Cuba and Red Herrings

The Miami-based ‘Freedom from Writers Hoping to Utter Provocative Thoughts about Cuba to coincide with a Castro Death or Something’ [FWHUPTCCDS] organization met recently in my living room. We are exhausted. What with the typical academics, editorial writers and Northeastern and farm-belt US congresspeople, the deluge of the annual ‘Spontaneous Reexamination of Cuba Policy’ [SPOCP] is off to a clearly hopeful start this year, given a Democrat coming into the White House.

We at ‘FWHUPTCCDS’ are committed to clear thinking on Cuba issues, i.e. exposing over-aged dilettantes. So we will breakdown what passes for tired comedy among our members. Let’s look closely at just a portion of today’s LA Times editorial on US Cuba policy and see if you can spot the same red herrings we did:

Since that New Year’s night in 1959, 10 U.S. presidents have tried to overthrow, undermine or cajole Castro, to no avail. Covert operations, including President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion, failed to dislodge the communist government. A Cold War standoff with Russia over missile bases on the island brought the superpowers to the brink of nuclear war, but it didn’t budge Castro. Diplomatic isolation didn’t work. And a trade embargo to protest the expropriation of U.S. property, prevent the export of revolution and press for democracy and human rights has been utterly ineffectual. Rather, it has provided cover for the Cuban government’s own deficiencies and served as a pretext for repression.

While it is true that 10 US presidents would have liked to have seen Castro lose power in Cuba, I assume they also would have liked to have cured cancer and brought economic development to the Appalachian region near the White House. In terms of actual deeds to oppose the regime, there was one aborted attempt in 1961 and numerous much discussed and never executed other plans in intelligence circles. But nothing since 1961 has involved troops, which is what the US does when it is serious about the need to effect change, i.e. Grenada and Panama.

Therefore, to suggest that the Castro regime has withstood 50 years of concerted efforts to remove them from power is false. We understand that it is not as sexy to write the Castro regime has withstood 3 years of concerted efforts and 47 years of mostly passive resistance. US policy has mainly sought to create incentives to moderate behavior by denying them the benefit of trading directly with the US [the misnamed embargo]. The fact that the Castro government has chosen to allow the quality of life in Cuba to disintegrate below 3rd world standards rather than moderate their behavior, says more about the Castro regime than US efforts.

The best and most repeated red herring. The Cuban trade embargo been ‘utterly ineffectual.’ If you define success as removing Castro from power, then it has failed. But only then. Here’s what’s odd about that sentence in the LA Times editorial; in the first part we are given the actual purpose behind the embargo–‘to protest the expropriation of U.S. property, [attempt to] prevent the export of revolution and press for democracy and human rights.’ ‘Protest, attempt to prevent and press’ are what countries do when they would like to see change, but have not fully committed to seeing that change through other means [military] due to many other practical considerations.

As such, the trade embargo has always achieved its limited purpose, to provide economic incentives–direct trade and tourism–in order to moderate behavior. If the incentives prove to be ineffectual because the targeted parties are willing to allow suffering to an unanticipated degree or for internal political maneuvering, then it is unfortunate but not a reason to reward their obstinacy. The reason for retaining the policy is the same for having adopted it in the first place; it is a low-cost, low-risk approach to a belligerent neighboring gnat.

Here’s the tricky part, the part used to leave us at FWHUPTCCDS incredulous. Some people see the standoff and blame the US. We know better by know. Cuba is merely a conduit for anti-Americanism in this debate. If the critics of the US policies actually cared about Cuba’s cruel regime, they would not celebrate their cultural icons as they often have in the past and still do–the editorial evens mentions Che as a conquering hero, not the executioner. But like we said, it used to leave us incredulous. We know the game now. So we don’t get really offended anymore, we just reach for the closest shoe to properly dispose of the latest blattarria. Or better yet, bring in the great GK Chesterton reflecting on another, but not unrelated, struggle:

There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

In the other struggle which Chesterton is referring to, there is also much suffering which is not understood. We are called to help those suffering while retaining our truths, else we would not be worth saving. In the case of the train-wreck of a country which is Cuba, my birthplace, but not my country, the ‘dull heresies’ all point at my adopted country. I disagree. When I look at Cuba, what I see still standing is the evil of men like Castro and political philosophies which exclude God, like Communism.

Those who wish to change the US policy towards Cuba–like our loyal reader Jose Garcia–would argue, don’t focus on the regime, focus on the people who have had to suffer its failures. Fair point. I am open to that argument. I may even try to formulate it myself, because my problem is the arguments which favor lifting the embargo always seem to come attached to the red herrings noted above. I consider those arguments to be intellectually lazy and more reflective of their anti-Americanism than their hopes for Cuba.

An argument for lifting the embargo that I could consider would start with these stipulations:

  • The Castro regime’s willingness to not allow it’s citizens basic political and economic freedoms is a failure of that government, not US policy.
  • The real effect of the US economic embargo towards Cuba should have been to cause their economy to operate in a slightly more inefficient manner, the cost associated with obtaining US products indirectly through 3rd parties.
  • Cuba’s economic failures are consistent with all centrally planned economies.
  • In lieu of a normally functioning economy–which allows countries to negotiate and pay for products–Cuba’s consistent economic failures have led to a barter system using it’s own citizens, be they military or medical personnel.
  • Cuba today maintains a 3rd world standard of living for its people only because its citizens are subsidized by the family members of those fortunate enough to have escaped it.
  • The US will now consider lifting the embargo not because of it’s failure, but because in highlighting the economic failures and moral intransigence of the Castro regimes, it has succeeded beyond all expectations, or even hopes.

Now let’s talk.

Just another day on the Cuba dilettantes watch.

Article referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-cuba31-2008dec31,0,7611439.story
From the Los Angeles Times Editorial
A new approach to Cuba
Evolving views of the local population and 50 years of failed U.S. policy suggest change is long overdue.

December 31, 2008

Fifty years ago, Ernesto “Che” Guevara led a column of war-steeled rebels into Havana as Fidel Castro took the city of Santiago at the other end of the island and declared a Cuban revolution. This one, Castro said, would not be like Cuba’s 1898 independence from Spain, “when the Americans came and took over.”

Since that New Year’s night in 1959, 10 U.S. presidents have tried to overthrow, undermine or cajole Castro, to no avail. Covert operations, including President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion, failed to dislodge the communist government. A Cold War standoff with Russia over missile bases on the island brought the superpowers to the brink of nuclear war, but it didn’t budge Castro. Diplomatic isolation didn’t work. And a trade embargo to protest the expropriation of U.S. property, prevent the export of revolution and press for democracy and human rights has been utterly ineffectual. Rather, it has provided cover for the Cuban government’s own deficiencies and served as a pretext for repression.

Fifty years of failure is too long. The incoming Obama administration should move quickly to embark on a rapprochement with Cuba and bring an end to punitive policies, especially the economic embargo. The United Nations condemns it, the European Union is trading with Cuba, and Latin America is urging the United States to allow Cuba back into the fold. This policy change will take time and political will, but it is in our national interest and, ultimately, in Cuba’s.

The United States’ Cuba policy has long been determined by exiles who fled the revolution and settled into a powerful political bloc in Florida. But in the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama won Florida without the support of Cuban American hard-liners, freeing himself from restraints that encumbered his Democratic and Republican predecessors. Obama has promised to lift restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba — an important first step. We’d like to see him go further, to resume the people-to-people or “purposeful travel” allowed in President Clinton’s first term and to push Congress to lift the travel ban and repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law prohibiting trade with Cuba. The premise of the trade embargo was that strangling the Cuban economy would cause a popular uprising and regime change. But even at its most vulnerable, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc that had subsidized the island, the Cuban government didn’t fall.

When Fidel Castro finally did step down this year, it was to hand the reins of power to his younger brother, Raul. This was hardly the democratic transition the international community had hoped to see. Many people throughout the world admire Cuba’s defiance of the United States, and the revolution has brought gains in health and education, but Cuba remains a one-party state without fundamental rights of expression and assembly, and individual freedoms. Its economy is broken; generations have lost faith in the revolution and, lacking prospects, want to join the larger world. Though still in the shadow of the bearded comandante, Raul Castro is more pragmatic than his brother about the need for a well-functioning economy, and he has publicly urged workers to increase efficiency and productivity. Like many countries, Cuba was hurting from high oil and food prices earlier this year, and three hurricanes struck the island in the fall, causing billions of dollars in damage. The subsequent global economic crash and falling oil prices potentially limit the aid that Cuba’s main patron, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, can offer. There may be an opening here for economic reforms.

The United States already exports about $700 million worth of food to Cuba annually under a 2000 law allowing agricultural trade for humanitarian reasons. Obama should use his presidential prerogatives to expand this, as well as dispatching officials to talk, as they have in the past, about issues of immigration and security. As part of any discussions, the U.S. government must press for human rights reforms, along with freedom for about 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails. (And yes, explore the prisoner trade Raul Castro has proposed in recent days.) But human rights no longer can be an obstacle to talk and trade with Cuba. The United States does business with many regimes with checkered human rights records, from Egypt to Russia to China, which is officially a communist state.

Peaceful change in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida, is in the interest of the United States. We think communication, travel and trade are excellent ways to push for reform of the one-party state. Tourists carrying books and ideas serve as ambassadors for democracy. Manufactured goods speak for the creativity of an open economy. The Cuban people are highly educated after a 50-year revolution, and extremely resourceful after half a century of economic hardship. Their aspirations are fertile ground for change.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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