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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It’s about time that a U.S. president had the courage and common sense to end our ridiculous policy toward Cuba. It was a relic of the Cold War, an outdated strategy that accomplished absolutely nothing except to give the Castro brothers an excuse for the dire poverty in which their citizens live.

President Obama deserves plaudits for his decision to open full diplomatic relations with the island nation for the first time in more than half a century. So does Pope Francis, who intervened to try to break the stalemate between the two countries. The announcement that the United States will open an embassy in Havana was a fitting tribute to the season in which Christians ostensibly turn our attention to peace on Earth and good will toward all men.

Not that there was an outbreak of good will on Capitol Hill. As any fifth-grader could have guessed, Obama’s announcement, which followed more than a year of secret negotiations, was met with outrage among the usual suspects — a bunch of hardliners who insist that the Castros’ dictatorship is such an affront to international norms that a full embargo should continue until… well, until.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the embargo — established in 1962, back when the Soviet Union was enemy No. 1, when the Berlin Wall still divided East and West, and the war in Vietnam was in its infancy — has not done anything to change Cuba’s internal politics. In fact, the opposite may be true: The embargo has hardened the resistance of Fidel Castro, who has found it convenient to blame his economic disasters on the United States.

(Technically, Obama cannot lift the embargo, which was imposed through a series of laws. He can, however, use his executive authority to circumvent much of it.)

Do Fidel and his brother, Raul, engage in human rights abuses? Absolutely. They imprison their critics and have been accused of murdering their rivals. They don’t tolerate free assembly and they restrict speech. They look for excuses to detain Americans, as they did Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who was working to improve Internet access for a Jewish organization. His release helped to set the stage for détente.

In other words, the Castros are dictators. So is Xi Jinping, the president of China, another communist country. Yet President Nixon decided in 1972 that the best way to influence China was through diplomatic contact, and he set about normalizing relations. Few politicians now disagree with that strategy.

The Chinese government tolerates no dissent, imprisons its critics and even restricts religious liberty. But American businesses freely engage in trade with China; U.S. citizens visit as tourists; Chinese students matriculate at our universities. Why should Cuba, which doesn’t have a fraction of the economic or military clout that China has, be regarded as more of a threat to our interests?

In my three reporting visits to Cuba over the last 15 years, I found a country of resilient people who had a strong affinity for the United States. They kept up with Major League Baseball; they circumvented government controls to watch American TV shows; they begged relatives and friends to bring in the latest American music and fashions. The best way to steer them toward a thriving democracy is to encourage more contact between the two countries.

And the fact is that Obama didn’t take a big political risk, despite the hardliners and their continuing drumbeat of criticism. The president enjoys support among Cuban-Americans, even some — like Atlanta political consultant Angelo Fuster — who fled Castro’s takeover. “I think we are on the right path,” Fuster, who has led trade missions to the island, told me.

A Florida International University poll in June found that 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized diplomatic relations, and 52 percent want to ditch the embargo. As pollster Guillermo J. Grenier told The Atlantic, “We are witnessing a clear demographic shift with younger and more recently arrived Cubans favoring a change in policy toward the island.”

Regardless, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba is the right thing to do. In this season, that ought to be reason enough.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at [email protected])

AFP Photo/Doug Mills

  • Dominick Vila

    Even the most myopic or senile observers can understand that policies that have not produced the desire results during the last half century must be changed. Our policy of isolationism was designed to influence a popular uprising that would remove the Castro brothers from power, and influence a return to freedom and democracy in Cuba. That, clearly, has not happened. Instead, our policies have caused tremendous pain and misery on the people we were, purportedly, trying to help, and emboldened our ideological enemies.
    A policy of rapprochement will not result in Raul Castro, and the upper echelon of the Cuban communist party, abandoning their ideological goals, and allowing freedom and democracy to flourish. The most likely outcome of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, and ending the obsolete blockade/embargo, is likely to be a slow but unstoppable move towards the center by the Cuban people, similar to what has been happening in China and Vietnam, two communist countries that have embraced a capitalist economic model, and whose society has been making tremendous improvements in their standards of living and their ability to influence change.
    From releasing spies, to releasing dissidents, to allowing investment and trade with countries such as Canada, France, Spain, Germany, China and others, it is clear that the Castro regime understands that change is inevitable, and that the old reliance on material assistance from the Soviet Union-Russia, and from Venezuela, is pretty much gone. With their two patrons struggling to survive economically, Cuba has no choice but to seek help from their former nemesis in order to survive.
    For us, it means a decisive move towards restoring our international credibility, an opportunity to influence meaningful long term change in a neighboring country, and a financial bonanza for American entrepreneurs. It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen a lot sooner than if the former status quo had remained in place.

    • mike

      What financial bonanza has been gained by Canada, France, Spain, Germany, China?
      Top 5 exports: sugar, refined petroleum, nickel mattes, cigars, hard liquor.
      Top Imports: refined petroleum, wheat, corn, poultry meat, concentrated milk.
      A real bonanza for America.

      • charleo1

        Your comment seems to assume normalizing relations, and allowing more cultural exchange. As well as further loosening travel restrictions between those Americans here with family in Cuba. As well as allowing more private financial aid to flow to those family members, is primarily about U.S. trade profits. When it is in actuality, it’s about discarding a failed policy, and adopting a new approach. And, initiating positive change in the lives of everyday Cubans. So empowering them to make the changes in their system, we all want for them. Changes, we have known for years, they also want for themselves. But,
        as we see here, even in our own Country. Poor powerless people, even with democracy, and the vote, find it very difficult, to influence a money driven political system to take into account their interests, and bring about the kind of change that would make a difference in their everyday lives. So, why should we expect it to be at all different in Cuba? No, I don’t believe the embargo policy is at all about the people of Cuba any longer, if if truth it ever was. It’s also not about starving out a Communist Regime. As we’ve seen in Iran, are witnessing in Russia, and should have known for 54 years. Embargoes, and sanctions don’t kill oppressive regimes, they kill oppressed people. It’s time for a new approach.

      • Dominick Vila

        I suspect that what is most important for all the countries that have maintained diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba throughout the years is the knowledge that they demonstrated maturity, a sense of humanity, cultural acceptance, and a vision focused on influencing peaceful coexistence and positive change.
        As for financial gains, most of it involves tourism and the hospitality industry in general.

  • John Pigg

    I by and large, disagree with a great many of Presidents Obama’s initiatives and policies.

    But I do not mind stating that I am unbelievable proud of President Obama for this accomplishment. Kudos!

    Note: I think that President Obama should try to cure cancer in his final two years in office. I would enjoy hearing congressional Republicans hold press conferences of how we need cancer as population control.~

    • Independent1

      Would you care to share some of what Obama has done that you disagree with??

      Are any of his many accomplishments in this short list any that you disagree with?

      Short list of Obama’s more than 30 significant accomplishments that have benefited America:

      1) Obama has presided over the longest stretch of continuous
      positive jobs growth in America’s history – more than 57 months and counting.

      2) The stock market has tripled during the Obama administration
      with it reaching levels NEVER SEEN BEFORE which has improved the lives of millions of American retirees such as myself!!

      3) The Obama Administration has managed America’s energy sector such that TODAY, America is the largest distributor of energy on the planet FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY!!

      4) The Obama Administration has rounded up and deported more
      troublesome illegal aliens that have been costing America billions THAN ALL THE PREVIOUS PRESIDENTS COMBINED!!

      5) Obama following through on the auto bailout has resulted in
      America’s largest manufacturing sector, the Auto Industry, recording profits the past couple years that haven’t been seen since Clinton was in office.

      6) During Obama’s time in office so far deficit spending has
      come down FURTHER and FASTER than under any previous president IN HISTORY (reducing deficit spending more than 1T/yr in 5 budgets)!!

      7) During Obama’s time in off the unemployment rate has come
      down further and faster than under any previous PRESIDENT IN HISTORY!! (From 10.1% to below 5.8% in less than 6 years.)

      8) Obama’s administration stared a war on fraud early in 2009 focusing on the defense and healthcare sectors which has resulted in bringing more fraud crooks to justice and recovering more illegally gotten government money than the last 3 presidents combined.

      9) Obama pushed for a stimulus in 2009 that not only helped keep
      America out of a depression but also invigorated the alternative energy sector to create alternatives to fossil fuels (solar, wind, hydro, tidal and plasma) that will greatly reduce demand for oil and coal in the near future; greatly helping the world’s efforts to combat global warming.

      10) Obama was successful in getting legislation passed that
      revises the rules health insurers must follow in providing insurance to Americans (ACA/Obamacare); which has not only already saved more than 50,000 people their lives (which can be documented), but is also saving hospitals and many states, including the red state of Arizona, billions of dollars in reduced costs because there are millions fewer Americans that are now uninsured.

      11) Obama presided over the best year of jobs growth (2014) in
      America since 1999, when another Democrat was in office!!!

      • John Pigg

        Why should I protest other issues.. I support him on this one.

    • dtgraham

      Great to have you back John. You’re an intelligent, mindful, reasonable conservative that we can have rational discussions with.

      • John Pigg

        Thanks, hope you are doin alright.

        • dtgraham

          Gettin’ by John. If it’s early January, I’m preparing for the tax season. I used to always look forward to it but anymore it seems like a lot of work as much as anything. Probably because it’s the only time of year that I still go at things full time. Must be getting lazy in my old age. Hope you and yours had a great Christmas and New Years.

          • John Pigg

            Yeah, had a great Christmas. It’s nice to take some time off and see the family. Sorry about the last response.. I don’t have as much time this year to read articles.

            And I am still pretty disappointed about the elections state level Dem’s got hammered in my state.

    • prenestino

      JP – A conservative who is not to be numbered among the crazies! I thought your sort was extinct! Maybe this proves there is a god, or at least hope!

  • prenestino

    One reason to end the embargo is that other countries already have done so. We are missing out. As I have written many times before, we can end the totalitarian government of Cuba and bring about democracy there using massive invasion tactics, i.e., infusing millions of American tourists per year with pockets bulging with money buying up arts, crafts, filling the night clubs, stuffing their gullets at restaurants, listening to and studying music and dance, etc. All my life I have wanted to go there, but couldn’t because our policy has been held captive by the Miami Cubans. It’s about time we told them to go impregnate themselves.