President Obama today took a bold and surprising step toward ending the futile 50 year US embargo of Cuba. The president announced he would begin normalizing relations, including upgrading the diplomatic mission in Havana to embassy status. The president also said he was taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information between the US and Cuba.
President Obama said that the half-century US embargo of Cuba was an “outdated approach” that “failed to advance our interests.” He rightly noted that decades of US sanctions have “had little effect.”
He noted, as I have often pointed out, that the US has had economic and diplomatic relations with communist China for 35 years and has even established productive relations with a Vietnam, where the US fought a brutal war just over four decades ago.
I was delighted to see the president make such a dramatic foreign policy move that will result in more freedom and liberty for Americans. I have always believed that the US embargo of Cuba was primarily an anti-American policy, as the US government has no business telling Americans with whom they can trade or visit. Of course the average Cuban suffered greatly under the inhuman US embargo of their country, and I hope this policy shift may result in better lives for them as well.
What is particularly encouraging about this move is that the 50 year freeze in US/Cuba relations was thawed by a simple telephone call between President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. I have opposed the isolationist policies of sanctions and embargoes and have encouraged US presidents to simply use diplomacy – even a simple telephone call – to clear up differences. There is a lesson in this for similarly tense US relations with Iran, Russia, Syria, and others.
I am optimistic about this policy shift by the US government but I am also very cautious.
Permitting travel to and trade with Cuba is a step in the right direction, but if the US government uses this opening to increase its meddling in internal Cuban affairs it will be one step forward and one step back. We have recently read of yet another hare-brained scheme by the US Agency for International Development to foment regime change in Cuba, this time by co-opting Cuban musicians. Before that, the US was funneling money to NGOs to create a phony Twitter program that was supposed to overthrow the Cuban government. Improving relations should not be seen as a Trojan horse to infiltrate more regime change NGOs into Cuba.
Some neoconservatives are applauding this policy shift for that very reason. Max Boot, a well-known neocon war advocate, praised Obama’s Cuba shift in Commentary Magazine today. His reasoning was very different than ours, however. Without shame or embarrassment, Boot thought the opening would provide excellent cover for increased US subversion activities inside Cuba – under the cover of “human rights” advocacy. He wrote:
“The restoration of diplomatic relations will, in any case, deliver some benefits to the U.S. by allowing us to beef up the staff of the American interests section in Havana, thus increasing our ability to (at least in theory) subvert the regime through the promotion of human rights.”
President Obama also seemed to suggest that the US would continue meddling in internal Cuban affairs, stating that the United States “will continue to support the civil society” in Cuba. That likely means a deal to allow US NGOs in to Cuba to work toward regime change.
I have a better suggestion if the US truly wants Cuba to become a free and prosperous country: the US government should completely remove all restrictions on US citizens and then step aside. American tourists, businessmen, students, and scholars can do far more to promote real American values than bureaucrats, government-funded NGOs, and US-funded propaganda broadcasts.
A better future for the United States and Cuba simply requires our government opening the door and getting the heck out of the way!