Engaging with Cuba

raul-castro-cubaThe cynic behind the cheery words of Common Sense has been wondering about the sudden about-face on Cuba. If decades of failure provide a reason to abandon a policy, perhaps the president can next turn his attention to those two wars the US has been fighting since the sixties – on poverty and drugs. 

Still, the fact that there are other policies more in need of review, does not make this particular review unwelcome. Engaging with China and Vietnam has undoubtedly helped those countries to reform. And Cuba should be more susceptible, not less, to the cultural benefits of trade with the US, given that a large proportion of its emigré population lives in Florida. 

The superstition that Cuba’s dictatorship is uniquely evil is unsustainable. There are more repressive regimes not only among America’s enemies but also among its friends. The single-handed pretence that Cuba did not exist – the breaking of diplomatic ties and the unilateral economic sanctions – were supposed to bring the Castro government down. But these policies were adopted during the Eisenhower administration, and while Cuba may now be on its second Castro, America has had ten presidents since Eisenhower. 

There may well be debates between the administration and Congress about how this new policy should play out, and there may even be constitutional debates about whether the president is exceeding his powers. But the idea that the embargo was so successful or so rooted in principle that it could never be amended seems hard to maintain.

There is one area in which the administration is, however, open to some criticism and Congress needs to monitor this very closely. There has been a promise to review Cuba’s status as a designated sponsor of terrorism. This is not something which the government should be doing in exchange for the release of prisoners or an agreement to trade. Cuba’s status on this list should be determined by Cuba’s behavior alone – with, possibly, some consideration given to undertakings about future behavior. It is not something that should be offered as an incentive to the country to encourage economic reform. 

Reviewing that status of countries on the list of terrorist sponsors is, presumably, an ongoing process. As it happens, the actions for which Cuba was added to the list were mostly in the 1970s and 80s. Cuba is simply not wealthy enough to be sponsoring armed revolution in Africa and South America since its primary sponsor, the USSR, collapsed. It has been kept afloat by cheap oil from Venezuela, but that country is facing its own financial pressures given the collapse in the price of oil. 

Cuba, once the economic leader of Latin America, is now dirt poor. In practice, the American boycott has not been a major part of this, but blaming America for all its hardships has been critical to maintaining the dictatorship in power.

There have been few benefits to the embargo, and the costs may have been significant. Cuba might have reformed economically, and even politically, some time ago if engagement with the US had been possible. 

Raul Castro is 83. The regime is running out of Castros, so he is probably wise to lay the groundwork for some sort of post-Castro reform process. It is sensible policy for the US to engage with this. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

%d bloggers like this: