February 20, 2008


A Card to Play for Cuba's Freedom (Robert Kagan, February 20, 2008, Washington Post)

The long-awaited "resignation" of Fidel Castro may give both Cubans and Americans a chance to escape the trap they've been in for more than four decades. Fidel's brother Raúl will now officially become Cuba's maximum leader, a role he has held unofficially throughout Castro's long debility. That the Cuban leadership has finally reached the point where it must announce a changing of the dictatorial guard indicates this is a good time for the United States to suggest a different and more hopeful course. Instead of passing the torch to a new generation of dictators, Cuba's leaders could commit themselves to hold free and fair elections by the end of this year. And they could begin by unconditionally releasing all the political prisoners held in their jails.

To encourage the broader transition to democracy, the United States should be more than a passive spectator. It can now use the leverage it has long held but been unable to use while Fidel was in charge. In exchange for Cuba's holding free and fair elections, monitored and certified over the entire electoral cycle by respected international election monitors, the Bush administration could offer to ease and eventually lift the economic embargo against Cuba and to restore full political, diplomatic and economic relations with the island nation.

The lifting of the embargo could be undertaken in stages linked to the fulfillment by the Cuban government of key conditions necessary for holding elections. These would include allowing genuine independent opposition parties to function, freeing the press and other media and opening them up to the opposition, allowing international nongovernmental organizations to provide elections training and technical assistance to the Cuban people -- in short, taking all the steps necessary to hold a full election campaign in which opposition parties have an equal chance to participate and compete.

After spending his final quarter century as nothing more than an afterthought, Castro will be forgotten completely within an incredibly brief period of time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2008 3:53 PM
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