U.S. lawmakers met former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana last Tuesday, in his first known talks with US officials since he underwent surgery in July 2006. The meeting with Castro, 82, came one day after members of the Congressional Black Caucus held talks with President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother last year.
Upon returning to the United States, members of the caucus said it was time to lift the trade embargo against Cuba, which has been maintained since 1962. On Monday President Barack Obama directed his administration to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba.
So where does this leave us? And was this a smart move by Obama?
First of all, the fawning over of the Castro brothers by the members of Congress is despicable. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) was quoted saying afterward Castro is “the ultimate survivor.” Really? A country without elections run by a guy who had a violent coup 50 years ago to get into power is a “survivor?”
The real survivors are those in prison or the families of those executed under the Castro regime for such things as following Martin Luther King’s peace movement or simply disagreeing with the government. If the members of the Black Caucus really cared about learning something, they would have traveled to other parts of the island and talked with dissenters.
Regardless of the boneheads in Congress, I applaud Obama’s move but I urge him to go further and lift the embargo. Allow me to explain.
Cuba is the only country in the world to which Americans are legally forbidden from traveling. Think about that for a second. Now ask yourself how much sense this makes. The United States is supposed to exemplify and encourage its citizen’s freedom of movement. Travel restrictions are the stuff of, well, dictatorial regimes.
I say lift the trade and travel restrictions and let Castro try and compete with the rest of the world economically. The embargo continues to be the best-and now the only-excuse that Castro has for his failed policies. As a Hoover Institution report on Cuba stated, Castro knows that ‘‘the embargo to some degree keeps him from becoming just another in a centuries-long string of failed Latin American dictators. . . . Nothing would come so close to ‘killing’ him while he is still alive as lifting the embargo.”
As long as Castro can point to the United States as an external enemy, he will be successful in barring dissent, justifying control over the economy and the flow of information, and stirring up nationalist and anti-U.S. sentiments in Cuba.
Now that the Cold War has ended, Cuba no longer poses a credible threat to the United States. Whether Cuba has a totalitarian or a democratic regime, though important, is not a vital U.S. national security concern. The transformation of Cuban society, as difficult as that may be, should be left to the Cuban people, not to the U.S. government.
Finally, the United States should restore the practice of granting political asylum to Cuban refugees. The 1994 and 1995 immigration accords between the Clinton administration and the Cuban government have turned the United States into Castro’s de jure partner in oppressing Cubans who risk their lives to escape oppression by granting asylum to those who make it to shore and having the Coast Guard turn away boats it intercepts off our coast.
While the statements from the Black Caucus are detestable, by at least looking to open our policy towards Cuba, I am encouraged. The best move by Congress would be to end the embargo, thus taking away Castro’s power and putting it back into the hands of its rightful owners, the people of Cuba.