Pres. Obama’s open hand to the Castro Cuban regime has been met with the continuing clenched fist of the Castros. Peaceful protesters against the most repressive regime in the history of the Western Hemisphere have publicly been beaten for the benefit of American TV cameras – where they have been shown. Several thousand new political prisoners have been thrown into jail on the eve of Obama’s arrival in his mission to reorient U.S. Cuban policy. Raul Castro even made the protocol gesture of not meeting Obama on his arrival at the tarmac, an additional childish thumb-your-nose at his guest.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects have continued their Greek chorus wailing about a half century of failed American policy toward Cuba.
That that policy has not resulted in the liberation of the Cuban people is certainly one of the cruelest elements in the relationship between the two countries.
In the realm of what might have been, of course, is the failure of the Kennedy Administration to follow through with air support for the Eisenhower Administration’s April 1961 plot to liberate the country. What will never be known is what U.S. air power would have done for the valiant effort of the Bay of Pigs Cuban patriots to usurp the Communists when the Castros had still not consolidated their hold on power.
It is certainly true, of course, that American policy tolerated a regime which so punished its own people with political and economic oppression that tens of thousands of them risked their lives at sea to escape. But U.S. policy also gave refugee to any Cuban who could set foot on American soil, perhaps encouraging this flight however somewhat masking the unknown loss of life of those who died at sea.
Nor does the list of mistakes and failures of the U.S. policy end there. Washington was unable to thwart Soviet efforts to establish with Cuban help a regime which still throttles freedom in the resource-rich southern African country of Angola.
But that is about as far as the minus side of the ledger goes.
The fact is that American policy toward Cuba through a half dozen Washington administrations did achieve important ends. John F. Kennedy, in about a face on Cuban policy, during the height of The Cold War in October 1962 prevented Moscow establishing a nuclear armed base just 90 miles off the U.S. Florida coastline. Had that effort been successful, who knows what different end the U.S.-Soviet conflict could have taken. Nikita Khrushchev’s Cuban missile defeat was an important milestone in the eventual implosion of the Soviet Union a decade later.
U.S. policy afforded hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles a home and a new life in America. No one should be so oblivious to the obvious cruelties of the regime as to underestimate the despair and courage it took for the brave souls who ventured onto flimsy craft to try to make their getaway. Fidel Castro in an obvious miscalculated stunt, opened the floodgates [and the prisons] in 1981 to permit the departure of some 10,000 victims of the regime, first taking refuge in the Peruvian Embassy. But the flood grew, and during those few months, more than 125,000 Cubans – the Marielitos – chose freedom in the U.S. to continued persecution in their own country, surely a victory for American sympathizers.
American policy was effective, too, however wanting in its tactics, in preventing armed Cuban attempts to set up other Soviet-oriented regimes in Central America – in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Threats to the smaller islands in the Caribbean were beaten back as part of the overall attempt to halt any advance of the Moscow satellite in the new world. Had that band of small Communist states come into existence, again The Cold War might have taken a quite different turn.
Yes, Washington policy toward Communist Cuba has sometimes been miscalculated and unproductive. But the charge that it has been a failure over half a century is another of the current empty slogans of an American Administration and its supporters who deny U.S power and would limit its use to try to lead toward peace and stability in an increasingly unstable world