarian rule in a stagnant economy, while U.S. law makes family reunions in Cuba all but illegal.
Since it would be a win for everyone to lift the embargo and improve relations, it’s a fair question to ask why we aren’t doing so. Consider:
1.) Too many presidential candidates (along with Florida’s congressional delegation) still bow to the demands of an increasingly small but highly vocal minority of Cuban Americans who detest the notion of "helping" a Cuba ruled by anyone named Castro. Given Florida’s paramount importance in electoral politics, it’s understandable for candidates to think that opposing this lobby could lose them the state (much like opposing ethanol subsidies in Iowa).
But they have failed to see that the Cuban voting bloc is no longer tied to the embargo issue as it had been decades ago. The number of first-wave Cuban refugees with the strongest passion are dwindling, and each successive generation not only places less importance on the sanctions, but view 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.) Despite the embargo, development in Cuba is on the upswing, fueled by European businesses that are snatching up the prime real estate and business opportunities — an easy task when American competitors are nonexistent. American jobs take a hit, and economic growth lags when it should be booming. If the embargo’s objective was (and is) to collapse the Cuban economy, and it didn’t work before, it certainly can’t be successful now that numerous other countries are stepping up Cuban involvement. It’s time for us to get in the game.
3.) No one likes to admit they were wrong, but 53 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 exactly do we think will miraculously change?
4.) The embargo hurts the very people we purport to be helping: The Cubans themselves. By denying them economic opportunities, we keep them in poverty with no chance at prosperity. The way to win people’s hearts is through their wallets, as a growing middle class produces stability and respect for law — a rising tide that floats all boats. Yet, that unique American lesson is not being taught.
5.) Defenders of the embargo love to rattle off conditions Cuba needs to meet: institute human rights; hold fair elections; free political prisoners; embrace democratic ideals; and compensate families of the oppressed. Gee, that’s nice. And it would be great if the world were filled with rainbows and lollipops! Except that it’s not. To make those demands shows a naivete at best, and hypocrisy at worst.
If those are prerequisites for doing business with other nations, our list of trading partners would shrink to Antarctica and Santa’s workshop.
Out-of-touch politicians aside, there is a growing call to lift the embargo and increase diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with Cuba.
In doing so, America would get back to what it does best: Be a beacon of hope to the world, showcasing that freedom and capitalism are its biggest exports. China still has a long way to go, but America, not through force but by its values, has transformed that nation in a revolutionary way, guiding it toward liberalism (small "l"). A vibrant middle-class has been born and they are starting to taste the good life as more freedoms are earned and opportunities realized.
If we can accomplish that with China, doing the same with Cuba, with its dynamic people and incredible cultural heritage, would be a walk in the park.
So let’s build a bridge to our neighbor just 90 miles from our shores, and tear down that wall.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday and occasionally on Friday. He can be reached at [email protected].
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