Dealing with Fidel: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come

Unfortunately, President Obama made the absolutely correct decision this week when he loosened travel rules for Cuba. I say unfortunately because the Castro brothers are complete scoundrels and their heavy-handed rule of Cuba’s 11 million citizens is totally pathetic. So any policy shift that might bring a smile to their faces is something that brings me no joy.

Just take a deep breath and read these quick observations about Fidel and Raul’s approach toward motivation and inspiration, lifted directly from the website of that radical right-wing group known as the U.S. State Department:

... controls every aspect of life ... commits serious abuses against its own people ... denies freedom of speech ... religion ... assembly ... ignores treaty obligations ...

incarcerates people for speaking contrary political beliefs ... infiltrates and manipulates human-rights community ... beats and abuses detainees and prisoners ... promotes harsh and life-threatening prison conditions ... denies medical care to prisoners ... harasses, beats, threatens political opponents using government-recruited mobs, police and official State Security officials ... denies fair trials ... monitors private communications ... discriminates against persons of African descent ...


Yes, you may now take a breath.

Further, the State Department estimates that Fidel and Raul are currently incarcerating 225 prisoners of conscience, with as many as 5,000 having served time in 2008 under the regime’s Orwellian “dangerousness” laws.

Under that little gem of Fidelic law, any citizen can be snatched up off the street and jailed for four years if police simply suspect “antisocial behavior.”

Just the kind of place you would expect the State Department and your favorite travel agent to steer you away from, right? So why give Obama high marks for the decision on family travel? Simple: What we have been doing for the past 50 years simply hasn’t worked, and it’s time to try something new.

Look, I would love it if we could get on our high horse, moralize on the merits of American-style democracy, set up airtight embargos against the bad guys and create situations where the oppressed people of the world had no other choice but to rise up and overthrow their nasty rulers.

But that is easier said than done, and in the case of Cuba it’s not happening for various reasons, not least of which is the fact that the United States seems to be the only kid playing embargo hide-and-seek.

It would be one thing if we adhered to an objective human-rights standard, to which we held every nation, Cuba included, accountable. But talking about human rights, the reality is we are literally and figuratively all over the map.

We can’t get enough of clinking champagne glasses with the Chinese, and they have barely acknowledged, let alone ever apologized for, rolling those tanks over those freedom-loving students back in 1989.

Fifteen of Saudi Arabia’s enlightened finest visited us back in September of 2001 and over 3,000 of our citizens paid the ultimate price in New York, Washington and a lonely field in Pennsylvania. But we can’t get enough of that Saudi oil, now, can we?

The photo archives are not large enough to hold all the hand-holding-cheek-kissing pictures of George W. Bush (and many other American presidents, for that matter) every time some Saudi VIP comes to visit.

All that to say, as long as we have this “sliding scale” approach toward the scoundrels of the world, we might as well let Cuba into the club, too.

Coincidentally or not, the Cuba announcement came just days after a congressional delegation (codel) returned from personal meetings with Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba. The codelers, primarily members of the Congressional Black Caucus, stood in the House Radio and Television Gallery last week to laud the treatment they received from the Castro brothers.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a former Black Panther who knows his way around the language of revolution, said the blockade against Cuba has simply not worked, and he gushed about the “dawning of a new day.” Saying the “50 years of foolishness is over,” Rush seemed particularly taken by Fidel’s “modest home,” “lovely wife” and “engaging” conversational skills. Calling Castro “the ultimate survivor,” Rush told reporters that he felt as if he had been meeting with “an old friend.”

According to the State Department, that “old friend” was responsible for the execution of at least 3,200 political opponents between the years 1959 and 1962.

Under the heading “all politics is local,” Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) said Fidel impressed her because “he knew my name and my district” and “looked directly into our eyes.” No word on whether she had a George W. Bush/Vladimir Putin moment and also got a good look into Fidel’s soul.

The announcement by President Obama, which also makes it easier for American companies to compete for cell phones and television hookups, was a sobering reminder that Fidel Castro has outlasted and outmaneuvered every single American president going all the way back to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Cuban-American politicians, like much of the country itself, are split on whether the “hard-line” or “constructive engagement” approach is the best way to effect positive change in Cuba. But, there is no clear sign that our longstanding policy has had an appreciable positive effect on the dissidents and freedom-lovers in Cuba. So it is time to try this new approach and see if we can “engage” the totalitarian Cuban system similar to the way we deal with China.

That said, there should be no mistake. This new policy toward Cuba should not be interpreted as a reward for good behavior or taken to mean that the Castro boys have done anything to earn it. This is not a lifetime achievement award to a despotic “old friend” who deserves warm-and-fuzzies because he has simply outlived every other Western politician of his time and doesn’t seem as scary as he used to.

This new policy should be seen merely as our new, pragmatic approach toward hastening the day when the average Cuban can walk the streets and experience what we too often take for granted in this country — the reality that the air he breathes is free and that he has certain inalienable rights that come not from the state but from God alone.