Our Cuba policy has descended into stupidity, or worse. Yesterday’s events made that clear.
President Obama used negotiations for the release of Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who was taken as a hostage by the Castro regime in 2009, as a pretext for moving toward full normalization of relations with the hemisphere’s worst human rights abuser and greatest state sponsor of terrorism (if you take Venezuela out of the equation, which you should because Cuban military and intelligence operatives largely run Venezuela). Obama gave up three convicted Cuban spies in return for Gross, who was giving Cubans telecommunications equipment so they could go on the internet, and a nameless operative that he said was crucial in scoring several key intelligence victories over the Cubans in the past. It turns out that even Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, hardly an anti-Obama partisan, disputed the characterization of the latter individual, calling him a minor player.
And of course, Obama moved ahead with liberalizing trade restrictions with Cuba and will now open an embassy in Havana – and allow the Cubans to do the same in Washington.
In this, the president has found some allies on the conservative side. Trade liberalization with Cuba is being hailed as a panacea for bringing political freedom to the captive people there.
But that is wishful thinking, and dangerous wishful thinking at that.
There can be no free trade with Cuba, because the Cuban people are not allowed to trade. The Cuban people are only allowed to conduct business using the Cuban peso, the worth of which is pegged at 25 to the dollar. But there is no worldwide market for Cuban pesos; they’re worthless. To trade in dollars Cubans have to operate on the black market, which is ultimately going to result in going to prison.
Americans can bring dollars to Cuba and trade, of course, but to do so means going to the Cuban government and spending them. This can be done either of two ways – transacting business in dollars at hotels, shops and restaurants run by the Cuban government, and thus enriching the Cuban government, or by exchanging those dollars for Cuban pesos at the official rate and volunteering to be screwed by getting worthless paper in return for something of value. Either way, it’s the Cuban government which wins.
Either way, you’re propping up the Castros and contributing to increase their hold on the Cuban people.
Understand that Cuba has been propped up by Venezuela, a country the Cuban military and intelligence apparatus largely controls, and Russia. Both are petro-tyrannies in which the governing oligarchies use their control of the nation’s oil production and sale to control their people and finance adventures in geopolitics. And both are in free fall now that American oil production has made oil widely available on world markets.
Meaning that the Castros are about out of options. They have no source of hard currency to continue propping up their mafia regime. All that’s required is to wait until the collapse comes, and perhaps give it a push, and at long last the old guard will finally melt away.
Or, if as Obama said in his speech yesterday he didn’t have the stomach for Cuban collapse then America can ride to the rescue – but only after forcing deep concessions by the Cubans. Things like free local elections, or a free currency, or real economic liberalization – meaning you can start a business in Cuba without being a member of the communist party or having some other government connection, or allowing Cubans to trade in dollars outside of the black market.
We had the leverage to demand that of a desperate regime. Are we demanding it? Of course not. So now American tourist dollars and money remitted back home from the Cuban community in Miami and elsewhere will go to prop up the Castro regime and sustain it the way the Russians and Venezuelans have, and the Castros will once again have the resources to export communist revolution to elsewhere in Latin America. Maybe to Jamaica or the Bahamas, who will now face competition from Cuba both for American tourist dollars and for exports of things like sugar and rum.
And we’re also told this will help American agriculture, since now that the Cubans can’t feed themselves – a hallmark of a communist regime going back to the days of the early Soviet Union – they currently depend on us for about $350 million a year worth of rice, soybeans, chicken and other commodities already and will buy lots more. While that is certainly true, who’s going to be buying those agricultural commodities and then distributing them to the Cuban people? The Castros, that’s who. So once again, you’re propping up the regime. And here’s a bit more – who’s going to finance the transaction? The Cuban regime is short of hard currency. Who’s going to provide the loans to get those American foodstuffs onto the island? If you said the Export-Import Bank or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you’ve got that right. This great agricultural export bonanza just around the corner will come courtesy of the American taxpayer – particularly when the Castros default on the loans, which they will do. Perhaps if the Cubans put up land as collateral for the loan – either a chunk of the island we could use as a another military base or build a Spanish-language Hong Kong on, or perhaps the property the Castro regime stole from American corporations and citizens half a century ago after taking power – it might be worth our while to make those loans as a means of exerting leverage over the Cubans.
Naturally, of course, we’re not going to make any of those demands. That would require a president who actually gave a damn about American national interests. That kind of negotiation is what Obama’s adult predecessors have been attempting with Cuba for decades through back channels and got precisely nowhere with but might actually now produce results thanks to the desperation of the regime.
When Marco Rubio called Obama the worst presidential negotiator in his lifetime, he was giving Obama too much credit. To lay that title on the president would be to assume he’s actually on our side.
Oh, but the embargo has been a failure, you say. The definition of insanity, etc.
Has it been? Other than Venezuela, name a country in Latin America which has instituted a totalitarian socialist regime since the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuban-supported revolutionaries have gotten nowhere in Colombia for decades, despite getting safe haven, training and equipment from Venezuela. A Cuban-supported coup attempt in Honduras went down in flames even though Hillary Clinton’s State Department was actually on the wrong side of the question.
The answer is that the embargo had a hand in preventing the Castros from spreading their poison around Latin America, which was a major geopolitical and national-security concern during the Cold War. We might think the Cold War is over; the Castros don’t.
Would we have liked to see the embargo produce a regime change in Cuba? Of course. Is it unfortunate that it hasn’t? No question. Is it a failure? Not by a long shot. Just because you don’t cover the spread doesn’t mean you don’t win the game.
But that’s an argument best had among people with a good faith belief in regime change in Cuba. To listen to Obama’s lecture yesterday about normalizing relations with the Castros, you quickly realize that isn’t his goal at all. He wanted to sustain that regime and right some moral wrong he thinks our stern treatment of Cuba has created, and he wasn’t shy about saying so. Especially now that he’s no longer bound by any election results – a factor which will be of increasing importance as Obama’s time as a lame-duck president diminishes.
He’s not on our side, he doesn’t care about our national interests and he’s done real damage with his Cuban policy. The Cuban people were harmed by yesterday’s announcement, not saved.