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Cubans are a strong proud people yearning for freedom. Should we help them rather than hobble them?
By Jim Kempton
President Obama’s surprising move to open relations with Cuba caught many of us off guard—and caught the wrath of others. Cuba is a harsh, hostile, antagonistic, authoritarian, corrupt communist government. This certainly lends reasons for taking a hard stand against its leaders. So with any scale-back of our strict sanctions, accusations of “selling our ideals down the river” surface straight away. Yet when looking at how we treat the rest of the authoritarian regimes around the globe, does our previous Cuba policy seem consistent?
One justification for our longstanding anti-Cuba policy is the belief that we should never trade with a communist country. That of course would make it difficult to continue with our largest trading partner—China.
Détente detractors demand that we never open relations with a nation that has tried to be hostile to us. Do they mean Iraq and Afghanistan?
One argument contends corrupt leaders should not be appeased. How then would we explain our cozy relationship with the current Pakistani regime? Or Mexico’s for that matter?
Some claim we should never open relations with a nation that suppresses its people. Would that include the removal of our Embassy in Rwanda where the militants now in office slaughtered over a million civilians? Or Bosnia where the state officials encouraged the rape of over 20,000 women?
Another argument insists we should never capitulate to a state where torture has been used. Our own Senate report on the CIA ”enhanced interrogation” not withstanding, we need look no further than our great friends and primary oil suppliers Saudi Arabia, where beheadings, persecution and assassinations are common practice by the ruling family.
Others reject the notion of friendly contact with those (like Cuba) we have fought and who forced us from their shores. But Vietnam is now one of our best Asian trade partners. American businesses and citizens have benefited—and would benefit—from trade with Cuba, too.
We openly do business with repressive, authoritarian, previously hostile nations all across the globe. Meanwhile, how successful has our “get tough” policy been in Cuba? After 50 years of American animosity and sanctions, Cuba has a literacy rate as good as ours, a lower infant mortality rate, and a free health care system. And the same Havana despots have survived nine U.S. administrations; in spite of a crushing American embargo for half a century.
Maybe the fastest way to undermine a corrupt and authoritarian regime is to let their citizens see just how much they are missing. Nixon opened relations with Communist China; Reagan made détente with the Russians. Open engagement and diplomatic relations have been effective in Libya, Ukraine, Algeria, East Germany and Egypt, in helping move those nations towards free-market, republican rule. Hard line isolation has been American policy in North Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Cuba. As Sarah Palin used to say, “How’s that been workin’ for ya?”
Jim Kempton advocates America bombing the world’s most repressed nations—with relentless payloads of Taylor Swift CDs, Almond Joy candy bars, water purification kits, and copies of the Declaration of Independence. Collapse, he believes, would be imminent.