After 50 years, later this month an American flag will again fly over the old U.S. Embassy in Havana and the Cubans will open their diplomatic representation in Washington.
Pres. Obama has justified the move because it was time to change a policy that has not worked. That, not to put a fine point on it, is not true. Over five decades Washington was able – sometimes with direct intervention as with the Contras in Nicaragua – to prevent the spread of the Castros’ Communism in Latin America. And it wasn’t for lack of trying by Fidel Castro with Soviet inspiration and help. The list of by Cuban Communist attempts to subvert other governments in the Hemisphere, sometimes with actual military infiltration, is too long to list here.
That, of course, poses the next question coming up quickly.
There are already demands that Washington lift the Cuban “embargo”, a misnomer for the refusal of the Castro government in the 1960s to compensate American investors for the seizure of their properties. Of course, Cuban propagandists – with their chorus of supporters on the American left and among some U.S. business interests. – argue that it was the American blocking of economic relations with Havana which brought on the Cuban disaster. And, they argue, there are all sorts of mutual economic opportunities for American business as well if the U.S. takes the next big leap forward and authorizes investment and trade – including economic aid.
The answer to that pitch, of course, is that the Obama Administration got nothing in return for resuming diplomatic relations. In fact, what has happened is that a dying regime is being given a helping hand in its final moment of crisis. Cuba, after all, has relations with 190 other countries. The Europeans and Canada have tried to invest and trade and have had near zero success. [One suspects, aside from those in Ottawa always ready to tweak Uncle Sam’s beard, it was Canada’s historic investment in one of Cuba’s few mutually held resources, nickel, that has kept that relationship alive.]
It’s hard to exaggerate how diffcult Cuba’s situation is as it comes back into the real world. A large portion of its traditional elite long since fled, and while interested and perhaps willing to cooperate, will not go back. Its former special quotas for sugar in the U.S. are an historic anomaly. Not only will its sugar industry have to be rebuilt almost from scratch, but Cuban cane sugar faces a completely changed world now competing with subsidized beet sugar, corn syrup and all the other sweeteners developed while Havana slept as well as favored sugar industries around the world..
No one would argue that we shouldn’t do what we can to help impoverished Cubans sitting on our doorstep. Leaving humanitarian generosity aside, it is in the interest of U.S. security to contribute to a more prosperous and stable Cuba. When the Castro regime finally collapses – as seems inevitable – a freed but impoverished more than 11 million will be swimming toward Miami.
There is a lot of hot air being spread about the economic prospects for American business in Raul Castro’s Cuba, some of it coming from the President himself. Not a little of it comes from American businesses which profit from export subsidies. But lifting the sanctions before Raul Castro makes the concessions necessary for economic and political progress on the Island would be, among other things, a waste of the taxpayers’ money.