Saturday, April 18, 2009

Revivifying Cuba

Listen up, Barack. You've only started with Cuba. Despite the desperation of Democrats and a larger group of voters to compare you to John Kennedy, you have a shot to leapfrog his legacy here.

Kennedy was cute, snazzy and charismatic. He was also a foreign-policy abomination and klutz. He was a cowboy, gunslinger President long before George the Lesser Bush.

Consider three of his abject failures with Cuba:
  • He did not piggyback on the populist revolt that installed Fidel Castro, sticking with the corrupt, exploitative and criminal Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.
  • He ordered a disgraceful, lawless and incompetent invasion and assassination of Castro.
  • He set up an embargo that hobbled, hampered and harmed the Cuban people for the past half century.

Selective History

In our national fantasy revisionism, we prefer to remember only the missile crisis. He pushed us to nuclear war to prove his manhood was more powerful than Soviet leader Khrushchev's. We can indeed chalk that up as a win, but it was a situation Kennedy should have seen coming and avoided instead. He fixed what he allowed to break.

Now, a less impulsive and probably much brighter President is patching the Cuba wounds. His first one-eighth measures aren't going to heal much if anything. Moreover, as the Financial Times' Christopher Caldwell states today, allowing U.S. second cousins and closer unlimited visits to the island and the right to send non-military goods to family sends mixed and wrong messages to Cuban and U.S. citizens.
Mr Obama’s plan has some bizarre elements, such as the granting of travel rights on ethnic grounds. We know why Americans of Cuban ethnicity would want to go to Cuba more than other Americans. That they should be allowed to go to Cuba more than other Americans is an outrage against republican principles...It is another sign (along with affirmative action and the widespread use of undocumented labour) that Americans are now quite comfortable having different classes of citizenship.
Our Kennedy-established embargo has been both a failure and a perennial embarrassment. This allegedly greatest nation we are could not crush Castro's government economically. First, the Soviets provided subsidies. Then Cuba eked out cash with its agricultural output (including cigars the rest of the world can buy). Moreover, Kennedy's fantasy that the embargo would catalyze a citizen revolt was just that. Our stupidest Senators, including Jesse Helms, clung to that, egged on by the vitriolic Cuban Americans of the WWII generation.

The most unfortunate aspect of this is how it exposed the United States' motives. Our banks and other corporations whose Cuban assets were nationalized, have insisted on payment half a century later. Yet, as a nation, we pretend that this was never about money. We were saving this corner of the world for democracy and challenging a dictator.

Our white horse we like to ride is covered in blood and mud. In Cuba, as in Vietnam and so many African and South American nations, we install or support dictators, brutal tyrants. Castro and now his brother were not of our choosing and we can't seem to get over it.

Schmucks and Schlemiels

We have had many chances to lead a communist, socialist or dictatorial nation and its leader toward democracy and capitalism. Our tools though have not been those of saviors and inspirations. As with Cuba, we went with force, military and economic.

We conveniently forgot that our colonies farmed Cuba for slaves and we maintained an exploitative relationship with it until Castro took power in 1959. We encourage rapacious U.S. corporations and organized crime to bleed the nation's resources and abuse its people.

What we remember is that Castro took power and seized our company and Mafia assets. As Caldwell wrote:
In its first quarter-century, the embargo against Cuba was a powerful means of expressing America’s enmity, at a time when Cuba had done plenty to earn it. It was a way of satisfying voters’ sense of justice, showing the high price of crossing the US and demonstrating that, for Washington, profits took a back seat to strategy. It provided a useful example to countries choosing sides in the cold war.
Instead, we could have dealt with the dictator not of our choosing. We could have shown by example and lesson the virtues of behaving like the United States, of looking to us for trade and philosophy alike, and of gradually rejecting the quasi-communist path.

That is harder, but no less prone to failure than say a Bay of Pigs invasion or decades of impotent embargo that hurt only Cuban citizens. Understandably, they don't hate the Castros for our embargo of their nation.

It's past time, Obama. End the embargo and pull a Dick Nixon in normalizing relations with this little enemy. The WWII legislators are retiring or dying. Their replacements don't have to look very far to see the failure of our Cuban policy. Right now, we look like schmucks for our viciousness and schlemiels who who can't beat down a poor island nation in 50 years of trying. Also, the new generations of Cuban Americans are not invested in their grandparents' grievances of lost property.

Beyond this, the big lesson here is one we should have learned in Chile, Vietnam and elsewhere as well as Cuba. If we want people elsewhere to want to be like us, we need to act like saviors and not oppressors. We can turn others by our good example, but we need to live the good example first.

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Bill Baar said...

So why in the world couldn't Obama have said something on behalf of Dr Biscet?

massmarrier said...

Obama's dancing around many aspects, including Gitmo. We could have a lot more influence and make a lot more positive change as partner.

Bill Baar said...

What would you have Obama change about Cuba?

What would you do with combatants captured fighting outside the bounds of the Geneva conventions?

massmarrier said...

To the larger issue, we need to act like a democracy ideal, the proverbial beacon of liberty. We have domestic work to do to play the example there. Yet, if we want Cuba or Somalia or Iraq or others to follow us, we must clean up here.

Meanwhile, Obama should undo the legacy policy on Cuba. They need one hell of a lot, yet much less than we routinely provide other nations in aid.

Understandably, the Cuban government will be wary of its oppressor, before and after Castro came to power. However, providing them with resources to repair, rebuild and build their infrastructure is a start.

It shouldn't be long before we're seen as a changed ex-enemy and new partner. That's where the emulation will come in.

Gitmo is yet another means to the larger end of acting right to inspire right action and co-opt them. The Bush/Cheney travesty there is a disgraceful display of the inhumane, cruel, anti-democratic, anti-liberty abuses of our national power. It's a mess that will require case-by-case evaluations, which should have happened years ago. Some prisoners will go free, others may be exported to their countries or places where they committed felonies, and others may end up in this country. It's time consuming and expensive, but no less so than what we have already done and put them through.

All Obama has to do is ensure that we obey U.S. and international laws. Our citizens should expect no other.