Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wrong Time to Lift The Embargo

In the wake of Fidel Castro’s resignation, it is not difficult to find pundits dismissing the Cuban embargo as a Cold War relic supported only by a handful of old men in Little Havana, “hard-liners” who have somehow taken control of U.S. foreign policy between domino games at the nursing home.

Pundits and congressmen, I should say.

“I wonder what twisted new rationale they will create to continue their failed policies,” says Jose Serrano, the South Bronx Democrat, about those crotchety right-wing viejos down in Miami. His press release actually compliments the Cuban dictator: “This important figure defies the attempts of his critics to paint him simply as a power-hungry authoritarian. Instead, it proves Castro sees clearly the long-term interests of the Cuban people.”

Yes, a member of the United States Congress, explicitly and without shame, defending an internationally condemned violator of human rights. And Serrano is not even Republican.

Serrano was one of more than 100 congressional representatives who sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for a “complete review of U.S. policy” because the current policy “leaves us without influence at this critical moment.”

You see, Castro’s resignation brings the possibility of “a new chapter,” Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, another signatory, tells us. “Whether that new chapter will be open, however, largely depends on a new approach to Cuba by the U.S. government,” he says.

So don’t fault Cuba’s 49-year-old, one-party, Marxist-Leninist, Maximum-Leader system for failing to embrace democracy. Blame America first.

And Flake is not even a Democrat.

Actually, what would really really leave the United States without influence in Cuba is to unilaterally lift the embargo without preconditions, as some have urged.

That “some” includes everybody in Havana’s ruling elite.

Nobody in those circles looks like a Cuban Gorbachev or, to be more culturally precise, nobody looks like an Adolfo Suarez. Suarez was the apparatchik in Francisco Franco’s regime who became president of Spain’s government after Franco’s death, and led his country to the democracy and prosperity it now enjoys.

But among top apparatchiks in Castro’s regime, there is no hint that anyone desires anything beyond cosmetic changes. So in the next few months, you might see a loosening of economic restrictions. You might see some political prisoners released. You might see fewer arrests of dissidents.

It will all be done to give the impression that things have changed, so that Havana can claim the system is moving toward democracy and lend legitimacy to calls for the end of the embargo.
But the system will continue to deny basic liberties: Opposition political parties still will be banned, a free media and a judiciary independent of government still will not exist, political prisoners will be released only if they agree to leave the country, dissidents will be detained and harassed instead of officially arrested, as human-rights activists are already noting.

There would be no better gift for an essentially unchanged Cuban regime than re-established trade with the United States or (their fondest hope) a friendly normalization of diplomatic relations. The Havana leadership hopes that with U.S. backing, the system can perpetuate itself for a generation. And that is why the embargo cannot be reduced to an outdated policy favored by a couple of old guys in Miami. The embargo cannot bring democracy to Cuba, but lifting it at the wrong time can keep democracy out.

Still, Cuba is in a moment of uncertainty, or at least less certainty than there was before Fidel Castro became ill. Should U.S. policy just proceed unaltered as if nothing had happened?

There have been calls for an incremental lifting of the embargo, calibrated on what actions Havana takes. “If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades,” went Barack Obama’s statement on Castro’s resignation.

Nothing new there. The embargo has always rested on the premise that if Havana moves toward democracy, Washington lifts the embargo.

Which is all that Miami is saying anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I arrived in NJ in the summer of 1963 with my dad, we left many family members in Cuba.

My father opposed Batista then embraced his overthrow but not the Castro brothers or Che Guevara. By the end of 1959 he opposed the way the Revolution began to take a nasty turn.

People seem to forget that the Cuban regime has come the closest in controlling a population for almost 50 years: a ban on travel, rationing, an id card, psychological torture and so on.

Yes, we all want change, Obama talks about change well if he really beleives in change then if he is elcted President he needs to say to the Castro brothers if I see some positive changes then the US will change.