The history of US-Cuban relations is rife with exploitation before Castro and deep mistrust between the nations after Castro. Much of that mistrust is justifiable on the US end of things given Castro’s rise to power and resulting placement in the Soviet Communist orbit culminating in the Cuban missile crisis and subsequent actions taken on both sides. Make no mistake- the Castro brothers are brutal dictators who repress political dissent, suppress a free press, jail and torture political prisoners when not harassing and beating them up on the streets, etc.
But there are some thoughts to be considered here. First, it was always the intent of our Founding Fathers that the President should direct foreign policy. Of course, Congress should be consulted and major foreign relations initiatives approved or disapproved by Congress. They were never intended to be a silent bystander in this area and they have the ultimate power of the purse and advise and consent role to play. Taking Obama to task on this initiative simply for political reasons is likely to backfire.
Second, this writer has always believed that relations with Cuba, despite the repressions perpetrated in the name of Communism, should be improved on a piecemeal basis, especially economically. This is a country where cars from the 1970s are considered “new vehicles.” Because of their economic system, the population is subjected to inferior technology and products. Their major exports are agricultural- sugar, tobacco and coffee. They are largely dependent upon imports for the bulk of their food needs given drastic decreases in farm output since 2001.
Contrary to popular belief, trade exists between the United States and Cuba. In fact, the US is currently the number one source of agricultural products for Cuba. However, those imports must be paid in cash, not credit and the import of Cuban products into the United States is prohibited. Thus, there is a huge trade deficit between the two countries. Their top source of foreign exchange is family remittances to the island.
There are two things the United States produces in abundance, efficiently and high quality- arms and food. Of course, we should not arm a brutal dictatorship, but this move can be a boom to American agriculture and American consumers in the form of lower prices for sugar-based products. Furthermore, those goods have to be exported from somewhere in the United States and the most logical place is ports in the southern United States which would likely see the greatest benefit from increased trade with Cuba.
I view this as akin to the person in East Berlin who looked over the wall when it existed and saw how good it was on the other side. As it stands now, the people of Cuba do not know how good it is 90 miles from their northern shore. They may hear about it from some relatives in the US or surreptitiously, but exposure to American products, American technology and American viewpoints will eventually pay dividends.
The change will not occur over night and may take a couple of generations. The Castro brothers are not invincible and will die one day. There may even bloodshed down the line as the country transforms from dictatorship to democracy. But, over 50 years of trade sanctions have done very little to change the politics of Cuba. In fact, by denying exposure to an infinitely better economic system, the cause of democracy in Cuba may have been deterred by the current system.
This writer understands the worry of the Cuban-American community who managed to escape Castro’s repressive regime. But surely even they must agree that the status quo is not making Cuba any more democratic. And by opening a new market for American goods on a more free basis can only benefit the US economy. We simply have more of what they want and need than what we want or need from Cuba.
On a geopolitical basis, this also has the potential to freeze out Cuba’s two major suppliers- Venezuela and Russia. Both their socialist-style economies are teetering and in no position to rush to Cuba’s aid due to the dropping price of oil on the international market. Both of their economies are heavily dependent on oil and they have minimal influence on international market prices of crude oil. Isolating Russia further can only be beneficial to the United States. And as concerns China, Cubans would likely prefer American goods obtainable closer to their shores than Chinese goods transported at great distances.
In a practical sense, if we can have normal relations with a country like China which presents a bigger geopolitical and economic threat to US interests than Cuba, then we can have normal relations with Cuba also. We cannot oppose with a straight face Communism Cuban-style while dealing with Communism China-style. On a geopolitical basis, economic basis, and just plain commonsense basis, this move makes sense.
The only unfortunate aspect is that Obama will get credit for actually doing something right. Too bad it took him six years to use commonsense.