Since Barack Obama’s election on November 4 there has been a flurry of columns written about how U.S. policy toward Cuba might change, should change, or must change. The latest such column trumpeting a new era in bilateral relations is attributed to Fidel Castro, the retired tyrant. It was published in Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, and dutifully excerpted by media outlets around the world. The truth is that nobody knows if these pieces are actually authored or dictated by Fidel since we only get to see still pictures of a gaunt Castro posed in controlled environments these days.
In any case, Fidel (or his ghostwriter) suggests that “talks could happen anywhere [Obama] wants.” I wonder where he might have gotten the idea that President-elect Obama would be willing to engage in such a meeting. Of course he got it from Obama himself when he told the audience of the CNN/YouTube debate that he would meet with Raul Castro, Cuba’s junior dictator, without preconditions. Charles Krauthammer rightly pointed out at the time that Obama’s answer was a mistake which he should have immediately withdrawn; instead, he somehow managed to build his entire foreign policy around the idea that evil people will stop being evil if only we are nice to them.
When the president of the United States meets with a foreign leader, it’s about more than just working out differences. Such a meeting bestows legitimacy on the foreign leader and his/her government, legitimacy that Obama seemed very cavalier about bestowing on Raul Castro, Kim Jong-il, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The stalemate with Cuba has nothing to do with “not talking,” as Obama simplistically characterized it. The debate is not about whether or not we should have open lines of communication with regimes that are adversarial in nature. In Cuba’s case we certainly do have those lines open. Cuba has an interests section in Washington, D.C., and the United States has one in Havana. The United States has negotiated agreements with regards to immigration, drug interdiction, and energy exploration boundaries. The real sticking point has to do with Cuba’s sovereignty, or rather the Castro brothers’ perverted vision of what sovereignty means. In their minds there is no distinction between that concept and their divine right to abuse, imprison, and kill Cuba’s citizens.
Their vision of sovereignty reminds me of a public service announcement that used to air on late-night television. The spot showed a man and woman in bed, both with uncomfortable looks on their faces because they could hear their neighbor, beating his wife, through the wall, but were afraid to intervene in a “private” matter. Obama can be the neighbor who passes the abuser in the hallway and pretends nothing happened while chatting about the ballgame or he can take the high road and denounce the Cuban dictatorship for the serial abuser that it is.
The latest example of the Castro regime exercising its prerogative to enforce Cuba’s “sovereignty” came last week when members of Cuba’s police deemed it necessary to intimidate Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez because she was planning a meeting with a handful of fellow bloggers. This 90-pound (soaking wet) threat to Cuba’s sovereignty needed to be nipped in the bud. Other threats to Cuban sovereignty include people like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who denounced Cuba’s abortion practices, and others who had the audacity to lend books to their neighbors from their meager independent libraries. It’s all a matter of sovereignty, you see.
Many self-proclaimed “Cubanologists” in the media who are advocating a change in this country’s Cuba policies like to point to the fact that the Castro regime has outlasted 10 U.S. administrations, as if that were something of a proud accomplishment. It’s not; it’s actually a black eye on themselves and the international community that has refused to join the United States in loudly and forcefully condemning Cuba’s atrocious human rights record. To put 50 years of Castros into perspective, imagine the best president you’ve ever lived under. Do you think you might get tired of him after 10 or 20 years? How about 30 or 40? Now imagine the worst president and imagine him holding the reins of power for more than 45 years. Now consider that Fidel Castro makes George Bush look like George Washington.
No, you won’t be reading many columns in the mainstream media espousing the unpopular view that it’s the totalitarian dictatorship 90 miles to our south that should change, must change, before the United States modifies its stance. But then again, by now we should expect no less from them than contempt for our country and total awe and respect for its enemies.