This past week President Obama did a stunning impression of Ron Paul as he outlined a change in US policy toward Cuba. This new, friendlier stance is one Dr. Paul has advocated for years. Nice to see Mr. Obama finally coming around to Ron’s ideas. Perhaps next week Obama will announce an audit of the Federal Reserve! Although I don’t agree with the president about very much, he deserves to be commended for making a move that runs counter to the status quo. Introducing this new policy, Mr. Obama pointed out all the same facts that Dr. Paul brought up in the 2012 debates; primarily that after 50 years the embargo has been an abject failure in its goal of bringing about the downfall of the Castro regime. On its face the policy makes little sense given that the US has strong diplomatic ties and allows trade with other autocratic Communist regimes (China, Vietnam, Venezuela, etc.).
Yes, Castro is a monster, a cruel tyrant that has directly or indirectly, murdered, tortured and stolen from countless thousands of fellow Cubans. In a very real sense the Castro regime is running an island-size plantation; Cubans are in many respects slaves to their government. So it is understandable why Cubans living in the US would be opposed to trade with Cuba. Doing so is tantamount to buying cotton from a slave plantation. So in theory, cutting off trade seems like a moral and pragmatic idea. It is neither. The empirical evidence of the last 50 years shows us its failure at undermining the Castro regime (if anything it has supported the regime, as the embargo was used as the scapegoat for the failures of the communist system). And although trade restraint might be a moral decision if made by the individual, when the option to make that choice is forced upon us by our government, the morality of this course is drained away. It is OUR right to choose whether or not we will trade or associate with someone, not governments.
This change in policy has more to do with how the governments of each country interact with each other and little to do with what the citizens of those countries are permitted to do. For Cubans, all the same government restrictions on basic economic and social freedoms will remain in place. For Americans there will be an ever so slight loosening of the collar that holds back truly free and unrestricted trade. The hypocrisy of this policy, even in its slightly more liberal state, is laughable. It seeks to punish a tyrannical state that subjugates its citizens by subjugating the rights of citizens in this country. The citizens of both countries are but mere pawns in the game of their masters.
While President Obama is heading in the right direction now, it is a tepid first step at best. If Obama is serious about making a true change, he must pressure Congress to repeal the Helms-Burton Act (1996) (this act makes it impossible for the President to unilaterally repeal the embargo – thank you President Clinton!). Once repealed, Mr. Obama could finally end the embargo once and for all.
Although ending the embargo would certainly benefit the Castro regime, the benefits to the Cuban people would overwhelm any short-lived financial windfall to the government. They cannot levy a tax on information. Through tourism and business there would be a cross-pollination of knowledge that would fuel the fire of change. Once lit, that fire spreads rapidly, nor is it easily quenched. For example, it is has been proposed that the TV show “Dallas” played a pivotal role in cracking part of the Iron Curtain. Back in the late 1980’s “Dallas” was shown on Romanian state television because the state thought it would engender distaste for the decadence of the west. But it backfired. Once exposed to the possibility of wealth, the people wanted that same opportunity for themselves (income equality sucks when everyone is poor). The lies of state propaganda are the dam that holds back the truth. It takes much effort to build and maintain, but once a crack develops nothing will stop the truth from breaking free and spreading. If only our government will allow it, the American people could be the hammers that crack the Castro’s dam of lies.