Change toward Cuba: A timely opening - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Change toward Cuba: A timely opening

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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 2:22 pm | Updated: 1:40 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

 Arthur Cyr: Honoring a campaign commitment, President Barack Obama has very slightly loosened very tight restrictions on interchange with Cuba. Cuban-Americans may now travel and send financial remittances to the island nation. Obama’s very cautious policy shift therefore is very timely, and may be the first of much more comprehensive changes, depending on Havana’s response.

Honoring a campaign commitment, President Barack Obama has very slightly loosened very tight restrictions on interchange with Cuba. Cuban-Americans may now travel and send financial remittances to the island nation. Additionally, in what may prove a more important shift in strategic terms, telecommunications companies will now be allowed to pursue licensing agreements in Cuba.

U.S. eases Cuban travel, money restraints

The policy liberalization comes in advance of a visit by Obama to Trinidad and Tobago to meet with Latin American leaders, who traditionally have favored a more liberal U.S. approach to Fidel Castro and Cuba. In recent years, the evolution of the Americas toward democratic governments has been striking. As a result, Cuba is more isolated than ever. The Soviet Union, the main source of subsidy, collapsed nearly two decades ago. Venezuela provides much more limited aid.

Obama’s very cautious policy shift therefore is very timely, and may be the first of much more comprehensive changes, depending on Havana’s response. The country is now led by Raul Castro, by all accounts firmly in charge but lacking the popular appeal of his brother Fidel.

Enemies as well as admirers agree Fidel Castro possessed a unique leadership style before age and illness led him to retire from the presidency. His singular charisma has permitted the regime’s half-century in power.

After Havana was captured and despised dictator Fulgencio Batista fled in early 1959, Raul Castro handled bloody mass executions with efficient dispatch, and since then has provided effective leadership of the military and a pervasive domestic security operation. Nonetheless, he does not equal his brother in popular appeal.

Soon after taking power, the brothers Castro ended hopes for representative democracy and nationalized major industries, including U.S. corporate assets. Fidel Castro highlighted alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a remarkably raucous 1960 visit to the United Nations in New York, punctuated by the Soviet leader publicly pounding his shoe on a desk.

The Eisenhower administration began a clandestine effort to overthrow the increasingly radical regime. The successor Kennedy administration very drastically escalated such efforts, labeled “Operation Mongoose,” after the disastrous failed Bay of Pigs invasion in the spring of 1961.

When Fidel stepped down just over a year ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a formal public statement endorsed the desirability of “peaceful, democratic change” in Cuba and also suggested that the “international community” work with the people of Cuba.

The U.S. should encourage a United Nations role in dealing with Cuba. Bringing the U.N., which has suffered problems of corruption as well as inefficiency, together with the problems of poverty and corruption in this surviving workers’ “paradise” could be a healthy experience for both sides.

As part of the effort, we should work to expand cultural as well as personal family exchanges with the island. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated such programs with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, to great benefit. The highly punitive Helms-Burton Act, passed during the Clinton administration as an effort to court the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban population of Florida, nevertheless does not prohibit these exchanges.

Above all, Uncle Sam should keep a healthy distance from any efforts directly to undercut the Cuban regime. Intervening in Cuba in the past too often has meant big trouble, and for many years has provided the Castro brothers with the benefit of fanning hostility to the Yankee power to the north.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. E-mail him at acyr@carthage.edu.

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