Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro's Resignation Should Be an Opportunity for Engagement

Last night, Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's President. His resignation should be seized upon by the United States as an historic opportunity for Cuba and the US to resume diplomatic relations and try to move forward, constructively, to resolve our differences. Don't take the following to mean that I support Castro or his regime or the communist system in place in Cuba. I don't. But I've never understood the US position of trying to isolate Cuba, both diplomatically and economically.

We don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, yet even at the height of the cold war, we never cut off diplomatic relations with the USSR. We have a trade embargo against Cuba (which irritates our allies when we try to get them to recognize our embargo). Yet we didn't "win" the cold war by trying to isolate the USSR economically. And there are lots of other countries around the globe with political systems that we don't necessarily approve of, yet we don't cut off all contact with those countries unless they are viewed to be supporters of state-sponsored terrorism, a claim that hasn't been leveled against Cuba in a long time. Americans can travel almost anywhere on the planet, even to regimes where genocide and civil war are occurring, but Americans of Cuban lineage can't visit relatives in Cuba. Sorry, but this policy makes no sense to me.

Let's try to "spend" Cuba into capitalism and the 21st century. Let's flood their stores with American consumer goods and, more importantly, American-produced foodstuffs. Let's allow Americans to travel to Cuba in huge numbers, so that Cubans can see the benefits of a free, democratic, capitalist society. Let's engage Cuba diplomatically so that Hugo Chavez loses a prime ally in his rhetorical war against America. Let's help Cuba on the road to democracy instead of putting so many roadblocks in Cuba's way that the island nation will be forced to stay stagnant in the communist 1950s.

After I wrote the above, I decided to take a quick look to see what the Bush administration has said about Castro's resignation. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated that Castro's resignation would not cause the economic embargo to end any time soon. And President Bush said:
The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections.

I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin ... a democratic transition.

The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.

Pardon me for asking, but how exactly will the US "help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty" if we don't talk to Cuba, don't visit Cuba, and don't trade with Cuba. It seems to me that we should seize the opportunity, not wait for Cuba or the international community. I'm surprised, frankly, that China hasn't decided to flex its newfound economic muscle in Cuba.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the leading contenders to be our next President don't view Castro's resignation as an opportunity to change our policy either. (See "White House hopefuls on Castro's resignation".) Rather, it appears as if they all believe that we need to wait for Cuba to begin the democratic process. I think that a candidate with the courage to stand up and say, "Gee, why don't we start talking to Cuba, even if we don't like them; I mean, hey, it worked with the USSR" would gain a lot of support (at least outside of South Florida).

Let's seize upon the opportunity presented by Castro's resignation and start a new course to help Cuba become a democratic ally.

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