Cuba: A Recipe For Failure

“With God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve,” President Trump

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

President Trump recently said “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” With all his usual bombast and inaccuracy, Trump described Obama’s normalization of diplomatic relations, and small steps toward normal economic relations, as “terrible and misguided.” Trump said his “historic“ actions to reverse these changes would “free” the Cuban people. But his “new“ policy is a return to the failed rhetoric and sanctions of the past half century. It is a recipe for failure.

Rather than helping to “free” Cuba with his rash statements, Trump only proves his ignorance and poor leadership abilities. If he thinks he can succeed where 11 other presidents over 57 years have failed, he must be ignorant of the history or deluded by his own sense of grandeur. This fits Einstein’s remark about insanity. He needs a lot more than “God’s help.”

To begin with, as usual, he is misrepresenting the situation. There is nothing “new” or “historic” about his actions. Nor will the policy changes take effect “immediately.” Nor will he be reversing all of the Obama changes. Individual travel to Cuba will again be restricted, but trips for specific educational, government, religious, and social purposes are still permitted. The re-opened embassies will remain open. Not all trade and business deals already begun under Obama’s policies will be canceled. These may seem like minor points but one should expect a president of the United States to discuss major policy changes with more accuracy and less bombast.

His leadership on this issue, like on immigration and healthcare, is out of step with the country. There is bipartisan support for Obama’s easing of the failed Cuban policies of the past. Almost every public opinion poll shows most Americans (75%), including many Cuban-Americans, support Obama’s efforts. News reports say hundreds of American businesses are eager to increase trade and business opportunities with Cuba. Last year 600,000 Americans took advantage of relaxed travel restrictions to visit the island. Airlines are doing 20 flights per day. A U.S. Senate bill to lift travel restrictions that in 2015 had just eight supporters now has 55 including Republicans and Democrats. The national Chamber of Commerce opposes Trump’s back peddling. Arizona Republican Jeff Flake said, “Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom,”

The reduced tensions under Obama were producing results. Last year the Cuban government legalized small and medium sized private businesses. In the short period it was active, the policy seemed to be doing what half a century of embargo had not done for Cubans. But Trump is destroying this progress.

Establishing normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba is long overdue. For over 57 years we have bullied and threatened this small, poor nation for no good reason. Not only has our animosity toward Cuba been irrational and unnecessary, it has been a complete failure. President Obama should be praised and supported for finally improving relations with Cuba.

According to Trump, Cuba can return to normal relations if they change their behavior. But it is our behavior and attitudes that needs to change. Cuba has never seriously threatened the U.S., yet we have done serious harm to the Cuban people with our sanctions and covert actions over the years.

Our trade embargo of Cuba, despite being largely ignored by other nations, has had an impact. The Cuban economy prior to 1959 was dominated by U.S. companies and capital. It was an exploitative, extractive relationship that mostly benefited American companies. Cuba was essentially an economic colony. When Fidel Castro came to power he began reforms intended to improve the lives of the Cuban people. One of these was to nationalize American businesses and properties which resulted in our imposing the embargo. Because of our domination of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Cuba was cut off from the primary source of economic development funds. The result was a drastic disruption to the Cuban economy. Our actions also guaranteed that Cuba would develop stronger ties with Russia.

Closer ties with Russia made Cuba a pawn in the Cold War. Our unwillingness to accept Castro’s socialist economic programs resulted in decades of unnecessary conflict. In principle we supposedly believe in the “self-determination” of peoples. But in practice it only applies when people vote for capitalist leaders acceptable to us.

We have a history of opposing and overthrowing “socialist” governments in Latin America and Cuba is a prime example. Our support for the Bay of Pigs invasion is one failed case as were other CIA sponsored efforts to incite revolution and even to assassinate Cuban leaders. Castro was justified in feeling threatened by the U.S. This certainly contributed to Castro accepting Russian missiles. The Cuban Missile Crisis came very close to incinerating the world.

An ironic aspect of the economic isolation of Cuba is that we have no problem trading with China and Vietnam, both Communist countries. How is Cuba different? Why do we vilify and sanction Cuba while importing most of our consumer goods from China? Again our policy is totally irrational. Why do we cozy up to Saudi Arabia, as Trump recently did, which is a repressive monarchy? Obviously none of this is really about supporting human rights or we would be applying pressure on the Saudi’s instead of selling them jet fighters.

In addition to being wrong, our policies have also been a complete failure. We have not forced Cuba to yield. We have only succeeded in looking like an international bully. Our sanctions are relics of the Cold War and should have been abandoned long ago. We should seek to normalize diplomatic and economic relations without condition. Reversing President Obama’s policy is a mistake and a recipe for more failure.