April 16, 2009 | Commentary on Latin America, Democracy and Human Rights

Let's Take it Slow on Overtures to Cuba

If you're hoping for major changes in Cuba following the White House's announcement Monday of the easing of some restrictions on interactions with the island -- think again.

Sure, for humanitarian purposes, it's fine to allow separated families to see each other more regularly than once every couple of years - even though Cubanos aren't allowed to visit the United States.

And, allowing remittances to American relatives in Cuba can ease some suffering due to the regime's failed policies - even though at least 20 percent of the money sent to Cuba will be siphoned off by the government.

But in the end, it's still the brothers Castro, Fidel and his successor Raul, who will decide whether there is an opening to the United States -- or not.

And in usual Cuban-regime style, in response to the White House announcement, Fidel Castro stood defiant, barely recognizing the change in long-standing U.S. policy.

Instead, and predictably, Fidel called for an end to el bloqueo (the blockade) on Cuba - without any offer of change from the regime holding 11 million people in its iron grip.

So much for Obama's magic spell on the world's bad actors.

The concern among many is that liberal criticism and a lack of a positive Cuban response will lead the White House to make even more concessions in an effort to create an opening.

Of course, the big empanada is the 1962 U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, which is unquestionably the thing Havana most wants ended.

Lifting the embargo on Cuba won't normalize relations, but instead will legitimize - and concede defeat to - Fidel's 50-year struggle against the Yanquis.

It'll also pour plenty of cash into the Cuban national coffers, allowing Havana to repress more at home and hop-up its anti-American agenda abroad.

The last thing we need to do is line the pockets of the communist regime, which they'll use to control the Cuban people. Cuban human-rights are grim enough.

The totalitarian state manhandles all aspects of the Cuban people's lives - not to mention the more than 200 political prisoners, languishing in rat-infested dungeons. Freedom of speech, press, assembly or association? Forget it.

Cuban security services closely monitor domestic and international journalists, restrict both Internet access and foreign news -- and censor domestic media.

We also don't need a re-invigorated Cuba becoming a major menace to U.S. interests in this hemisphere. There'd be no joy in seeing Cuba team up with Venezuela in advancing their leftist, anti-American agenda down South.

Indeed, the embargo has kept Cuba in its box since the loss of Soviet sponsorship in the early 1990s. Anyone noticed the lack of trouble Cuba has caused since then? Contrast that with the 1980s.

Regrettably, 110 years after independence from Spain (courtesy of Uncle Sam), Cuba still isn't free. Instead it labors in the yoke of a Castro-imposed dystopia.

The U.S. embargo remains a matter of principle - and a leveraged response to Cuba's repression of its people. Knuckling under to evil without reciprocity is a moral hazard, only begetting more of the same.

So until we see progress in unshackling the Cuban people from the regime's chains, we should hold firm on the embargo. Otherwise, "Cuba Libre" will never become more than a rallying cry.

Sure, for humanitarian purposes, it's fine to allow separated families to see each other more regularly than once every couple of years - even though Cubanos aren't allowed to visit the United States.

And, allowing remittances to American relatives in Cuba can ease some suffering due to the regime's failed policies - even though at least 20 percent of the money sent to Cuba will be siphoned off by the government.

But in the end, it's still the brothers Castro, Fidel and his successor Raul, who will decide whether there is an opening to the United States - or not.

And in usual Cuban-regime style, in response to the White House announcement, Fidel Castro stood defiant, barely recognizing the change in long-standing U.S. policy.

Instead, and predictably, Fidel called for an end to el bloqueo (the blockade) on Cuba - without any offer of change from the regime holding 11 million people in its iron grip.

So much for Obama's magic spell on the world's bad actors.

The concern among many is that liberal criticism and a lack of a positive Cuban response will lead the White House to make even more concessions in an effort to create an opening.

Of course, the big empanada is the 1962 U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, which is unquestionably the thing Havana most wants ended.

Lifting the embargo on Cuba won't normalize relations, but instead will legitimize -- and concede defeat to - Fidel's 50-year struggle against the Yanquis.

It'll also pour plenty of cash into the Cuban national coffers, allowing Havana to repress more at home and hop-up its anti-American agenda abroad.

The last thing we need to do is line the pockets of the communist regime, which they'll use to control the Cuban people. Cuban human-rights are grim enough.

The totalitarian state manhandles all aspects of the Cuban people's lives -- not to mention the more than 200 political prisoners, languishing in rat-infested dungeons. Freedom of speech, press, assembly or association? Forget it.

Cuban security services closely monitor domestic and international journalists, restrict both Internet access and foreign news - and censor domestic media.

We also don't need a re-invigorated Cuba becoming a major menace to U.S. interests in this hemisphere. There'd be no joy in seeing Cuba team up with Venezuela in advancing their leftist, anti-American agenda down South.

Indeed, the embargo has kept Cuba in its box since the loss of Soviet sponsorship in the early 1990s. Anyone noticed the lack of trouble Cuba has caused since then? Contrast that with the 1980s.

Regrettably, 110 years after independence from Spain (courtesy of Uncle Sam), Cuba still isn't free. Instead it labors in the yoke of a Castro-imposed dystopia.

The U.S. embargo remains a matter of principle - and a leveraged response to Cuba's repression of its people. Knuckling under to evil without reciprocity is a moral hazard, only begetting more of the same.

So until we see progress in unshackling the Cuban people from the regime's chains, we should hold firm on the embargo. Otherwise, "Cuba Libre" will never become more than a rallying cry.

Peter Brookes is senior fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the Boston Herald