Tiny steps and incremental gestures aplenty have given new new life to efforts to change how the United States and Cuba deal with each other. Recent developments have set both nations up for closer ties and, hopefully, enough progress to consider finally ending an embargo that hasn't worked.
Tiny steps and incremental gestures aplenty have given new new life to efforts to change how the United States and Cuba deal with each other.
For nearly 50 years, relations between the two countries have been strained, and for perfectly understandable reasons - the rise by force of communist dictator Fidel Castro 90 miles off America's shore, this country's failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro's cozying up to the Soviets, the standoff that brought the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to the brink of nuclear war, the decades-long embargo that followed. Now recent developments have set both nations up for closer ties and, hopefully, enough progress to consider finally ending an embargo that hasn't worked.
First, earlier this month President Obama relaxed travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans, letting them visit the country and relatives as often as they wish while also eliminating the cap on how much money they can give to their Cuban kin. Then, ahead of last week's Summit of the Americas - from which Cuba is the only nation in this hemisphere barred because it's not a democracy in even the loosest sense of the word - the administration repeated its willingness to talk to Havana.
In return, Cuban President Raul Castro admitted last Thursday that his nation "could be wrong" about its approach to the U.S. and said that "we are willing to discuss everything - human rights, freedom of press, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about." It was the most hopeful sign in years, enough for Obama to call for a "new beginning" between the two countries.
And now it's Cuba's turn to make a gesture again.
As Obama said, we're "not interested in talking for the sake of talking." Cuba needs to prove it's serious about some real give-and-take if any of those matters are put on the agenda. Cuba's leadership can start by beginning the process of releasing its estimated 205 political prisoners, many of whom have been jailed for speaking out against the Castro regimes.
Cuba has seemed open thus far to discussing a proposal by Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar for the countries to each name special envoys to work out some of these controversies. Such negotiations and lower-level talks have fallen apart at least three times in the last half-century. Yet at this stage, there's nothing to lose from more talking, provided that both sides are serious and move quickly. Indeed, Fidel Castro has already begun recharacterizing his brother's words and returning to the bluster of the last five decades.
This page has long argued that the benefits to Americans, to the Cuban people, to local farmers who want to sell their grain to a nation that needs it, and to local companies like Caterpillar that can sell equipment to a country that could use significant infrastructure modernization outweigh any benefit the U.S. gets from what even top Cuban exile leaders confess is a largely symbolic embargo.
Moreover, the ultimate goal is for the people of this Carribbean island to enjoy basic self-determination and fundamental human rights. The embargo has not pressured the Castro regimes to allow their people freedom of speech or of the ballot box. Meanwhile, a report last year by the largest Cuban exile group, the Cuban American National Foundation, found that of the millions America has spent trying to promote democracy in Cuba, 80 percent of the funds have been spent within the United States.
We appreciate the unfortunate history that the two nations share, but could talking and opening ourselves up to Cuba do a poorer job of promoting democracy and freedom? The worst that can happen is that talks fall apart, leaving us with the status quo. As risks worth taking go, that one's a slam dunk.
Peoria Journal Star