For my entire life, and the majority of my parent's and grandparent's lives we have not had diplomatic relations with Cuba. Last night, the President has made moves to finally end this ridiculous policy. It's the beginning of the end of the disastrous 54 year Cuban Embargo, and I for one am overjoyed. Here is my initial reaction:
1. This Is Long Overdue
Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". This is exactly what the United States has been doing with Cuba for over 50 years. At first it may have been reasonable to assume that an embargo of Cuba would force regime change, but decade after decade passed and still the Castro's were in power. Clearly this did not work, and ending it is just an acknowledgment of this reality. Furthermore as time went on and we re-established diplomatic relations with communist countries like China, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union collapsed - it made less and less rational sense to not having diplomatic relations with Cuba. This long running insanity is finally coming to an end.
2. Obama Has Guts
Like many Americans I had huge hopes when Obama was running for president. I really thought he would transform the nation and solve many seemingly intractable problems that we were facing. While all of my lofty expectations have not been met, it's days like today that I remember why I was so excited back in 2008. Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush have all presided over the embargo and did nothing to end it. But finally Barack Obama has taken dramatic steps to end it. Yes we can!
3. A Victory For American Freedom
The most perplexing thing about the Cuba embargo has been the restrictions of American's freedom to travel and do business with Cuba. Congressmen Jason Chaffetz summed up the situation perfectly, "I gotta tell you, as an American, I should be able to travel anywhere I want to in the world”. I've been really interested in going to Cuba for so long, but haven't because it's against the law. While Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba a bit in 2011, there is apparently going to be even more relaxing of travel restrictions to come with this latest change. I can't wait until our government finally let's us freely travel the world as we please, thank you very much.
4. A Victory For Cuban Prosperity
Cuba is pretty poor. There are a lot of reasons for this - with the main contributor most likely being the communist economic system. But it certainly can't help that the world's largest economy doesn't do business with them, or that nearly all of the 300+ million Americans are prevented from going on a vacation there. There is a lot Cuba needs to do to become wealthier, but this will certainly be an economic shot in the arm for them. While I'm not naive enough to believe that will all trickle down to the poorest of the poor, I still have to believe that free trade and the free movement of people will eventually lead to more prosperity - as has been played out all over the world for quite a long time now.
5. Congress Won't End The Embargo Anytime Soon
While it's great that we will have an ambassador and embassy in Cuba, the actual embargo will still be in place. This is because of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that codified our Cuba embargo into law. Therefore, it must be Congress who writes a new law to undo this. It's hard enough to get congress to do easy things, but politically difficult things like this are just not in the cards for the foreseeable future. Speaker John Boehner said he won't even bring it up for a vote until the Cuban people are 'free'. This is a shame, and the fight must continue until we get a new congress that has more wisdom and guts.
6. Imposing Democracy Is Misguided
We've seen over and over again that you can't just force a country to become a democracy. Recently we've tried this in Afghanistan and Iraq - spending over a trillion dollars and sacrificing thousands of our soldiers lives with little results. This isn't to say we shouldn't encourage democracy, or that democracy is undesirable, or only for some and not others. It's just that it's really hard to impose from the outside. Furthermore, democracy can also lead to electing regimes we don't like such as Hamas and leaders we don't see eye to eye with such as Vladimir Putin.
While I personally love living in a democracy, it's not the only way to achieve economic prosperity, and not everyone living in autocratic countries is crying out for political freedom. China has been able to transform their country from poor to middle income in just a generation, even though they are officially communist. When I went there earlier this year, I also observed how little people cared about politics. Instead of feeling trapped in a communist hell and yearning for democracy, people seemed indifferent to politics and yearned for the latest iPhone. Instead of them being brainwashed into supporting a corrupt communist regime, it has been us that have been brainwashed into thinking they even care in the first place. To many people, they think all politics is a big game played by the elites far away, and just want their family to be safe and well off.
We need to be more humble about the fact that we don't really know what is in the hearts and minds of people in other countries like China, or Cuba. It would be very wise of us to actually assess situations from a realist perspective, instead of a delusional perspective. Hopefully it will prevent us from the fantasy idea that we can just force communist leaders like the Castro brothers to unilaterally surrender, and usher in a new era of democracy. There are many ways to achieve our goals, but after 50 years I'm glad imposing democracy on Cuba as our only method of achieving them is finally ending.