America's Conflicted Cuba Policy
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD JULY 23, 2016
One year after the United States and Cuba formally re-established
diplomatic relations, the two governments have made considerable, if
halting, progress toward rebuilding what has been the most poisonous
relationship in the hemisphere.
Washington and Havana have agreed to cooperate on health care
challenges, maritime issues, agriculture, climate change and
environmental initiatives. Commercial flights between the two countries
are expected to start this fall. American telecommunications and hotel
companies have signed a handful of deals to do business in Cuba, marking
the first commercial forays into a market that has been off limits for
The longstanding trade embargo, however, remains firmly in place, and
efforts in Congress to begin dismantling it have made little headway.
While the White House promotes engagement as the most promising approach
to enable positive change, a stubborn coalition of lawmakers insists
that the United States remains morally obligated to keep sanctions in
place until — in the words of the Republican Party platform — the
island's "corrupt rulers are forced from power and brought to account
for their crimes against humanity." The result is a conflicted, indeed
incoherent, policy that prevents the two countries from making the most
of their shared agenda.
Some positive things have happened on the Cuban side since December
2014, when Washington and Havana announced their intention to normalize
relations. Cubans have grown bolder in pressing for reforms to Cuba's
centrally planned economy, as well as for broader access to the
internet. The government has taken modest steps on both fronts,
establishing dozens of Wi-Fi areas where ordinary Cubans can connect
online and signaling its willingness to create a regulatory framework
for small and midsize private enterprises.
Dissident groups, meanwhile, report that their ranks have grown
steadily, as more Cubans are sold on their vision of representative
democracy with strong safeguards for civil liberties. Opposition groups
are preparing to field candidates next year for the lowest rung of
Cuba's election system — the only one the Communist Party does not fully
control — hoping to transform the system gradually from the bottom up.
Economic changes are moving very slowly, but this could change if the
embargo were lifted. Popular pressure for more sweeping reforms would
grow, and the government would find it harder to justify its crackdowns
on dissidents by claiming they are agents of a foreign conspiracy.
Cuba's worsening economy, brought about in part by political and
economic turmoil in Venezuela, long Cuba's benefactor, could also be a
catalyst for reform. Earlier this month, President Raúl Castro warned in
strikingly blunt terms that Cubans should brace for a period of austerity.
Some congressional proponents of continuing the embargo might see Cuba's
difficulties as an opportunity to squeeze the octogenarian Castro
brothers during their last years in power. That would be a mistake.
Cuba's shoddy infrastructure would continue to deteriorate, foreign
investors would recoil, already marginal communities would become even
poorer and the exodus of desperate Cubans to the United States would
accelerate. It seems highly unlikely that this scenario would usher in
an era of greater freedoms. But it certainly would sow misery.
Source: America's Conflicted Cuba Policy - The New York Times -