Shaking hands Dec. 10 for the first time since the 1959 Cuban Revolution at the Johannesburg funeral of Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro did the unthinkable, showed civility between the old Cold War rivals. Whether the 82-year-old brother of 87-year-old Fidel Castro knows it or not, the Cuban revolution threw the Eisenhower administration for a loop. With the international communist conspiracy running wild in the U.S., Castro’s communist revolution 90 miles from Key West sent Washington into seizures. Tossing out U.S.-friendly businesses and incarcerating law-abiding citizens, Castro made permanent enemies of the Cuban exile community that settled in Miami Beach. Just the thought of reconciling relations with Cuba makes them sick, showing the kind of sensitivities that have prevented the U.S. from normalizing relations with Cuba.
Just shaking Raul’s hand at Mandela’s memorial service infuriated many Cuban exiles and conservative on Capitol Hill. Mandela’s funeral raised some festering wounds about how Che Guevara and Cuba’s mercenaries helped undermine the White South African Afrikaner government in the early ‘60s before Mandela was incarcerated in 1964. Taking the reins from Fidel Feb. 24. 2008 due to failing health, Raul has hinted at reconciling with the U.S. only if accepting Cuba’s communist government. “We think we can resolve other maters of interest,” said Raul, without elaborating but suggesting the two countries could work toward normalization. White House officials played down the handshakes at Mandela’s funeral, dismissing the importance as diplomatic “pleasantries.” Despite all the objections to normalize relations with Cuba, American and foreign travel to Havana is better that ever.
What could be more hypocritical that American conservatives—opposed to normalizing relations—bypassing travel restrictions to vacation in Cuba to smoke cigars and drink mojitos? Whatever happened in the Cuban revolution and its relation to the now defunct Soviet Union in the Cold War, it’s not relevant today, with no further risk of the so-called Domino Theory or the Truman Doctrine promising to keep communism out of the Western hemisphere. Whatever glorious battles the now senile Fidel fought in the past, his brother Raul doesn’t hold the same grudges. He’s not averse “to hold conversation of topics of mutual interest,” like travel, trade, manufacturing, logistic services or anything else that would help both the U.S. and Cuban economies. President Barack Obama has hinted recently about ending the punishing trade embargo that has hurt the U.S. for the last 64 years more than Cuba.
If the U.S. has restored ties with Vietnam where some 55,000 Americans went to their graves, it can certainly reestablish relations with Cuba. When former President Richard Nixon and his ubiquitous Secretary of State Henry Kissinger normalized relations with China in 1972, the U.S. didn’t demand that China end its thought reform, gulags and violations of human rights. Both Nixon and Kissinger saw the limitless potential of Chinese manufacturing and markets to U.S. companies. While there’s only a fraction of that potential in Cuba, the U.S. insists on the trade embargo primarily because of expats forced into exile in South Florida. “We do not demand that the United States change its political and social system, nor do we accept negotiating ours,” said Raul, restating the obvious that restoring more trade and then diplomatic relations would follow the same lines as China and Russia.
No one could foresee back in 1972 the implications to the U.S. economy of opening up trade and diplomatic relations with Beijing. Whatever the fallout of cheap foreign manufacturing on U.S. jobs, it’s still been an undeniable plus for U.S. companies to have access to cheap foreign labor markets to keep the prices of consumer goods affordable. Whether one admits it or not, companies like Wall-Mart have maintained their market share and competitiveness through foreign manufacturing. With so many Americans craving Cuban cigars, the same old Cold War excuses no longer demand the current trade embargo. Revolutions happen all over the globe. What happened in Iran in 1979 didn’t stop American companies from doing business with Tehran, despite objections from expats. American and foreign companies continued to trade with Iran until nuclear shenanigans went viral.
Obama needs to stop worrying about political blowback from the expat Cuban community and take Raul’s offer to start serious dialogue over restoring trade and diplomatic relations. “If we really want to move forward in our bilateral relations, we have to learn to mutually respect our differences and become accustomed to peacefully living with them,” Raul said, winning applause from his parliament deputies. With so much in common with Cuba, including the love of baseball, there’s no longer any barrier to beginning the long overdue dialogue about resuming trade and eventual diplomatic relations. It’s not the U.S. government’s responsibility to return lost property and wealth to the expat community taking refuge in Miami’s Little Havana. Whatever the failure of U.S. foreign policy on Cuba, including the 1962 Bay of Pigs fiasco, it’s time to find common ground and mutually beneficial relations.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.