Open doors to Cuba
Published: Monday, November 5, 2007
Eugene, OR Register-Guard
The Fidel Castro era will soon end in Cuba. Some believe it ended when Raul Castro, Fidel’s 76-year-old brother and designated successor, took over everyday management of the country for his ailing brother.
The United States is uniquely positioned — geographically, economically and historically — to promote democracy in post-Castro Cuba. Yet President Bush perversely clings to the same failed U.S. policies that after 45 years have failed to bring about democracy — or any other positive change — in Cuba.
In a recent speech, the president once again rolled out the treadworn mantra that the best way to bring freedom to Cuba is by continuing the U.S. economic embargo and by convincing Europe and Latin America to impose similar sanctions. While Bush held out the promise of eventual debt relief, loans and grants to the Cuban government, he made clear such measures are off the table until Cuba allows free speech and open elections.
Bush called on officials in Cuba’s government and security services to “rise up” against the Castro regime and to demand democratic reforms. It’s an exhortation that’s unlikely to win the hearts of Cubans who deeply resent the U.S. embargo and Bush’s wrongheaded efforts to make it more difficult for Cuban-Americans to assist or visit their families on the island.
The decades-long policy of isolation has inflicted great pain and suffering on the Cuban people, and it has strengthened Castro’s grip on power by fueling the nationalist sentiment on which he thrives.
Raul Castro understands how to play the nationalist card, as well. His foreign minister, Felipe Perez Rogue, denounced Bush’s speech as “equivalent to the reconquest of Cuba.”
Bush’s comments were intended to play to his conservative base, but he should reconsider. Unlike their parents, many younger Cuban-Americans do not share an unqualified loathing for the brothers Castro and do not identify with conservatives.
The president also should recognize that the rest of the world has abandoned economic sanctions as a useful tool to bring about democratization. When the United Nations recently voted to oppose U.S. sanctions against Cuba, only three nations — the Marshall Islands, Palau and Israel — stood with the United States in opposition.
The time has come for a fresh approach to Cuba, one that emphasizes diplomacy and contact with American society — and that recognizes that U.S. openness is a sign of strength, not weakness. Opening a free flow of commerce, tourism and culture would do far more to make Cuba an open society than clinging to failed isolationist policies.
Congress should find ways to forge ties with Cuba. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has introduced legislation that would permit free travel to Cuba, a move that would foster a free flow of ideas and spur democratization.
Congress also could offer to dial down the trade embargo in exchange for release of political prisoners and other incremental steps toward democratic reform.
The United States should replace its failed policy of isolation with one of engagement that encourages Cuba’s inexorable transition from dictatorship to democracy.