January 23, 2015

Some Thoughts on Cuba

Cuba and the U.S. have been negotiating terms for the resumption of normal diplomatic relations. I hope the Americans are inclined to be generous. We have acted with malice toward our neighbor to the south for far too long and to no rational purpose other than to indulge the animosities of a few dispossessed Cubans.

What, then, should we be striving for in future U.S.-Cuba relations? Here are a few ideas.

Cuba and U.S. flags
Image from Cuba Travel USA
We should do everything we can to assure the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S. One hopes that Cuba will make it easy for us to re-establish our embassy in Havana.

Cuba wants to be off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Surely, at one time, Cuba sought to export revolution and may have deserved to be on such a list. (Some of the revolution Cuba encouraged was long overdue, but that’s another matter.) I haven’t seen any evidence that Cuba should be on the U.S. list at the moment, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, this is a wish we should grant as soon as possible.

There are, no doubt, commercial claims against the Cuban government. If any damages can be obtained from Cuba, fine, but I don’t think we should expect much. At some point, we simply have to accept facts on the ground. This has largely been our attitude toward native Americans, after all.

The trade embargo should be lifted as soon as possible and tariff barriers should be eliminated. Congress is going to be a stumbling block here, but many businesses that support Republicans are eager to sell goods and services to Cuba. The other problem may be Cuba’s ability to pay. In any case, there is a lot more that Cuba wants from us than we want from Cuba. (Pretty much everything, actually.) From Cuba, we would like to buy cigars, rum, and sugar. We really should be buying sugar from Cuba anyway, as it is a much better place to grow sugarcane than the U.S., which only grows the stuff because our government subsidizes it. (Thank the government for high sugar prices.)

I hope that American firms will be allowed to invest in Cuba. In particular, Cuba needs tourist facilities—hotels, restaurants, etc. Cuba was once a major tourist destination for Americans. It can be so again. Of course, commercial air transport between the two countries is necessary. If flights by American carriers have to be balanced by flights by Cuban carriers, so be it.

We should encourage the development of Cuba’s communication infrastructure, with connections to the outside world, but we should be patient. This will come in time.

Cuba is not happy that refugees fleeing the country are immediately granted asylum if they reach our shores. This is a policy we should rescind. It is curious that those most insistent that we “secure” our borders believe that our border with Cuba should pretty much be open. Our policy is a slap in the face to refugees from South American countries who, in many cases, are fleeing lives at least as burdensome and significantly more dangerous than those experienced by Cubans. Congress will be a problem here. (But isn’t it pretty much a problem generally?)

Finally, we should negotiate the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba, being, as it is, the last vestige of American colonialism in the world. (Of course, we conquered and colonized Hawaii, but we made up for it by making the place an American state. We probably don’t want to do that with Cuba.) We can do without Guantanamo. Perhaps we can give them the base if they agree to take the prison with it. That would be a moral victory on two fronts.

Is all this an America-hating, liberal wet dream? Not at all. We can afford to be generous. We have much more to gain than does Cuba. Cuba stands to gain material benefits, but so do Americans. A more open relationship will put pressures on the Castro regime to loosen its grip on, well, pretty much everything. Will Cuba become a liberal democracy next year? Surely not, but if the lives of ordinary Cubans are improved, is not that progress? Besides, Americans will gain access to great cigars.

Update, 1/23/2015. In my original post, I neglected to say anything about the U.S. unhappiness with Cuba’s human rights record. We are apparently going to finesse that issue for now. Realistically, nothing much is going to happen on the human rights front anytime soon. To insist otherwise would be pointless.

While reading the current issue of Time, I ran into this sentence: “China is Cuba’s largest trade partner and its biggest creditor, but normalized relations with the U.S. could open the door to game-changing moves between Havana and Washington.” I mention the China connection only because it’s interesting. Make of it what you will. (The Time article is here.)

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