After 54 years, the United States will finally do the right thing, normalize its relations with Cuba and end its embargo. The embargo may be the longest-lasting ineffective and nonsensical foreign policy in US history. This means that twenty years after getting my Masters in Latin American history, I will finally be able to legally visit one of the countries I read so much about. I’ve always supported the idea that the best way to “open” Cuba would be to normalize relations and expose Cubans to the flood of ideas–rather than trying to strangle it–ineffectually–into submission.
I never understood the embargo, even though I knew its history and purpose. The cartoon to the right was published when I was finishing my graduate work. It seemed to illustrate perfectly the futility of US policy. Of course it begs to be updated with two more presidents, but that just adds to its point. President Obama rightly pointed out the contradiction in US foreign policy: we trade openly with communist China and, in fact, it is our second largest trading partner. We normalized trade with communist Vietnam over twenty years ago, after fighting a war with them that cost over 58,000 American lives. Even though we never fought an open hot war with Cuba, we had to shun them diplomatically and economically in order to uphold US hegemony in the Western Hemisphere in long-running chapter of the Monroe Doctrine.
Of course we also had to satisfy the powerful Cuban-American voting block whose one unifying characteristic for decades was an almost rabid hatred of Fidel Castro. I had a friend whose mother came to the US in 1956 to work in a sweatshop in New York because that sort of existence was preferable to life in Cuba under Fulgencio Batista, Castro’s predecessor who was an ally of the US. I asked my friend once why he hated Castro since his mother left before Castro came to power. He was unable to overcome his anger enough to respond to the question, so I never brought it up again.
In the past decade, though, the situation has eased. Younger generations of Cuban-Americans have expressed a desire to travel to Cuba, to see relatives and their ancestral homeland. US businesses want to invest in Cuba. High on the list of potential investments is Cuba’s offshore oil reserves, estimated to be at around 20 billion barrels or more.
Thee are two very interesting figures in this drama with ties to Latin America.
The change in status is still opposed by Senator (and potential 2016 presidential candidate) Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American representative of Florida, who predicts that the Cuba policy will “set a price on the head of every American abroad.”
On the other hand, Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, played a major role in negotiating the exchange of US and Cuban prisoners and the plans for normalizing of relations. Twice in as many days I have found more reasons to think highly of the Pope.
This situation is going to be interesting to watch.
Will Cuba’s educational and health institutions, some of the best in the Western Hemisphere, survive the transition? Will Cuba once again become the playground of affluent Americans who view it as a hedonistic refuge that caters to Yankee vices?
In the meantime, I’m planning on visiting Cuba at the first available opportunity. Before it changes too much. Before the answers to my questions become too obvious.
Cross-posted on Scholars & Rogues: Havana here I come!
Image from Captain Capitalism.