Normalizing Relations with Cuba Is a Terrible Idea

2 years ago ccwa 3

2014-04-07-cuba_usa_flags_ap_imgIn January of 1961, mere days before he would turn over the presidency to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President Eisenhower severed all diplomatic ties between America and Cuba. His successor would soon stretch this policy into a general embargo against the small island nation just off the coast of Florida. The Castro regime’s Communism and countless human rights violations, coupled with its alliance with the Soviet Union in the hottest days of the Cold War, were enough for the United States to justify cutting off its neighbor. And so it continued for over fifty years – until another young Democratic president moved to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba in the waning days of 2014.

President Barack Obama, fresh out of a midterm election that brought both houses of Congress under Republican control and looking down the barrel of his last two years in the White House, is determined to cement his legacy. Having achieved many of his domestic goals – sweeping healthcare reform being just one of them – he likely desires to check off a few foreign policy objectives. Taking the first step in eliminating one of the Cold War’s last vestiges would be quite the feather in his cap. Indeed, to many Americans, whose memories of the Iron Curtain and Soviet Bloc are fading fast, America’s isolation of Cuba seems an outdated and counter-productive holdover from a different era. In this day and age, when our most vital trading partner is the nominally-Communist China, how can we justify our chilly stance towards one of our closest neighbors? Wouldn’t opening a dialogue with Cuba be the first step in exposing the Cuban people to democracy – perhaps even sowing the seeds of revolution?

To begin with the commonly-drawn comparison with China, it is important to note the key differences between the world’s most populous country and an island nation with a GDP less than that of many American states. China is the world’s second largest economy and one of the most powerful nations on earth. Sino-American relations are perhaps the most vital element of global affairs, with changes in them reverberating across the world’s political and economic spectrums. Yet while both countries have an ongoing history of human rights abuses, suppressing dissent, and, of course, Communism, that is where the similarities stop.   China’s repression of its own people is not something that can simply be swept under the rug and ignored, but the Asian nation’s stature in the world as an economic and military power demands that, while we cannot turn a blind eye, we must carry on fairly normal relations with them. Cuba, while not insignificant, is a relatively small player in geopolitics. There is seemingly little benefit in reopening relations with Cuba. Not only does Cuba have little to offer economically, such a normalization could be seen as a tacit surrender to the Castro regime’s obstinacy in refusing to even acknowledge their crimes against humanity. Simply glossing over these crimes in the name of normal relations would demonstrate that, given enough time, the United States will be willing to overlook any number of offenses. Totalitarian states such as North Korea may begin to think that any embargos or diplomatic severances are merely things to be waited out, not taken as  demands for change. This could greatly reduce the powers of diplomatic measures such as embargo in the future, meaning that the United States would have fewer alternatives to war when hoping to incite changes in the governance of dictatorships. This in turn reduces our stature as a powerful leader among free nations worldwide – why should countries such as Britain or Israel follow our lead in foreign policy if we are incapable of achieving our own goals or standing on principle? Realistically, due to its economic size and the history we’ve shared since Nixon’s 1972 trip, we cannot cut off relations with China in the name of principle, but is caving to Cuba in the face of the Castro regime’s atrocities a move that demonstrates strength to the world?

Now to the second argument, that normalized relations would expose the Cuban people to the infectious hints of democracy. Such an assertion holds significant allure. After all, isn’t America supposed to stand as a worldwide beacon of liberty? Unfortunately, however, history has demonstrated that domestic politics are rarely impacted by foreign example to the point of inciting open revolt. Outside pressure has its part to play, but the citizens of a nation must be the ones to change their country. It was East German hands that tore the first brick from the Berlin Wall, Irish rifles that won back the Emerald Isle, and Colonial muskets that secured American independence. And insurrection would appear to be the only way to remove the Castro regime from power once and for all. They have spent several decades cementing their power; they are not likely to yield willingly to any sort of peaceful democratic protest. Havana’s prisons are packed full with those who attempted to organize demonstrations or petitioned the government. If the Cuban people desire their freedom – as they certainly must – they must seize it. Rather than assisting in this struggle, the United States beginning to normalize relations with Cuba would likely intertwine our nations in a manner not unlike that of Sino-American diplomacy, wherein we are essentially obligated to pay the regime’s abuses little mind. While we can all be grateful that Alan Gross, an American imprisoned for five years in Cuba on espionage charges, has finally been returned home, who knows how many innocent people still languish in Castro’s dungeons? How many people are still subject to abuse and torture at the regime’s hands? We cannot allow ourselves to forget exactly who America is dealing with here.

Altogether, a total normalization of relations with Cuba does not seem to be the U.S.’s best course of action. Doing so would confer little in terms of material or political benefit while being unlikely to result in more freedom for the Cuban people. That is not to say that we should not talk to President Castro, but there is a significant diplomatic gulf between a mere dialogue and total normalization of relations.  What America must not do is to give ground in any negotiations without ensuring that Cuba is giving up far more. President Castro and his government stand for ideas that are diametrically opposed to our founding principles. We are the leader of the free world; we will not keep that distinction by caving to dictators.

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by Adam Pohlabel

(photo credit: huffingtonpost.com)