While US citizens should be free to visit Cuba and exiles to send remittances, the “policy of engagement” — of normalizing relations with a brutal, totalitarian regime — will not “more effectively stand up for [US] values and help the Cuban people help themselves.”
That may well be the intention on the side of US federal officials, but their naiveté has been shown up by the actions and demands of the caudillo, General Raúl Castro. Likewise, the warnings of exiles and opposition leaders, who care so dearly about a free Cuba, are already proving correct, after the third round of talks ended abruptly and without progress this month.
Beyond the unwarranted legitimacy conferred by high-level talks, the basic problem is the regime’s stance on concessions. As José Azel has written with the PanAm Post, the Castros will never willingly give up their military dictatorship and parasitic throne atop a Soviet economy. This has been evident in both the demands presented to the United States and the heightened repression against dissidents on the island.
The blind spot of the dreamers is a simple assessment of the actions of Raúl, whose hypocrisy and shamelessness know no bounds. The normalization proponents have overlooked that on the same day as Obama was touting “the most significant changes in [US] policy in more than 50 years,” Raúl vowed that he would accept the gesture “without renouncing a single one of [the regime’s] principles.”
On the eve of the announcement, Cuban agents rammed and sunk a boat carrying 32 people fleeing the purported socialist paradise. In the week prior, agents arrested over 120 activists on International Human Rights Day, on the back of spiraling arrests throughout 2014. So much for liberalization and a softer touch from the younger Castro.
As was predicted, Cuba’s brazen officials are turning the normalization process around and want concessions from the United States, such as the end of the wet-foot-dry-foot policy (asylum and a path to citizenship for Cuban refugees who make it ashore). One of their unacceptable preconditions to normalization is compensation for the economic embargo — imposed in 1962 after the communists confiscated US assets in Cuba — to the tune of US$116 billion.
One supposes the regime’s concern for the economic options and well-being of Cubans is why they self-imposed import restrictions in late 2014, are negotiating against their path to escape, and continue to rob residents of all but approximately US$20 per month.
The initial goal of diplomatic normalization by April 2015 is set to fall by the wayside, and be another embarrassment for the US executive branch. But the stalemate is better than unilateral concessions to the never-ending wishes of the regime, and it may wake people up to the need for greater pressure if there is to be liberal democracy in Cuba.