For my entire life Cuba has been our enemy. Although Cuba is only 90 miles from our shores, it might as well have been in another galaxy. I was born into a world where Cuba was one of America’s Cold War nemeses. I was an infant learning to walk during the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Conversely, we must not forget that the Cuban people also have been experiencing conditions far beyond our understanding. It is hard to believe this little island could be responsible for so much disdain between two nations, as well as a great deal of misunderstanding. However, today we find ourselves on a path that could potentially lead to normalized relations with Cuba. How our two countries choose to nurture this opportunity will be one of the most import diplomatic missions in modern times.
The reality is that America does not need Cuba, but Cuba does need America, and because of that simple fact the diplomatic process must be handled cautiously. By establishing a normal relationship with our country, the Cuban Politburo has everything to gain, but also everything to lose. America must look beyond just commerce, and realize we have the ability to negotiate for a better society. America must remember the true purpose of this effort must be to improve the conditions of the Cuban people, and to move toward restoration of a truly free Cuba. America must appear to be humble, without appearing to be weak or willing to agree to concessions that would keep the Cuban people in shackles.
Tourism, fancy hotels and casinos will not bring freedom to the Cuban people. Almost three generations of Cubans have only known tyranny, and have never tasted true liberty. Naked capitalism will open markets to big companies, doing more to increase the profit margins of Fortune 500 companies and line the pockets of corrupt Cuban bureaucrats and the ruling elite.
How will the Cuban people benefit? I find it rather ironic that the same people who condemn capitalism here in America are now touting it as a savior in Cuba. Many of these same people held the U.S. Senate CIA report up as an indication that America was an evil country, yet now seem to be willing to dismiss Cuba’s atrocious human rights record. America is better than that, and now we have an opportunity to make a real difference in Cuba.
President Obama was wrong to start down this path without including Congress immediately, but President Obama’s heart appears to have been in the right place. However, a gracious heart does not make for a sound diplomatic relationship. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was correct in saying that these first efforts by Obama make him “the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.” Rubio’s concerns were also echoed by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who stated the current deal “stinks,” and that it “validates” the communist rule of the Cuban Politburo. Both men are right, and have a very unique perspective that should not be ignored considering they are both Cuban-Americans. Obama would be wise to immediately bring these men into the Oval Office to help right the course that Obama has set this country on. Both Rubio and Menendez would be wise to accept that invitation. Obama should be civil and open to their advice.
Additionally, Americans should demand that we negotiate in good faith and that the Cuban government do the same. Clear benchmarks must be put in place that move Cuba to a free society, and that trade and commerce be tied directly to conditions that improve the welfare and liberty of the Cuban people. America must make sure any negotiations include an open and free press, which means an unrestricted Internet. Cuba must allow for the formation of political parties and open elections. America must ensure commerce benefits the people through an ethical free-market that encourages entrepreneurship.
America has a wonderful opportunity to lead in this effort, and can be a force for positive change to help the Cuban people. We should also be mindful that there will be people who distrust the American and Cuban governments, and that any failure will be compounded by that mistrust. Mariela Castro, Fidel Castro’s daughter (and the benefactor of a corrupt government), said America was “dreaming” if we believed Cuba would return to “capitalism” (which Cuba never had). Mariela Castro said the island nation would not return “to being a servile country to hegemonic interests of the most powerful financial groups in the U.S.” Well said by a person who has watched her people suffer while she enjoyed the benefits of membership of the ruling class.
Commerce and free trade cannot be our only goal. I would settle for a free Cuba, where people are respected and not persecuted. This can only be achieved if we commit ourselves to the Cuban people, and not just an empty “diplomatic victory.”