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Our Absurd and Useless Cuba Policy

Persisting in a failed policy may satisfy a shrinking number of anti-Castro hard-liners, but it does absolutely nothing for Cubans or the vast majority of Americans.

Jose Cardenas dismisses calls for a change in Cuba policy:

No, nothing significant has happened on the island that justifies the Times’ campaign — no major reform or development that would cause Washington to rethink its policy. Nor do the editorials really add anything new to the debate; they are essentially a pastiche of well-worn arguments and clichés that if only the United States unilaterally changed its behavior then maybe, just maybe, the Castro regime will change its behavior.

It’s true that arguments for ending the failed, useless embargo on Cuba are nothing new. Most Americans have come to realize over the almost two and a half decades since the end of the Cold War that the embargo serves no purpose, and so the arguments for lifting it have indeed become very well-worn. A large majority of Americans opposes the embargo. For that matter, most Cuban-Americans in Florida oppose it as well. That isn’t happening because there has been any change in Cuba, but because most Americans can eventually recognize a worthless policy when they see one.

The problem that defenders of current Cuba policy have is that their position makes less sense with every passing year. They have inertia on their side, but not much else. No, there have been no significant political changes in Cuba in the last few years, and there aren’t likely to be any for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t justify the continuation of a failed U.S. policy, but rather points to how unnecessary and ineffective it has been all along. Persisting in a failed policy may satisfy a shrinking number of anti-Castro hard-liners, but it does absolutely nothing for Cubans or the vast majority of Americans. In the meantime, it creates unnecessary barriers between our two countries, it needlessly antagonizes the rest of Latin America, whose governments consistently fault the U.S. for its outdated treatment of Cuba, and it gives the regime something to use as a distraction from its own behavior and failures. Lifting the embargo and resuming normal relations with Cuba won’t change Cuban politics significantly or quickly, but they will put an end to a policy that ceased to make sense over twenty years ago. The U.S. has tried changing Cuba through futile coercive tactics for half a century. Trying something else is long overdue.

By comparison with other cases of rapprochement with old enemies, the U.S. has been extraordinarily stubborn in its unwillingness to bury the hatchet with Cuba. One can speculate as to why that is, but the reality is that the U.S. made amends far more quickly with communist regimes responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans than it has with a regime that has for the most part been a minor nuisance for the last fifty years. Normalization of relations with Vietnam came just twenty years after the fall of Saigon. Nixon’s opening to China came less than twenty years after the Armistice in Korea, and it has now been thirty-five years since the U.S. recognized the communists in Beijing as the government of China. No one can pretend that these decisions were prompted by changes in the political systems of these countries. Far from it. Nonetheless, today I doubt there are very many that would say that the U.S. was wrong to normalize relations with these governments, and no one would seriously suggest going back to the earlier arrangements before normalization. It is absurd that it has taken so much longer for our Cuba policy to change, and it will be an embarrassment if the status quo is allowed to continue for another decade or more.

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