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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cuba How a Hurricane Could Change a Failed Cuba Policy

As I write this Cuba is being hit by the third hurricane in 2008 – Hurricane Paloma, a Category 4 hurricane. We should use this disaster to rectify a mistake that has left Castro in power for over 50 years. We allowed Castro to paint Americans as bad -- and made it possible for his countrymen to believe that lie by prohibiting Americans from visiting Cuba. That policy ended up costing the GOP Cuban-American votes in 2008 that it normally gets.

Hurricane Paloma is a rare late-season event, occurring at the same time blizzards are sweeping over our northern States. Hurricane Paloma is the second strongest November hurricane in recorded history, and it has caused extensive damage in Cuba. It also creates a rare opportunity to start a dialogue long overdue – with Cuba. Both President Bush and President-Elect Obama should offer Cuba humanitarian assistance if we are truly the “Christian/ religious” nation people say we are.

Cuba was also hit by Hurricane IKE, which didn’t stop until it hit Houston as a CAT 3 then it went on to knock out power and leave a path of destruction all the way to Ohio. The Cuban people have lost most of their crops and our government has cut the money Cubans in the U.S. can legally send to relatives in Cuba. It is our government that has prohibited our right as Americans to travel freely to Cuba. Cuba does not prohibit Americans from visiting. It is natural disaster made worse by bad policy.

We have had dealings with Communist China, Vietnam and Russia for decades. It makes no sense to deal with them but not a country with a Communist government only ninety miles from our shore. Cuba is shunned for being “Communist” when we routinely travel to and buy billions of goods each year from “Communist China” without a second thought. Cuba has the same type of government as China, so why the problem with having better relations with Cuba?

We fought a war in Vietnam and now our companies are doing business in Vietnam and we are buying goods from them. The Bush administration actually signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement with Vietnam! Yet they have made even visiting Cuba a crime! It is a nonsensical double standard.

This not only makes no sense -- it gives Castro an advantage since Cubans are kept from meeting real Americans, which would show the Cuban people that we are not the bad people Fidel says we are. This policy needs to change under an Obama administration. Three hurricanes and human suffering provide an opening for a new dynamic in our international relationships.

Offering humanitarian assistance to Cuba and a lifting of travel restrictions on Americans would be a positive step for new American leadership to establish a new image in the world. The new Cuban leader, Raul Castro, has been more open to change than his dying brother Fidel, who benefitted the most from American isolation of his island. Our policy has been a failure - it kept Cubans in the dark about the outside world. Our trade with China and contact with Americans has made China an entrepreneurial country with a market economy – not a State economy.

Letting Cubans see Americans in action, helping supply some basic necessities like food, would finally let Cubans know Americans as people instead of whatever Fidel Castro said about us. Fidel Castro is able to control the image of America to Cubans when Americans were nowhere to be seen. It’s pretty hard to paint Americans as ugly when we have access to the people and they can see relief supplies stamped “USA” to demonstrate the good that is represented by ordinary Americans. The Cuban government does not prevent Americans from talking to Cubans they meet. It is American policy that keeping us from talking.

According to sources, 2008 is the only season in recorded history to feature a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) in every month from July to November. 2008 is also the second most destructive season on record, behind only the 2005 season, with up to $52 billion in damage.

These storms are international agents of disaster. But they could also prove to be international agents of change – for better relations. Hurricane Paloma should be used as an opportunity to offer to help Cubans recover from three Hurricanes and build a new relationship between our nations. It could help reduce global hostilities, by treating Cubans with the same respect we have extended to Chinese and Vietnamese.

We need to change a policy that long ago lost any connection to reason.

1 comment:

Walter Lippmann said...

Washington's policy of isolating Cuba from the people of the United States, and trying to isolate Cuba from the rest of the world hasn't been entirely unsuccessful.

The goals of the policy were several fold. It hoped to make living conditions in Cuba so difficult that the Cuban people would rise up and overthrow the Cuban government. That goal hasn't been successful.

If that wasn't successful, it hoped to make Cuba an unattractive example of what a socialist society could look like, and the restrictions on democratic rights which the Cuban government has taken in self-defense have made Cuba less attractive.

The Cuban government has never spoken ill of the PEOPLE of the United States, who are invariably welcomed when they managed to get to Cuba anyway. Many US companies participated in the recent Havana trade fair, concluded just last week, and all would love to do more business there.

The problem is Washington's rules which make this difficult where not impossible.

We really need to normalized relations with Cuba, the only country on the entire planet for which people from the United States need a permission slip from the federal government to take a visit. Cuba's political system isn't different from that of China or Vietnam. Saudi Arabia has a NO-party system, but there are no limits on visiting there.

It's time to normalize relations with our neighbor.

For the last eight years I've directed an electronic news service about Cuba, which readers here are welcome to check out.