America needs a new approach to Cuba, plain and simple. President Obama was on the right track when he began the process of normalizing relations with Castro’s regime while lifting some of the travel and trade restrictions put in place by the previous Bush Administration. However, President Trump has taken some small steps towards undoing that progress by announcing policies that will prohibit the US from doing business with the Cuban military complex and banning the travel of individuals to Cuba.
Trump’s proposed policy did not effect certain Cuban exports including cigars and rum and didn’t not involve terminating the country’s new diplomatic mission in Havana. But while Trump’s new approach toward Cuba doesn’t completely undo President Obama’s progress, it does set up US-Cuban relations to become much more confrontational over the next few years. Trump’s decision follows along with the standard Republican strategy of reversing overtures made to Cuba by previous Democrat-led administrations. In a speech in Miami on Friday, President Trump blasted Cuba for its human rights record and said he would work to expose the crimes of Castro’s regime.
In that speech, Trump also equaled Obama’s agreements with Cuba as parallel to the Iran nuclear deal which Trump has repeatedly called a “disaster.” Trump’s decisions signify a reversal from Obama’s conciliatory tone, but his new tactics are new in no manner at all. America has often pursued a policy of embargoes and sanctions on regimes it deems as evil, from Iran to North Korea and the Soviet Union to China. Yet these sanctions often have little affect on any real change in the countries they target, often instead boosting anti-American groups and opinion in those countries.
Despite the little-to-no success rate, America keeps using sanctions as its primary weapon against oppressive regimes. Albert Einstein once was quoted as saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. It may be harsh but bluntly put, this American policy of effecting regime change through economic sanctions is insanity. These sanctions only serve to further isolate these nations and allow their dictators to tighten their grip even tighter on their oppressed people.
Another strategy employed in the past has been to reach out to these regimes and engage them. This strategy was employed against China and the USSR and today, the USSR is gone while China has made some improvements here and there when it comes to human rights. Why would this be successful? Because when America engages a foreign nation, our culture and values unintentionally affect their citizens as well. It would be absolutely arrogant to blindly conclude that America itself can cause regimes to change and the decision to overthrow the Castros doesn’t rest with Trump or Marco Rubio but with the Cuban people.
However, by engaging the Cubans in trade, we can expose more of them to our own way and life and perhaps many more will begin to wonder why they should tolerate Castro any longer. If we were to cut them off right now, the Castro regime would blame their economic hardship on Americans. Yet if Cuba is openly trading and still struggling economically, Castro will have little excuse to justify his repressive regime any longer.
Some may take issue with this strategy and claim it legitimizes the Castro regime. But then we must confront the reality that this isn’t the first time America has made an unholy alliance with a repressive regime. Whether it was Pinochet in Chile, the Shah of Iran, or our continued alliance with Saudi Arabia, America doesn’t always partner with nations that have stellar human rights records. And in Cuba’s case, it is absolutely necessary that we develop an alliance with our Caribbean neighbor. Because if we don’t, Russia and China will, and with our seemingly endless stream of Russia problems, the last thing we need is a staunch Russian ally in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lastly, if we want our sanctions to actually have an effect, we have to have been trading with Cuba first. Sanctions against China, India, or Russia are much more effective then sanctions on countries like Iran and North Korea, where we already have had sanctions against them for decades. By propping up Castro’s regime, we actually increase our leverage over them and in future years, we can put real pressure on them which may cause them to eventually hold fair elections or resign from power.
We need to move closer and not further away from Cuba. President Trump’s actions thankfully do not completely undo Obama’s progress on Cuba but they do damage it. America has tried the stick over and over again to no avail and despite our sanctions, the Ayatollahs still rule Iran, the Kim Jongs still dominate North Korea, and the Castros are alive and well in Cuba. Perhaps it’s time to use the carrot.
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