Cuba: An American foreign policy folly

Jim Coogan | | April 26, 2014

It was good to read a report in The Barnstable Patriot weekly newspaper detailing a visit by a group of Barnstable high school students to the island of Cuba. They are experiencing a rare opportunity that most Americans can’t have.  Since the early 1960′s American foreign policy has made it a goal to isolate the Castro regime with trade embargos and restrictions on travel.  Anyone who really thinks about what the United States has done over the past half century should come to the conclusion that refusing to accept the reality of the Cuban revolution is foolish.  It is much like this country’s unwillingness to recognize the Soviet Union  for more than ten years after the Tsarist government had been overthrown.  Throw in our insistence that Taiwan was the real China for almost 25 years after Mao had driven our Nationalist ally off the mainland and you’ve got the picture of  our government cowing to the anti-communist right wing’s insistence that change didn’t happen.  In their view, the world would be better off if the clock was turned back to 1919, 1949, or 1959. Even if this view might be correct, we don’t get to re-write history as we would have liked to have had it turn out.  As New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick has often said, “It is what it is.”

Cuba is a close neighbor.  It is located less than 100 miles from our shores.  For centuries it was a natural trading partner for the United States and many corporate interests made investments there.  Essentially, it was an exploitive economic system–raw materials from Cuba to the U.S. and manufactured goods from the U.S. to Cuba.  the island was really a quasi U.S. colony. There was great economic inequality and the corruption of successive Cuban governments did little for the Cuban people.  When the revolution came,  it was welcomed by the masses and detested by the economic and social elites.  Castro’s decision to institute a communist dictatorship came at the height of cold war tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. There were reasons to isolate Cuba in that time as the island became an outpost for the Soviet Union in our back yard.

But those reasons and circumstances are as dead as Nikita Khrushchev.  Today we actively trade with communist dictatorships–Vietnam and China come to mind. We have good relationship with other autocracies like Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.  But Cuba retains its special status as a pariah state.  And why is this?  I’m guessing that 70-80 percent of Americans would like to see normalization of relations between our two countries.  But it is those former economic and social elites who fled Castro in the 1960′s who still hold U.S. policy hostage.  Living mainly in south Florida, these Cuban exiles have a disproportionate influence in how the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes go in presidential elections.  Any candidate who espouses lifting restrictions on Cuba automatically puts those important votes at risk.  No Florida U.S. Senate candidate would dare oppose the exile community.  I can’t think of a better example of the tail wagging the dog.

So I’m glad that Barnstable students are getting a chance to share culture with people that we have much more in common with than many would admit.  It’s too bad that our government won’t let the rest of us have that opportunity.

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