The US steers steady course re­gard­ing Cuba, which may help deal with Iran


At the end of May, the United States for­mally re­moved Cuba from the list of states spon­sori ng t er­ror­ism. This will greatly fa­cil­i­tate in­ter­change be­tween the two coun­tries. In par­tic­u­lar, sig­nif­i­cant bank­ing re­stric­tions will be lifted.

Es­pe­cially in the years since the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, the U.S. Trea­sury and other agen­cies have ag­gres­sively used fi­nance to track and crip­ple ter­ror­ist groups and their spon­sors. There is now a cur­rent re­minder that money can be a use­ful car­rot as well as stick.

Slowly but also surely, the ruth­less dic­ta­tor­ship which con­trols Cuba has been forced to face the re­al­ity of eco­nomic fail­ure of com­mu­nism. Fidel Cas­tro be­gan tran­si­tion of power to younger brother Raul Cas­tro in 2006. Four years later, Fidel sud­denly reemerged in the me­dia spot­light and pro­ceeded dramatically to lament the sham­bles of the econ­omy.

At the same time, the Cuban gov­ern­ment an­nounced lay­offs of 500,000 work­ers, com­bined with a lib­er­al­iza­tion de­signed to en­cour­age small busi­ness and for­eign pur­chases of real es­tate. This was no small move for Cuba’s com­mit­ted com­mu­nist lead­ers.

In 2009, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama loos­ened very tight re­stric­tions on travel and fi­nan­cial remit­tances. Ad­di­tion­ally, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies were al­lowed to pur­sue li­cens­ing agree­ments. Other changes have fol­lowed.

There has been in­creased busi­ness in­ter­est but no rush to Cuba. The Soviet Union, vi­tal sub­sidy source, col­lapsed over two decades ago. Venezuela has pro­vided limited aid.

Enemies as well as ad­mir­ers agree Fidel Cas­tro demon­strated re­mark­able lead­er­ship be­fore age and ill­ness led him to re­tire. Af­ter tak­ing power in early 1959, En­forcer Raul han­dled bloody mass ex­e­cu­tions with ef­fi­cient dis­patch.

Fidel high­lighted new al­liance with the Soviet Union by join­ing Nikita Khrushchev in a rau­cous 1960 visit to the United Na­tions in New York. The Soviet pre­mier was wildly dis­rup­tive at U. N. ses­sions, while the Cuban del­e­ga­tion pro­vided a me­dia sideshow, based at a Har­lem ho­tel.

The Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan a clan­des­tine ef­fort to over­throw the in­creas­ingly rad­i­cal regime. The suc­ces­sor Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion vastly es­ca­lated the cam­paign af­ter the dis­as­trous failed Bay of Pigs in­va­sion, in­clud­ing re­cruit­ing vi­o­lent mer­ce­nar­ies along with ex­treme anti-Cas­tro zealots.

When Fidel stepped down, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice in a for­mal public state­ment en­dorsed the de­sir­abil­ity of “peace­ful, demo­cratic change” in that na­tion and sug­gested that the “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity” work di­rectly with the Cuban peo­ple.

The U.S. should en­cour­age an ex­pand­ing United Na­tions role in deal­ing with Cuba. Bring­ing the U.N., with a ca­reer bu­reau­cracy gen­er­ally com­mit­ted to pol­i­tics of the left, to­gether with the prob­lems of poverty and stag­na­tion in this sur­viv­ing “work­ers’ par­adise” could be a pro­duc­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for both sides.

We should em­pha­size cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional and fam­ily ex­changes with the is­land, along with trade and in­vest­ment. U.S. Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower used such pro­grams to great ben­e­fit dur­ing the height of the Cold War.

Above all, we should re­ject ef­forts di­rectly to un­der­cut the Cuban regime. Pre­vi­ous ag­gres­sive in­ter­ven­tions were highly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, and for many years have pro­vided the Cas­tro broth­ers with the ben­e­fit of blam­ing all prob­lems on the Yan­kee su­per­power to the north.

In the past, Cas­tro’s Cuba has been ex­tremely im­por­tant in U.S. pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, and could be again. John Kennedy fanned the flames against Cuba in the 1960 con­test with Richard Nixon. Cur­rent pres­i­den­tial con­tender Sen. Marco Ru­bio is ag­gres­sively de­nounc­ing the rap­proche­ment with Cuba.

Strate­gi­cally, im­prov­ing Cuba re­la­tions may ben­e­fit our deal­ings with Iran and North Korea. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege in Wis­con­sin and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War” (NYU Press and Pal­grave/ Macmil­lan). He can be reached at

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