When Fidel Castro dies, something fascinating will happen in America. The History Channel will run extensive coverage of Castro’s life. CNN will air over and over again profiles of Castro and the many American presidents he outwitted and survived. Every major network, even Fox, will be obligated to remind Americans of how big a personality and player Castro was on the world stage.
We will see replays of the Kennedy-Khrushchev standoff over the Cuban missile crisis. People will learn about Batista and the fact that the pre-Castro Cuba was a playground for gambling, drugs, prostitution, and organized crime. They will learn about the failures of Communism, Castro’s battles with intellectual and political dissidents — but they will also learn than Cuba today is not what Cuba was yesterday.
Today, Cuba exports doctors and not arms. Today, there is a Benetton store in downtown Havana, Venezuela and China are Cuba’s largest economic partners, and the Cuban economy grew by approximately 10% last year — with little of that driven by US economic interests.
They will learn a lot about Fidel Castro — and whether people find him admirable in some ways or despicable — most young Americans who have no tangible memory of the hottest parts of the Cold War will sense that one of the last giant personalities of the last century just passed.
And then they will learn how a small cabal of Miami-based Cuban-Americans manipulated laws and our institutions to wage a personal war against Castro and sacrificed core American interests in doing so. It is stranger than fiction when one realizes that a grandson of Batista is now on the Florida Supreme Court and has allegedly helped the most extreme, violent Cuban Americans escape indictment. And that two nephews (by former marriage) of Fidel Castro represent their Florida constituents in the US Congress reflects the oligarchical realities of political power in America and in Cuba.
Almost every assessment of US-Cuban relations feels an obligation to mention Fidel, or to mention the dissidents in jail today, or to start with a discussion of whether the current Cuban government will survive a transition to something beyond Fidel Castro or not.
We need to make judgments about the future course of US-Cuban relations according to our parochial interests today — and to realize that commerce, travel, the exchange of people, ideas, facebook commentary, and money are powerful empowering forces that cannot make the current situation worse than it is. In fact, there is every indication that ending the travel and economic embargo of the United States would open many new positive and constructive possibilities both within Cuba and between Cuba and the United States.
We have been lousy at trying to script a regime strategy for Cuba. We need to stop it — and stop thinking about it and let Cubans determine their own course, which I think America can softly and positively influence if we stop trying to demean and humiliate that nation.
The Miami Herald in a lead editorial today, “More Remittances, Travel for a Free Cuba — Our Opinion: US Can Help Break the Isolation Imposed on Cuban People,” speaks to this logic:
The U.S. government should do more to break the regime’s imposed isolation of the Cuban people. How will civil society grow without outside resources and contacts? How will Cubans, including government and military officials, overcome their fear of change?
More family travel and cultural and academic exchanges would open a world of information and supportive contacts for Cubans on the island. More remittances would help sustain political prisoners as well as Cuban democrats stripped of jobs. This would allow Cubans to compare democracy and free markets to the regime’s alternative.
President Bush should take the advice of experts like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, who lived the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, and most Cuban dissidents including hard-liner Martha Beatriz Roque. All push for more openings, travel and contact with Cuba. It is no accident that Cuba and North Korea are the longest-lasting dictatorships left. Both have used isolation to keep people enslaved.
After Fidel Castro dies, Cubans will have a chance to shape their destiny. Opening up to Cuba now will encourage a transition to freedom.
As much as I generally support the objectives and policy targets of the Miami Herald editorial, I do find it odd that the blame for Cuba’s isolation is placed on the Cuban government. It is America that has maintained an ineffective embargo.
Last I looked 184 nations voted at the UN against the embargo — and are taking advantage of America’s absence in Cuba’s economic life.
— Steve Clemons