Ky. voices: Peter Berres calls on Congress to end embargo on Cuba

Fifty-five years after Fidel Castro’s triumphal arrival in Havana U.S. policies in Cuba — long considered ineffectual and counterproductive — have begun to unravel.

President Barack Obama’s executive orders allowing some business with and travel to Cuba are now in effect.

To most Americans and to the world, it’s time.

America’s long involvement in Cuba ended with the corrupt, brutal and American-supported regime of Fulgencio Batista. Castro, leading a popular revolution, routed Batista’s army.

Batista and mobsters ruled Cuba as an economic colony and promiscuous playground where Americans flocked and wealth was amassed. Most Cubans were left without basic sustenance, health care, education or hope. Fertile ground, any place, any epoch for revolution.

Launched by high ideals and egalitarian promises, all revolutions — including our own — devolve into much less.

Cubans fled to Miami and grasped the American political game: leveraging national power and enlisting intelligence agencies in spying, sabotage and terror. The powerful Cuba lobby dictated policy by controlling the narrative, leaving the public uninformed, misinformed and disinterested.

A disastrous military invasion; a deadly, ineffective, sabotage program, and countless assassination attempts on Castro exposed myopic assumptions, dooming strategy and tactics.

President John F. Kennedy announced a new strategy: the embargo. Its logic: Save Cubans from Castro by waging war on their economy until people — battered, hungry, sick and hopeless — revolt.

Instead, Cuban resilience stiffened, morphed into a uniquely proud identity and durable nationalism. The embargo provided credible explanation for deprivation while disguising government accountability, strengthening Castro.

With looming disaster averted by Soviet, then Venezuelan, support, the Cuban revolution pursued universal, free and world-quality health-care and education systems. These globally respected accomplishments remained obscured by our Cold War looking glass.

Last year, the United Nation’s Resolution to End the Embargo, tallied 188 countries for and two against: America and Israel. The consensus world view was that U.S. policy equals war on Cubans, in violation of international law and norms. The perception, particularly in Central and South America, is that our thinking is outdated, our character vengeful, our policies harsh and our behavior counterproductive.

Now we have an opportunity to pursue a viable path forward.

We will have to unlearn ingrained assumptions to see what Cuba can teach, share and contribute medically and educationally. Acknowledge Cuba’s substantial global response to severe medical crises, natural disasters (Haiti), public health (Ebola), personnel shortages (providing 30,000 doctors in 60 countries) and cooperate in replicating successful models.

Obama’s realistic, bold thinking will effect significant change, but leave the detested framework and symbol — the embargo.

Dismantling that policy rests with Congress. An informed and tempered public voice is imperative to assure negotiations are grounded in respectful support of Cubans’ independence, sovereignty and right to define their own vision and path. They’ve earned that.

By Peter Berres,

January 18, 2015

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