Monday, April 13, 2009

Thumbs Up to Obama's Revised Cuba Policy

Today the Obama Administration announced that it will relax longstanding sanctions on Cuba just a little.

These gestures — allowing emigres to travel and send remittances to their family members in Castroland, opening up communications channels for U.S. based cellular and satellite television carriers to broadcast into Cuba — could not but elicit criticism from the right, simply because we're talking about the lifting of restrictions on Cuba. And in due course, two Republican Cuban-American representatives posted this sharp critique of the policy change:
Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists, to continue to dictate which Cubans and Cuban-Americans are able to enter the island, and this unilateral concession provides the dictatorship with critical financial support.

But this sort of talk doesn't really enrich the discourse: the statement says nothing about the nature of the "concessions"; it chooses instead to blather about how awful the Castro regime is, presumably in support of the thesis that any treatment that doesn't consist of a stiffarm constitutes an indulgence to dictatorship. This is too bad, because I should think that the Diaz-Balart brothers are peculiarly positioned to make some nuanced contribution to the discourse on Cuba.

I'm not wholly averse to the notion that we have to "get tough" with dictators, but in the case of Cuba, it ought to be clear by now that a wholesale reevaluation of the United States' policy of "disengagement" is in order. It's been fifty years now, and I think it's fair to say that our isolation strategy has not been effective. Castro is still hanging on. There's no better indicator of Castro's growing sense of comfort than the evolution of his wardrobe — from his signature Revolution-evoking fatigues into a politician's suit, and then from there into pajamas and Adidas. Clearly, Fidel is letting it all hang out in his isolation and old age, and all signs point to an orderly transfer of power to Raul down the road. Maybe it's time to say that our policy just hasn't worked.  Why don't we put pride and spite aside for just a moment and consider the possibility that softening up the line just a little doesn't translate to "letting Fidel win?"  I think by most measures — at least those important to him — he's already won.  If you'd asked Castro in a candid moment back in 1960 to set the odds that he would be (1) alive, (2) still in Cuba, and (3) its head of state in 2009, even he would have laughed you out of the room.

And it's worth examining a bit more closely exactly the specific moves the Obama Administration has made. They haven't abandoned The Embargo outright. They're not sending champagne and Omaha Steaks to Fidel (or even DVDs). The relaxed restrictions are directed not at the Castro regime, but at the people suffering under it.  It seems not just benevolent to allow Cuban-Americans to reestablish ties with and lend material support to their families on the island — it's actually pretty clever. These families can see how their relations have prospered under the American system. The President gets that the isolation actually supports Castro's grip on power, because it makes it easier for him to suppress the evidence of working alternatives to the regime's ideology.  It's no coincidence that Obama relaxed the travel and remittance restrictions at the same time he opened up cellular and satellite concessions: these, too, will get word out to Cubans of the grand, beautiful world that subsists beyond the socialist writ of El Presidente Fidel.

Whether or not you might think this sort of opening-up is advisable with, say, Iran or North Korea, here it seems to be a no-brainer, given 50 years of failure and it's the only thing we haven't tried. So maybe Castro's government absorbs some of the proceeds of the check you write to Grandma in Havana. I'd be quite surprised if that revenue makes the difference between a surviving and a failing regime. The Cuban people deserve better — they deserve to know that there's better out there — and that's what will ultimately drive out the Communists. And I think we should place just a little bit of faith in Obama's strategy: here's a guy who knows a thing or two about bottom-up political movements.

Vercingetorix, tell me why I'm wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment