President Bush rather effortlessly oscillates between stringent ideology and blatant hypocrisy. With news breaking on the official transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul, President Bush’s speech on Wednesday regarding American policy toward Cuba was, as expected, no different. Heavy on the rhetoric, President Bush boldly asked, “When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty, the liberty they deserve, you’ve got to make a choice: Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people, or will you embrace your people’s desire for change?”
None of the president’s thoughts are bad, per se. The problem, however, remains that the president’s words are little more than ostentatious dressing for an old, and obviously failed policy. The American economic embargo on Cuba has lasted since Feb. 7, 1962 and its main objective – namely to catalyze a Cuban revolution – has been quite clearly less than successful. As a result, the Cuban populace has been deprived of United States’ goods. Subsequently, Cubans have been forced to live under the dictatorial regime of a thug. Moreover, they have remained trapped in a legacy of poverty not only thrust upon them by Castro’s Communist government, but also made possible by the United States’ bull-headed embargo.
In Bush’s speech, the president offered to take steps to open up trade with Cuba. However, the Castro regime needs to promise democratic reforms, including the release of political prisoners and a democratic metamorphosis – including transparency as well as free and fair elections. Of course, taking diplomatic steps to promote liberty and human rights are not positions that should be mocked or casually dismissed.
The unspoken truth of the matter is the Bush administration will make no real effort to open up trade with Cuba in exchange for reforms. Rather, the speech, which offers minor incentives to invoke a government to enact major changes, was never meant to be accepted by the Castro regime. Instead it was meant as a not-so-subtle gesture to the quite conservative Cuban lobby in Florida. The unrelenting hatred of this group towards Castro continues to drive the status quo in U.S.-Cuban relations. This demonstrates the Bush administration’s willingness to continue the embargo and maintain hostility with the Castro state.
The fact that the embargo is still in place, despite the United States’ long-ago opening up of trade with other human-rights abusing Communist regimes like China, stands as a testament to the prodigious political power of the Cuban exile lobby. As a result we see few politicians from either political party willing to stand up against the lobby and speak the words that nearly all of us know are true: Opening up trade with Cuba will benefit both the Cuban and American peoples.
Although, from the darkness comes at least the occasional glimmer of hope. Connecticut senator and long-shot presidential candidate Christopher Dodd pushed back at Bush and proclaimed the right to travel to Cuba should be returned. Dodd declared, “The president continues to allow his fixation with the Castro brothers to stand in the way of a sensible policy with respect to Cuba.” Dodd has previously proposed ending all restrictions on Cuban travel as well as opening up some levels of trade. He correctly points out that isolating Cuba does little more than reinforce the Castro regime’s vehemently anti-American propaganda. Although not going quite as far as Dodd, another presidential candidate, Illinois’ Senator Barack Obama, has also proposed ending the restrictions on Cuban travel and has stated that he would be willing to negotiate with Castro.
That’s a pretty big deal and a substantial break from past candidates’ policies. Not to mention a pretty big political gambit, considering the electoral power of swing-state Florida’ s exiled Cubans. It’s also a sign of real leadership rather than a calculated pander. It would be nice if more candidates, politicians and policymakers would take such risks and, at least occasionally, say the right thing.