The Cuba Fallacy

Gross’s initial arrest in 2009 came amid a broader government crackdown on dissent, and recent events confirm that opposition leaders remain under siege. Earlier this month, a prominent Cuban dissident known as “Antúnez” testified before the U.S. Senate via video link, and then was promptly arrested and savagely attacked by Cuban security forces. According to the Miami Herald, Antúnez was “beaten and sprayed with pepper gas in a police jail cell,” before eventually being released.

How could the United States ever have warm relations with a government that would brazenly and brutally assault a democracy activist two days after he offered Senate testimony? For that matter, if the Castro regime really did want a better relationship with Washington, why would it engage in such nakedly hostile behavior?

Which brings us back to the much-maligned U.S. embargo. It is deeply unpopular throughout Latin America? Yes. Is it the largest barrier to a major thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations? No. The largest barrier is the Cuban regime itself, which refuses to implement the most basic political reforms or respect the most fundamental human rights. Indeed, for all the hoopla over Raúl Castro’s modest economic reforms -- which Cuban dissident economist Oscar Chepe has described as “too little, too limited and too late” -- his government is still among the most repressive on earth. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the island in March, a senior Cuban official told reporters, “We are updating our economic model, but we are not talking about political reform.”

Some embargo critics argue that American tourism and investment would topple the dictatorship or compel it to allow free elections. These critics don’t appreciate the nature of Cuban tyranny. If the Communist leadership doesn’t want political reform, there will be no political reform. Just ask all the European countries that have been sending tourists and investment to Cuba for many years. According to the European Union’s website, “The EU is Cuba’s largest trading partner, with a third of all trade, almost one half of foreign direct investment and more than half of all tourists coming from Europe.”

I cannot put it better than journalist Charles Lane did in a 1999 New Republic article:

There will be no meaningful thaw with Cuba, and certainly no democratic opening there, until a Cuban Gorbachev emerges. Meanwhile, perhaps we should make a standing offer to Fidel Castro: We’ll lift the embargo, provide massive aid to rebuild the island, and give back the U.S. base at Guantanamo if he’ll simply hold a free, multiparty, internationally monitored national election, just like the ones they have in every other Latin American country. Let him turn that offer down and then try to explain to his people, and the world, why he did.

Raúl Castro is not the Cuban Gorbachev. But when he (age 81) and Fidel (nearly 86) finally die, genuine political reformers may emerge and take power. Only then will a true U.S.-Cuban détente be possible.

This article is available in Spanish here.