For thirteen days in the fall of 1962, President John F. Kennedy contended with the contempt of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Castro, who came to power on January 1, 1959 when Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island nation, allied himself with communist premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev saw in young Fidel Castro a kindred spirit who supported socializing industries, destroying private property, and political oppression. The same ideology that forged a Cuban-Soviet alliance in the sixties is the same ideology that rules that imprisoned island to this day.
Cuba is a nation stuck in time. The buildings, cars, and commercial fixtures of this Caribbean island filled with potential and natural resources are from a bygone era sixty years ago. The prosperity of the Cuban people has been pillaged by the very regime that promised deliverance from the heavy-handedness of Bautista and his cabal of cronies. In response to Castro’s embrace of communist authoritarianism, the United States put in place a series of embargoes designed to cut-off trade and diplomatic ties with the Cuban regime. These embargoes remained in effect for over 50 years until President Barack Obama unilaterally lifted them on December 17, 2014 and moved to reestablish diplomatic relations and to loosen travel and economic restrictions on Cuba.
The American left praised President Obama as a reformer and a peacemaker, but Cuban exiles knew better. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), himself a son of Cuban immigrants, blistered Obama’s policy of appeasement stating that “this entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie. The White House has conceded everything and gained little.” Rubio was right, even while President Obama was prepping for his state visit to Cuba, Raul Castro continued to jail and murder political dissidents and oppress the Cuban people. President Obama’s Cuba policy was much more directed toward his own political legacy than to putting pressure on the Cuban regime to abandon its abuse of human rights.
The misguided, politically-driven policy of appeasement championed by Barack Obama has come to an end under President Donald Trump. This week in Miami, the President declared “Last year I promised to be a voice against oppression … and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people.” The President was right to keep his pledge, as the policies of President Obama toward Cuba gave legitimacy to a totalitarian regime that has been the pariah of the western world since the early 1960s. As Senator Rubio said in his introduction of the President in Miami: “less than a year and a half ago an American president landed in Havana, greeted by a regime. A year and a half ago, a president, an American president, landed in Havana, to outstretch his hand to a regime. Today a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba.”
President Trump’s reversal of President Obama’s one-sided concession to Cuba is the right thing to do for America and for the people of Cuba. Opening a new era of cooperation with Cuba would be a great thing, but it must not be one-sided. Until Cuba abandons single-party rule, allows for political dissent, restores private property rights, and ends human rights abuse, America should not, America cannot, normalize trade relations. If America does not lead the cause of human freedom it will not be led. Coddling dictators and despots is not the recipe for human flourishing, and America must never abide such polices. Under our new President, it seems that we will not.