Amended following the Watcher of Weasels forum answers regarding the issue.
Dedicated to Yoani Sánchez, one of my sources of hope and inspiration.
To start with a short historical reminder. The attitude of the US government to the fledgling Cuban revolution that removed the corrupt and dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista was schizophrenic to the highest degree, starting with Eisenhower (Republican) and continuing in a similar vein during JFK's (Democrat) time. With a high degree of certainty it could be stated that this attitude had a major role in pushing Castro into the bearish embrace of Moscow. The rest is history - the cutting of the diplomatic ties, the embargo etc. But the US behavior after the demise of the Soviet Union and cessation of the vital economic support of Cuba is simply inexplicable. No reasonable mind could explain why the pragmatic and astute American leaders failed to fill the gap created by the departed USSR and immediately start working on eventual peaceful demise of the Castro family hold on Cuba. The opportunity was there, it was staring in the politicians' faces - but it was dismissed.
There is one factor in US internal politics that had a serious impact on the decision makers, to be sure. I mean the heavy political weight of the Cuban lobby that rejected any form of rapprochement with their mortal enemies in Havana. And meanwhile the economic situation of Cuban people worsened and suffering increased. Of course, the Havana elite, not inconvenienced by the embargo too much, uses the suffering to further its propaganda goals - blaming the heartless gringo capitalists for all the woes of Cuba. And being partly successful in this endeavor.
Here we come to a paradox that eluded the American political minds during the long period since demise of USSR. The unshakable certainty of American politicians that continuation of embargo will eventually break the spine of Cuban dictatorship continued to be the only guiding beacon of US policy toward Cuba, even when proven wrong all these years. It was wrong then and it continues to be wrong now, for the simple reason: while Cubans en masse suffer and detest their dictators, they do detest the American relentless disregard of their situation no less. Of course, the xenophobia that - let's be frank - is an ever present element of our minds, doesn't help too. The more suffering and poverty the embargo caused - the more resentment in Cubans' hearts toward US it generated, so the end result is far from the one desired by the architects and supporters of the measure.
The Cubans today are kept as serfs and hostages by a rotting and crumbling regime that relies on the relatively privileged army and secret police as the last bastions that keep it intact. The regime will crumble in the same way the Soviet regime crumbled all these years ago, if only the economic, cultural and, especially, information gateways were opened for all - to see how the life could be. It's true that after all these years of (unreasonable and unneeded) economic and political embargo some time will be required to restore the trust of Cuban people - but it is worth the effort.
And yes, I am aware of the fiery opposition of such an expert on Cuban affairs as Senator Marco Rubio. There are two different items in the Rubio's stance. First of all, he is correct when pointing to the inanities in the POTUS' justification of the normalization steps. Indeed, saying things like "United States has tried to 'colonize' Cuba" or, like Obama's foreign minister Mr Kerry, that "Not only has this policy failed to advance America's goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba" isn't the way to reach the minds and hearts of Americans - or Cubans, for that matter.
In the rest of his fiery attack Senator Rubio happens to be wrong. If the carrot succeeded with a real big and bad enemy like USSR where a stick failed for uncounted years, there is no reason the carrot should fail with Cuba - again: with a bit of patience and care. As for the motives of Mr Rubio - well, they were already mentioned, and enough is enough.
But - of course you don't have to listen to me. After all, aside of being a long time sympathizer of Cuban people and Castro/Che hater, my credentials as political analyst are rather thin. So here comes an expert - of course, it is Yoani Sánchez, with her post Has D-Day Arrived?. You should read it all, I'll just pick some selected quotes here. To start with:
Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by – as one of its main pillars – the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.Bingo. And now this, to sober ourselves up a bit:
This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.I don't know whether what Obama started is the real D-Day and I don't care about the political motives of this step. The only thing I know: this could be a beginning of beautiful friendship and a first step on the way of Cuba to a new life.
The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island. Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.
As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.
Afterword: The distinguished forum that I have the honor and the pleasure to belong to conducted a poll on the subject, see What Are Your Thoughts On President Obama’s Normalizing Relations With Cuba?
If the results were surprising to me it is only because two other members: The Razor (full support) and The Glittering Eye (partial) came out in favor of ending the current state of affairs. I expected more of a uniform rejection, and the surprise is quite pleasant.
I would like to start with a correction of the statement "I shall probably never figure out what it is about Cuba that makes the best and brightest of Americans lose their sense of logic and their famous pragmatism." Upon second thought I think I do know where the difficulty with accepting Cuba as a friend stems from. It so happened that my first memory of an international affair (as a Soviet child) comes from the school meetings where we, the kids, were taught to shout the words "Cuba-yes, Yanks - no!", brandishing The Beard's portraits and Cuban flags. The second memory happens to be also related: it was during the missile crisis, when we had to go through that quite absurd training in the defense measures to be taken in case of... The activities mostly included hiding under the desks, since there weren't any nuclear shelters in the vicinity of the school. I do remember the tension in the air at my family home and in my friends' homes.
From what I know about the US history, the missile crisis was even more traumatic for Americans, who had a number of enemy nukes on their doorstep.
I have to state again that I don't know all the considerations that led the POTUS to act like he did in the case. I can see what my Watcher colleagues say about the manner in which the whole act was carried out and I understand their unhappiness. However, it doesn't mean that the act itself is wrong or will cause some calamity in the long run. As I mentioned in this post, the road to full normalization will be bumpy - but US of A is known to behave with magnanimity and understanding toward its worst enemies, when these enemies are defeated. And the quasi-communist dictatorship of Cuba is defeated, make no mistake about it.
Raul Castro may blow as much hot air as he is able to (he is still far from being able to imitate the five hour speeches of his big bro, thankfully) and promise that the regime will stand fast, protecting "the ideas that it has struggled for". Well, ladies and gentlemen, what do you expect from the old coot? A confession that his life, his struggle and his ideas were a failure? By the way, they were not a total loss - after all he and his brother got rid of Batista...
Cuba is at a watershed moment in its history for more than twenty years now. And I agree with Joshuapundit when he stresses the unhealthy interest that all kinds of third parties like Russia, China etc. show in getting their snouts into Cuba. Which makes it all the more important to be there first and to make sure no bad guys make it there ever.
Update: and more support from US: Cuba derangement syndrome.
For decades, Cuba has been instructive as a museum of two stark failures: socialism and the U.S. embargo.Yep.
Hat tip: Terresa.