December 20, 2014


The End of Cuba's Double Despotism (Robert Sirico, 12/20/14, RCP)

I was in Cuba in 1998 when St. John Paul II visited the island and called for "opening the world to Cuba and Cuba to the world." Pope Francis, as the first Latin American pope and who is no stranger to the plight of the oppressed, is reported to have played a critical role in the restoration of diplomatic ties. Since the beginning of his pontificate he has been relentlessly calling for an economy of inclusion. What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?

After all, serious human rights violations are not effectively addressed through sanctions and protectionism. Open trade involves more than economics, but include cultural exchange opportunities as well, increasing the occasions for outsiders to observe and report on conditions. At the same time greater prosperity in Cuba will tend to give the Cuban people more options and resources to direct their own lives, even if, the regime maintains all the internal restrictions in place.

A synthesis of free market economics within an overall moral framework requires a consistent application of the principle that free trade and human rights ought to mutually complement each other. The kind of embargo that was erected against Cuba a half century ago has not only been politically fruitless and economically harmful to the very people we say we want to help; it is morally dubious as well. Who really thinks that we can get people to be more like us when we enact policies (in this case, restriction of trade) when we act more like them?

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

...soeties you just have to accept that you won and move on.

The Cuban Regime Is a Defeated Foe : In time, normalized relations will serve the cause of freedom. (PEGGY NOONAN, Dec. 18, 2014, WSJ)

If a change in policy is in the American national interest, then it is a good idea. If it is not, then it is a bad idea, and something we should not do.

In another era that would be so obvious as not to bear repeating. But seeing to our national interests (just as we expect other nations to see to theirs) has been rather lost along the way by our leaders the past dozen years, and now sounds almost touchingly quaint.

But with that guiding principle, some questions on establishing new and closer ties with Cuba:

Was it ever in our nation's interests to have, 90 miles off our shore, an avowed and active enemy?


Is it now in our nation's interests to have, 90 miles off our shore, an avowed and active enemy?


Is it in the national interest to attempt to change this circumstance, if only gradually and hopefully, but with a sense that breaking the status quo might yield rewards?

Yes. If the new policy succeeds and leaves an old foe less active and avowed we will be better off, and it's always possible, life being surprising, that we'll be much better off. If the policy fails we'll be no worse off than we were and can revert back to the old order, yanking out our embassy and re-erecting old barriers.

An Island of Regret : Republicans should have been the ones to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. (Jean Card Dec. 19, 2014, US News)

Finally, I admit that I struggled with a feeling of regret on behalf of my party -- that feeling of "I wish we'd done this first."

And don't even try to tell me that a lot of conservatives didn't feel the same way. It's tough to launch straight into full-throated criticism on this one if you believe in the potency of liberty -- that opening the door, even if just a crack (and this week's announcement appears to resemble a crack rather than a large opening), so an oppressed people can see what freedom looks like, feels like, sounds like, can help freedom take root. If you believe that, you want the leaders on your side to be the ones to crack that door open. Or better yet, to throw it open in a dictator's face.

When I was an appointee in the Bush administration, I surprised colleagues with my belief that the U.S. should lift the Cuba trade embargo. I tried to explain to my fellow appointees that "freedom and free-trade totally go together!" This admittedly-over-simplified argument fell mostly on deaf ears. A few colleagues even called me a "liberal" for saying it, which I found baffling.

A more substantive conversation at the time with a co-worker who was Cuban-American and a true, philosophical free-market conservative ended in this blunt statement: "We don't have a Cuba policy. We have a South Florida policy."

Posted by at December 20, 2014 8:20 AM

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