In that simplistic jargon characterizing Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s worldwide “transformation” of U.S. foreign policy, the chief argument for his Cuban shift has been “[T]hese 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.”
In the facts of history, in this as in so many other instances, Obama is wrong.
The fact is that U.S. policy toward Cuba, with its ups and downs, has been generally successful.
First, of course, the outcome of the Cuban Missiles Crisis of October 1962 prevented the Soviet Union from obtaining an advanced offensive weapons base just off the U.S. southern coast. The confrontation was a turning point in the Cold War. Moscow’s victorious march through control of Central and Eastern Europe and its threat to Western Europe began to be reversed when JFK backed off Nikita Khrushchev’s gamble.
Secondly, the Soviet Union’s Cold War effort, using the Castros’ regime, to infiltrate and create other Communist states in Latin America was beaten back – in Costa Rica, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Colombia. Indeed almost every Latin American government at one time or another was a target, if unsuccessfully.
That is not to say, of course, that American policy toward Habana was a string of unbroken successes, or that, in fact, it was always clear-headed.
It was, after all, American support for the Castros which brought down the Batista dictatorship in 1959 and installed the Communists. With the help of the American media, Washington was lulled into the trap that Fidel Castro was a reformer and not a Soviet model for his new regime.
Indeed, the settlement with Khrushchev of the Missiles Crisis resulted in a U.S. commitment to end its active efforts to bring regime change in Habana, whether through aid to such abortive military adventures as the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Cuban émigrés invasion or plots directed against eliminating the Castros themselves. But the continued presence of the Castro regime posed a constant threat to American interests – as far away as Africa, where the Soviets employed Cuban forces in Angola to install a Marxist regime [still in power]. That was despite Ronald Reagan’s elimination in 1983 of the Caribbean stepping stone of a Cuban-supported regime on the Caribbean island of Grenada.
First Soviet and later Chinese intelligence and subversion operations as well as listening posts in Cuba, before the digital revolution and new long-range communications, provided a continuing important base of operations by Washington potential enemies.
But by 1970, a combination of U.S. pressure [and, ironically, opposition from the more orthodox Communists not only in Moscow but among the other Latin American parties] forced Castro to withdraw his more active support for the overthrow of other regimes.
Left behind was an impoverished island – Cuba had among the highest standards of living in Latin America when Castro came to power – and a corrupt and oppressive regime, a potential source of instability and intrigue. More recently Habana’s transfer of its allegiance from Moscow to Caracas is the result of the emergence of an anti-American regime in Venezuela. But the growing economic difficulties of the Caracas regime, despite the largest proven oil reserves in the world, have put a kibosh on its aid to the Castros, the lifeblood of the regime.
In effect, the Obama Administration has now thrown a lifeline to the increasingly endangered Habana dictatorship. Not only is Obama at least temporarily saving a collapsing tyranny, he has done so without demanding that in return Raul Castro make concessions to the U.S. and the Cuban people. Instead, it has reinforced its nefarious activities: for example, new political persecutions were initiated at the very moment Obama was making his overtures to the Castros. Cuba still remains a sanctuary for fugitive American criminals. Only this month Castros’ thugs brutally attacked peacefully demonstrating anti-Castro activists at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
Obama’s announcement he is considering removing Cuba from the list of sponsors of state terrorism will strengthen Habana’s relations with leftwing totalitarians throughout the Hemisphere.
However limited the real possibilities for economic development given the present state of the Cuban economy and the regime’s continuing restrictions on private initiative, just the hope of investment and trade – including tourism – from the U.S. is seen as rescuing the regime.
That, indeed, will be the end of what has been, whatever its inadequacies, American policy for half a century, a successful strategy to isolate a threatening totalitarian regime in the Hemisphere. And it comes at the very moment when there was every prospect that the regime might implode, a victim of its own contradictions, leading to a new democratic Cuba.