Oh, Georrrrgie, Whatchu Bain Doin' Now?
Every now and then, I write about topics that I know are going to be a non-starter for most people. These are the topics that I like to consider my pets - issues that, quite frankly, not many people reading this blog probably care about. In this case, the topic is U.S. relations (or lack thereof) with Cuba.
But before you blow off this posting entirely, think about it for a minute. While the issue of Cuba might be of little direct interest to you, consider the U.S. government’s current attitude toward Cuba. The Bush administration's policies toward Cuba fit quite nicely into a much broader spectrum of international relations as practiced by the U.S. State Department. In other words, confrontational.
Recently, Colin Powell's State Department decided to get tough with Castro. So what did they do? Tighten travel restrictions to the island, and severely limit the amount of familial aid flowing from the mainland U.S. to Cuban families on the island. Smart move, George. Validate everything Fidel says to his people about the Used-to-Be-Great Satan. And do a major pissoff job on the younger Cuban-heritage voters in Florida. I guess Jeb will have to figure out a way, prior to November, to invalidate all votes cast by folks of Cuban descent under the age of 60.
Anyway, as time marches on, the continuing U.S. trade embargo of Cuba has become more and more of a joke. Without much fanfare (at least here on the mainland), Cuba has been quietly reestablishing relationships with the rest of the world. So, you want to go relax on the beaches in Havana? Fly in via Mexico City or Grand Cayman or hop a shuttle to Nassau out of MIA. Want a good Cuban cigar? Take a quick trip across the border to Tijuana or Windsor. And the economic door swings both ways - Cuba has become a major trading and investment partner with both Canada and Spain, for example.
(Sidebar: If this is at all of any interest to you, here's a some nice background on the speciousness of the economic embargo from a 2000 Cato Institute conference. Pay particular attention to the remarks of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who was a congressman at that time.)
Rational policy making with regards to Cuba hasn't existed since Eisenhower’s days in office. To be fair, both Democratic and Republican administrations have botched the "isolation" of Fidel Castro over the past 40 years. Ten – count’em - ten U.S. administrations have come and gone since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. But Castro’s still sitting in Havana, smokin’ his stogies, and thumbing his nose toward the mainland.
I really thought that when the Soviet Union imploded, our government's animosity toward Castro and Cuba would dissolve. If the sheer weight of economics changed the essential paradigm of Russian government, certainly embracing economic change in Cuba would accomplish the same thing.
Boy, was I wrong. About our government's reaction, that is.
It seems to me that the U.S. government has been harboring grudges longer and longer against foreign administrations not of our own government's liking. Generally, when the grudges are held, it seems to be for some political expediency, and not necessarily dictated by common sense. For goodness sakes, the U.S. even began normalizing relations with Vietnam a mere three years after the last American in Saigon latched onto the skid of a departing Huey. Richard Nixon, for all of his faults as a person, set the diplomatic bar on dealing with "untidy" foreign governments in opening the doors to China. Even Tiananmen Square couldn't shut that sucker once it was open.
I think it’s way past time to admit that policy making toward Cuba by the Ricky Riccardo School of Diplomacy (Lucy Show-era Cuban ex-pats) has failed.
So let me put on my "if I were King" hat. The reason the U.S. government continues to resist overtures to Cuba is because (quite frankly) Fidel Castro keeps thumbing his nose toward the mainland. Mix in the “old guard” Cuban refugees in Florida, who keep getting played like pawns by politicians, and you have a volatile foreign policy critical mass.
We want to bring down Fidel? Great. Open the floodgates for free trade and American investment in Havana. Let's be the good guy for once. If Fidel wants to close the door after we kick the sucker open (ala Nixon), then, fine. He can be the bad guy then. But it makes absolutely no political sense (in the broader context of the term) or economic sense to continue sanctions / embargos against Cuba.
With the latest diplomatic moves against Cuba, it seems like the Bush administration just wants to stir one hornet's nest after another in conquest of the last independent Cuban voter in Dade County, Florida. It’s time for some rational policy making with respect to a close neighbor merely 90 miles off the U.S. shoreline.
A foreign policy that is largely ignored 3 out of every 4 years, and is then resurrected by election year politics, is not "policy". It’s closer to gerrymandering.