In this week's GOP debate, Mitt Romney derided President Obama’s easing of travel to Cuba, and Newt Gingrich pledged to use “every asset available” to overthrow Cuba’s government. Mitt Romney’s and Newt Gingrich’s positions toward Cuba are obsolete, counterproductive, and increasingly damaging to our reputation internationally.
Our historic mishandling of Cuban relations helped install and perpetuate Fidel Castro’s regime. Hostility toward Cuba is outdated, as the country has long stopped being a security threat to the United States. Changing our policies toward Cuba would be an easy win for the United States in asserting leadership in international diplomacy. Given that negative Cuban policy is unlikely to tip any Republican electoral scales, both candidates should step into this decade and immediately normalize diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.
U.S. diplomatic antipathy to Cuba, especially aggressive covert operations like those espoused by Gingrich, are partly responsible for Fidel’s rise to power in 1959 and for his longevity. Up until 1958, the United States supported the Batista dictatorship, whose oppression fueled Castro’s revolution. U.S. aggressive policies, including the infamous Bay of Pigs CIA operation, have been fodder for Fidel Castro’s policies to detect and extinguish dissent among Cubans for decades.
Allied with the Soviet Union, Cuba earned its place on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism in 1982. Although the United States’ animosity spurred Cuba’s willingness to harbor weapons and people hostile to the U.S., the only reasonable U.S. policy with Cuba during the height of the Cold War was embargo. It has been a long time, however, since Cuba has posed a military threat to the United States. Cuba’s alliance with a United States enemy ended with the Soviet Union in 1991, over 20 years ago. Since then, Cuba has moderated its policies towards terrorist organizations, such as ETA and the FARC. In fact, since November 2001, Cuba has offered to reach a bilateral agreement with the United States to fight terrorism.
Time, too, has changed the Cuban-American voters. Over 40 percent of Cuban-Americans were in favor of either easing or eliminating economic and travel sanctions to Cuba as of 2008. “Support for tightening the embargo and the travel ban has dropped by roughly half between 2004 and 2008,” according to the Cuban Affairs Quarterly Electronic Journal.
Even Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s newspaper, said that United States aggression toward Cuba would be disastrous for its relations with Latin America more broadly. Given the United States’ mishandled interventionism in the region in the Reagan-era, United States’ disrespect of national sovereignty of any Latin American nation would dismay all countries in the region.
If GOP candidates Romney and Gingrich are genuinely concerned about the Cuban people’s well-being, they would normalize diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, including lifting the travel and economic bans.
Cuba’s limited economic reforms have opened up possibilities for small business entrepreneurship. The U.S. has significant experience and success in small business development, which it could impart to Cuba. Efforts in growing micro- and small- enterprises would certainly help many poor Cubans. Allowing more Cuban-American travel will help spread knowledge and lift Cuba from its isolation. Through peaceful engagement and entrepreneurship, the U.S. can assist in building a freer more prosperous Cuban neighbor.
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