Sunday, December 21, 2014

Restoring Relations with Cuba

Fidel Castro and his good friend Yasser Arafat
This is a bit off topic for this blog. But what happened last week is a major event and something I want to comment upon.

I am old enough to remember Fulgencio Batista. As a baby I actually lived in Cuba with my parents for a while before my father got a job in Toledo. (Although I don’t remember it. Long story. Not for now.) Batista was the American friendly elected president - and later dictator - of Cuba until he was overthrown by another dictator, Fidel Castro, via a military coup in 1959. Once in power Castro showed his true colors as a devout communist.

Cuba under Batista was a country divided between the few very wealthy and the great many poor. Castro saw that as a great injustice - that a corrupt Batista perpetuated.  Castro’s purpose seemed noble.  He believed in communism. Which he saw as the great equalizer. He apparently succeeded in making the wealthy – unwealthy and imposing a Marxist-Leninist style communist government in Cuba. Under Castro, everyone was equal… equally poor.

President Eisenhower immediately broke relations with Castro’s Cuba and placed an embargo on it which has remained in place until this day. The United States at that time was in the middle of the ‘Cold War’ and could not countenance a communist regime 90 miles from its shore. 

Long story short, many Cubans have fled that country and one way or another came to the United States. Over the years the US Cuban community was very anti Castro. They wanted to see him deposed and democracy restored. Castro was an intransigent despot who refused to budge from his leftist philosophy.  Cuba has suffered from that as well as from the imposed embargo and has remained poor. The US has remained firm over 9 presidents in its resolve to boycott Cuba until it changed its dictatorial polices. Which violated many of the human rights of its citizens.

It should also be noted that Castro was no friend of Israel. Typical of left wing despots he opposed the kind of democracy practiced in Israel and fully supported the Palestinian cause. Yassir Arafat was one of his long time good friends.

Now, over 50 years later nothing has changed. Except that Castro’s brother, Raul is now Cuba’s Communist dictator. Not sure there is all that much difference between the 2 brothers views of government.

Last week in a surprising and bold move President Obama decided to use his authority as President to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. There are many people that are shocked at this and very disappointed at him. They feel the US is rewarding over 50 years of a Communist dictatorship 90 miles from its shores without a single concession to us. Their government will not change a single policy with respect to its human rights violations. Many expatriate Cubans living and prospering in the US are outraged by this. Especially older Cubans who remember well how things were when they left. Their hatred for Cuba and communism is visceral. The same is true about some of the more intelligent right wing politicians in office. Like Florida’s US Senator Marco Rubio, himself the son of Cuban immigrants.

Oddly enough, opposition to this among US Cubans is not universal. Some US Cubans are actually pleased by this for a variety of reasons. For example travel to Cuba will no longer be restricted and families can now more easily visit each other.

I understand the anger of those who are opposed. But I happen to agree with what the President did here. The timing was just about right to do something like this… and I’m glad one of the benefits was the release from prison of Alan Gross and a US Spy in Cuba in exchange for 3 of their spies incarcerated here.

I see only good coming out of this. Communism ultimately fails as a system of government. You cannot force people to be altruistic and ‘share’ the products of their labor with others that may not be as productive or idealistic as you are. The intent of communism being a fair equalizer so that all share equally in work and its products is never successful in its implementation.

There are always people that work harder and produce more. They will resent giving up part of what they worked so hard for to someone who is a slacker by nature and produces far less. As idealistic as communism is in sharing everything equally, the truth is that it is grossly unfair to those who work harder to get the same benefits as those who don’t. Such systems are certainly doomed to failure on a large scale as was seen in the failure of the former Soviet Union. In the end, only a free society where people can basically keep what they earn is fair. Even Communist China seems to recognize this and has allowed some capitalism and competition into its controlled economy. It is now thriving because of it.

I believe that a large part of the collapse of Marxist Leninist communist countries is due to the fact that Nixon and Reagan had a policy of constructive engagement with them. That allowed us to have greater influence and enabled us to put pressure on these regimes to lighten up on their dictatorships. The first major result was the fall of the Berlin wall… and ultimately the collapse of the Soviet Union. Capitalism is now alive and well there.

This brings me back to Cuba. The first notable result of the President’s announced change in policy was jubilation in the streets of Cuba. The Cubans love American success and want to have some of it. They want to be like us. They just hated that we embargoed them which contributed mightily to their poverty. They are all now salivating at the prospect of the economic ties and the benefits that will surely come as a result. Give people a little freedom and a little hope… and the possibilities are endless.

I do not see communism ultimately being sustained in the long term there. Certainly not any more that it was in Russia. With the help of US entrepreneurs, Cuba will slowly become a more competitive and productive economy. Which will certainly have reciprocal effects on the United States. Business expansion to other countries is usually very profitable. Their business will certainly increase, and they – and their investors - will profit. Wall Street must be thrilled.

What about Cuba’s relationship with Israel? First of all, I do not believe that Cubans are inherently antisemitic or even anti Israel. But I don’t think it really matters anyway. Not any more than Venezuela’s relationship with Israel matters.  And who knows… that could change too. Cuba is not an Iran whose fanatic Muslim leader’s religious views require taking control of all of ‘Palestine’ by any means necessary.

Will Cuba become an American style democracy one day? Who knows. But I don’t think it is out of the question. And this is a good start along that road. America will certainly become a more dominant presence there as a result of this.