Cyr column: Cuba re-demonized
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
The outgoing Trump administration returned Cuba to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
That is a strategic mistake. The move may help Republican Party domestic support, but limits our options in foreign policy.
In May 2015, the United States removed Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. This greatly facilitated interchange between the two sides. Removal of banking restrictions proved to be especially significant.
President Barack Obama followed up by visiting Cuba. Calvin Coolidge had been the last U.S. president to visit the island nation, in early 1928.
Over time, the Communist dictatorship controlling Cuba has faced the growing reality of economic failure. Fidel Castro began the 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 nation’s economy.
Simultaneously, the Cuban government announced layoffs of 500,000 workers, combined with liberalization to encourage new businesses and foreign investment. So much for priority for workers. The Communist clique in Havana began courting foreign investment, while maintaining political control.
In 2009, the U.S. loosened extremely tight restrictions on travel and financial remittances. Telecommunications companies were able to pursue licensing agreements.
The Soviet Union, vital subsidy source, collapsed approximately three decades ago. Venezuela provides limited aid, but that economy is now a wrecked basket case.
Enemies as well as admirers agree Fidel Castro demonstrated strong leadership before age and illness led him to retire. After taking power in early 1959, enforcer brother Raul handled bloody mass executions with efficient dispatch.
Fidel highlighted the new alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a 1960 visit to the United Nations in New York. The Soviet premier was wildly disruptive at UN sessions, while the Cuban delegation provided a media sideshow, based at a Harlem hotel.
The Eisenhower administration began clandestine efforts to overthrow the regime, commencing a dark project to kill Castro. The successor Kennedy administration vastly escalated such efforts, including assassination.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy abruptly ended such efforts. Alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had contact with Cuba intelligence officers.
Cuba became a far-reaching revolutionary force in Latin America, notably in Chile in the 1970s, where East Germany was influential. Cuban troops served as Soviet proxies in various Africa wars.
When Fidel stepped down, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed “peaceful, democratic change” in Cuba and suggested the “international community” work directly with the people. Earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took this approach with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. Cultural and educational exchanges, and limited trade, followed.
We should avoid direct attacks on the regime. For decades, the Castro brothers benefited by blaming problems on the Yankee Imperialists to the north.
After the Castros took power, Cuba became extremely important in U.S. presidential politics. Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kennedy fanned flames of hostility to Castro in the 1960 contest with Republican Vice President Richard Nixon.
The new Kennedy administration invaded Cuba with anti-Castro exiles. Disaster at the Bay of Pigs resulted.
Some Republicans oppose Cuba rapprochement. Cuban exiles concentrated in swing state Florida have provided reliable Republican votes since the Kennedy administration.
However, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona also joined President Obama’s delegation in visiting Cuba. A bipartisan Congressional visit to the country followed.
In 2016, Vice President-elect Mike Pence marked Fidel Castro’s passing by publicly expressing hope for a democratic Cuba.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.