Friendship with Cuba would hurt Fidel

Published 3:54 pm Sunday, December 14, 2008

By Staff
We need to try something new with Cuba. That could mean loosening relations with the island.
Fidel Castro is an old man.
His government is still firmly in control of the island, even though his (marginally) younger brother, Raul, is in charge now.
People who had just married when “Our strategy in Cuba isn’t working” was an insightful statement have grandchildren now.
But still our country keeps at it. We can strangle this totalitarian regime with economic sanctions, our leaders say, as those sanctions keep failing.
Why do sanctions fail?
Part of it might be that Cubans are a resourceful people, perfectly comfortable using a plastic bag and a rubber band to fix an engine, or dining trays to make jury-rigged antennas.
Another problem is probably that we’re pretty much by ourselves on this one. America staunchly refuses to permit most trade with Cuba. Meanwhile, pasty residents of Saskatchewan are sunning (read roasting themselves beet red) on the white, powdery beaches of Varadero and Bavarians are traversing the countryside in rental cars.
Cuba was more or less on the brink of starvation after the fall of communism and the discontinuation of Soviet subsidies. But by now it’s found a way to survive. Sugar isn’t the big economic engine now; tourism is.
That’s not to say that U.S. sanctions (our government refers to them collectively as an embargo, the Cuban government prefers blockade) don’t have an impact. They undoubtedly do.
Spare parts are hard to find in Cuba, and the country’s infrastructure is stitched together with an impressively odd patchwork of pre-1959 U.S.-manufactured equipment, fixed catch-as-catch-can without proper parts and more recent imports, which conform to European standards for electric current and metric measurements.
There are lots of skinny people (but a surprising number of chubby ones, too) and lots of skinny livestock up in the hills.
Of course, shortages aren’t just the fault of the U.S. government. The Cuban government isn’t exactly doing all it could. There’s a ton of unused land in Cuba, just sitting around in government hands, for example.
But the Cuban government is doing all it can to blame the entire problem, lock-stock-and-skinny-horse, on Yankee Imperialism.
And the country’s leaders will get away with it, too, as long as the sanctions keep up.
So why do we keep them in place?
Well, lots of Cubans came to America when Fidel took power. They make up a huge bloc in elections in the southern tip of Florida and have some very well-to-do members. With other Cuban exile populations in places such as Union City, N.J., they make up a formidable lobbying force.
We think some of the people in government are probably still annoyed at Fidel for thwarting us, too. He did let the Soviets point nuclear missiles at us. That’s kind of a no-no in international relations. And the CIA has tried, most ineptly, to assassinate him several times, he says. And he made us look foolish when the invasion at the Bay of Pigs went sour. So some government types, no doubt, don’t want to give him the satisfaction before he dies.
That’s petty at best, and our government needs to be better than that. This isn’t about Fidel Castro. This is about the millions of Cubans living in poverty in Cuba and their families, living in America with only limited contact with beloved relatives. This is about hundreds who die in the straights of Florida, trying to make it here.
We need to reform the government of Cuba. But we have been using the current strategy for decades. We endure its side effects, but we’re not seeing any benefits. Let’s can this plan, and come up with something that works.