Trump should sup­port U.S. deal with Cuba

Colum­nist Eu­gene Robin­son says re­vert­ing to Cold War poli­cies would give new life to a fail­ing dic­ta­tor­ship.

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist Eu­gene Robin­son is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

At long last, Fidel Cas­tro is dead. Now the op­pres­sive sys­tem he in­stalled in Cuba can wither and die, too — un­less Don­ald Trump re­verts to Cold War poli­cies and gives Cuba’s fail­ing dic­ta­tor­ship new life.

It is tempt­ing to see Cas­tro’s death as lit­tle more than a for­mal­ity. Af­ter all, his brother Raul has been run­ning the coun­try for a decade, ever since ill health forced Fidel to step aside and kept him from re­as­sum­ing com­mand. But the very fact that Fidel still drew breath served as a lim­it­ing fac­tor in the pro­gram of eco­nomic re­form Raul has been try­ing to en­act.

Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, Raul Cas­tro gave a speech in April in which he joked that “we have two par­ties here, just like in the United States — Fidel’s and mine.” Fidel’s is the Com­mu­nist one, he added, “and you can call mine what­ever you want.”

There is con­sid­er­able truth in those words. Raul has been try­ing to move his coun­try to­ward the Chi­nese model of au­thor­i­tar­ian one-party rule com­bined with some de­gree of free-mar­ket eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Fidel, a true be­liever in the bru­tal com­mu­nist ex­per­i­ment, has con­sis­tently tried to slow, de­rail or re­verse any mean­ing­ful eco­nomic change.

Fidel was re­port­edly ap­palled at the way Mao Ze­dong’s China was trans­formed by Deng Xiaop­ing’s re­forms. He saw the so­ci­ety di­vid­ing into haves and have-nots. Worse, in his mind, he saw the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party po­ten­tially sow­ing the seeds of its own demise by al­low­ing the accumulation of pri­vate wealth and the de­vel­op­ment of civil so­ci­ety. He was determined that the Com­mu­nist Party of Cuba would not make the same mis­take.

But the Cuban lead­er­ship no longer had a choice. Fidel barely man­aged to sur­vive the col­lapse of the Soviet em­pire and the loss of huge sub­si­dies from the USSR and Eastern Europe. Cubans were hun­gry in the mid1990s, and there were vi­o­lent anti-gov­ern­ment ri­ots, but El Co­man­dante loos­ened stric­tures on pri­vate agri­cul­ture and en­ter­prise — and then tight­ened them again as the cri­sis abated.

The Cas­tro regime got another life­line from the late Venezue­lan strong­man, Hugo Chavez, whom Fidel cul­ti­vated as a pro­tege. Chavez gave his men­tor bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of oil, so much that the Cubans were able to sat­isfy their own needs and sell the sur­plus on the world mar­ket for pre­cious hard cur­rency. But Chavez died, Venezuela’s econ­omy melted down and the Cas­tro regime found it­self fresh out of sav­iors.

That ex­plains Raul’s will­ing­ness to work with Pres­i­dent Obama to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions. Those who com­plained that the United States didn’t “get more” in the deal fail to un­der­stand the re­al­ity of to­day’s Cuba. From their point of view, Cuba’s lead­ers were sur­ren­der­ing one of their pri­mary in­stru­ments of power and con­trol: the “threat” from Cuba’s hos­tile neigh­bor to the north.

For half a cen­tury, the Cas­tros cited the U.S.-im­posed trade em­bargo, the travel ban for U.S. cit­i­zens and other such mea­sures as “proof” that the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion was un­der sus­tained at­tack by the United States. From my ex­pe­ri­ence — I’ve made 10 trips to Cuba and writ­ten a book about the place — most Cubans are not gullible; they see their gov­ern­ment for what it is. But they are na­tion­al­is­tic. Even most of the brave dis­si­dents who stood up to the Cas­tro regime ar­gued that hard-line U.S. pol­icy was coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, do­ing more to shore up the sys­tem than weaken it.

Raul Cas­tro knows he needs the eco­nomic boost that an open­ing to the United States will pro­duce. But the price he is pay­ing — al­low­ing more freemar­ket eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, per­mit­ting freer ac­cess to the In­ter­net, let­ting more Cubans have smart phones — will make any re­turn to a “purer” form of com­mu­nism im­pos­si­ble.

That’s where things stand now, and Fidel’s death should has­ten change on the is­land. Un­less a cer­tain pres­i­den­t­elect does some­thing trag­i­cally dumb.

“If Cuba is un­will­ing to make a bet­ter deal for the Cuban peo­ple, the Cuban/Amer­i­can peo­ple and the U.S. as a whole,” Trump tweeted Mon­day, “I will ter­mi­nate deal.”

I’m bet­ting that no one, in­clud­ing Trump, knows ex­actly what that means in con­crete pol­icy terms. But we do know that now, for the first time since the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion, we have the chance to flood Cuba with Amer­i­can ideas and val­ues. That is how we pro­mote free­dom.

If Trump goes back to a pos­ture of im­pla­ca­ble U.S. hos­til­ity, he will dis­ap­point and dis­cour­age mil­lions of Cubans while strength­en­ing the hand of only one: Raul Cas­tro, who will be all too happy to play David to Trump’s Go­liath.

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