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President Obama’s Irrational Cuba Policy

By: José Azel - Jun 20, 2016, 2:16 pm
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President Obama with Cuban leader Raúl Castro (Youtube)

The argument has been repeated ad nauseam: The 55-year-old policy of sanctioning Cuba failed to change the nature of the Cuban regime and thus a new approach was needed. In his December 17, 2014 speech announcing the new Cuba policy, President Obama reiterated variations of the “policy failure” theme eight times.

Supporters of the President’s engagement approach repeat the failure argument at every opportunity. In philosophy and logic this is called an “argument from repetition” that seeks to establish proof by repeated assertions.

The core statement is, of course, empirically true that economic sanctions have failed to change the nature of Cuba’s totalitarian regime. But then the “failure” argument turns “eristic” or anti-logic; it aims to dispute another argument rather than seeking truth.

Plato used the term eristic to mean seeking victory in argument, without concern for the truth, and Schopenhauer asserted that eristic arguments possess no objective truth, only the appearance of truth. To argue eristically is to argue for rhetorical victory without being concerned with the truth. In philosophy, anti-logic or eristic argumentation is used to silence an opponent by making his position seem contradictory.

If truth in the Cuba policy debate is to be found, it must be free from the anti-logical argumentation of “old policy failure” that the President and his supporters repeatedly invoke.

Yes, as the President claims, economic sanctions have failed to change the nature of the Cuban polity and Cuba’s totalitarian regime is still in place. By the President’s logic, an effective policy would have to be one that succeeds in dismantling Cuba’s totalitarianism. In the President’s formulation, the yardstick for a successful policy is whether the Castro regime survives it or not.

It follows then, that he expects his new Cuba policy to work. That is, diplomatic engagement, ending economic sanctions and making concessions are all designed to bring down the Castro regime. This logic is implicit in the statements regarding the failure of the old policy and the expected success of the new one.

In the realm of logic, the President cannot avoid claiming that his new policy aims to change the nature of the Cuban regime, given that he has discarded the old policy on the basis that it failed to do just that. If the goal is not to change the totalitarian nature of the regime, then it is necessarily a policy that favors the Cuban regime in some dimension.

Also, unless the President and his supporters believe that this stratagem has escaped the attention of the Castro regime, we can assume that General Castro recognizes the new policy as one that aspires to end his regime.

This begs a question that exposes the fallacy of the President’s logic: Why would the Castro regime go along with a new policy designed to bring about its demise?

The Castro clan is not suicidal. They will only go along with changes that they can manage to their benefit and no more. Marketplace reforms will be firmly restricted so as to not lose control. This is the unequivocal message of the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in April 2016, in which the Cuban leadership virulently denounced the Obama approach.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was explicit:

“President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba was at least in part “a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.”

Additionally, General Raul Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy,” claiming, “Only US methods have changed, not its goals…”

And, to certify that nothing in Cuba’s polity has changed or will change, Fidel Castro made a Greek tragedy-like Deus ex Machina appearance in the last day of the Congress endorsing his brother’s governance.

The anti-logic misfortune of the misguided new U.S.-Cuba policy is not just that it will not succeed in bringing about an end to the dictatorial regime. The tragedy is that by siding with oppression and not with liberty, the policy has disarticulated the hopes of freedom for a new generation of Cubans.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.