Foreign Policy

Hey Conservatives: U.S.'s Cuba Policy is the Very Definition of Failed Government


As Robby Soave noted and Ed Krayewski noted recently, there's muy partisan bluster surrounding President Obama's decision to change the United States' relationship with Cuba from 50-plus years of failed attempts at isolating the Castro brothers' personal tropical-island prison. Keep in mind that re-establishing diplomatic ties and other actions do not in any way lift the trade embargo, which needs to be done by Congress. Obama is in no way abusing his power as president in anything he's doing here.

Obama's actions may not be the boldest gambit imaginable, but it is a very good thing, I think. Our country's posture and policy toward Cuba has been a miserable failure for the past half-century that has done nothing to loosen the grip of an autocratic despotic regime over its own people. And it has accomplished nothing good for Americans, either, even those who were forced to seek refuge on our shores. America's Cuba policy is the very definition of government failure, something you'd think conservatives, who are always quick to talk about how government screws everything up, would recognize.

That said, the only thing more pathetic than excellent investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill's zinger about how he "is very glad I was able to visit Cuba several times before US tourists try to turn it into Cancun" is the response of Republican (and some Democratic) pols who are pledging to NEVER end the embargo as long as a Castro anywhere draws a breath (and Bacardi or U.S. sugar interests write a check). When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) calls Obama's new policy "a victory for oppression," the Cuban American is ignoring basic reality. American policy toward Cuba for the past 50-plus years was a victory for oppression, so complete that it allowed the odious Raul Castro to succeed his godawful brother as a maximum leader. Get it: American policy was so rotten it allowed for a hereditary transfer of power in the autocratic country under sanction. The only other places that have managed that trick are other targets of U.S. diplomatic isolation Syria and North Korea. As John McCain, who pushed to open up relations with communist Vietnam years ago but denounced Obama's actions toward Cuba, could tell you, America has no problem dealing with all sorts of morally despicable governments.

Simply put, Rubio and many other Republicans are confusing political posturing with principle and pragmatism (those last two are not always mutually exclusive). If the goal of the trade embargo and cutting off diplomatic ties with Cuba was to weaken the awful Castro regime, it's been a total bust. We're years into Castro 2.0 and there's zero reason to believe anything will change anytime soon. The only thing the U.S. stance has done is give the Castro brothers a false though handy explanation for every austerity measure they impose on their subjects and every act of political oppression they commit.

There's no question that Cuba is poor and miserable and unfree because of the Castros and the despotic regime they oversee. Cuba is free to trade with every country in the world except for the United States. The country's failure to flourish is because of the ruling junta, period. Anyone who suggests otherwise is denying basic reality.

Yet it's equally true that people who insist that America's Cuba policy is defensible or in any way successful are equally deluded and should be called out on such patent b.s. When I was in college back in the 1980s, "disinvestment" from South Africa was a big deal. Right-thinking people of the time—by which I mean left-leaning people—said it was morally unconsciable to do business with the apartheid regime even as they called for a lifting of the trade embargo with Cuba. Regular Cubans were suffering from our actions they said. If we allowed trade and travel, the humanitarian lefties would explain, we might spread wealth and democratic values by our presence and contact. Right-wingers defended staying in South Africa as a way of spreading American influence there while also defending the Cuban embargo as a way of punishing autocrats.

To put it bluntly, each side in that debate was full of crap. For a variety of political affiliations and exigencies, they were willing to consign the oppressed and the voiceless to deprivation and persecution in the name of selective moral outrage. Economic and diplomatic sanctions by the U.S. didn't help end apartheid and the same sort of policies haven't made Cuba become an open society.

Obama's moves toward Cuba are a step in the right direction. Here's hoping that the new Republican majority will rally around its supposed small-government bona fides and recognize that the government of all entities has no right telling Americans where they can travel, invest, or send money to. And if that sort of basic appeal to first principles isn't enough, maybe they can take comfort in the fact that "Castro's Hipster Apologists" will shed many bitter tears when Starbucks and Urban Outfitters and Tesla help remake Cuba into something more like America.

NEXT: And the Award for Fattest American Workers Goes to... Cops

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  1. Fidel looks like he’s doing a Fred Armison impression. Aye, dios mio!

    1. *cymbal crash*

  2. “The country’s failure to flourish is because of the ruling junta, period. Anyone who suggests otherwise is denying basic reality.”

    Tony and a few others will be here to address your thoughtcrime shortly, Nick.

    1. Hopefully Commie Kid will show back up to lament that Cubans might no longer be mired in poverty to support his aesthetic preferences.

      1. I think that fucker might be Joe. Those comments read with a certain smarmy smugness that Joe from Lowell had.

        1. No. Joe always had a multitude of links to support his points. He also was much more nuanced than Tony.

  3. When I was in college back in the 1980s, “disinvestment” from South Africa was a big deal. Right-thinking people of the time?by which I mean left-leaning people?said it was morally unconsciable to do business with the apartheid regime

    At the time, I disagreed with them about those sanctions. And they were right and I was wrong. The sanctions forced the South African government to choose between watching their economy collapse or ending apartheid. I don’t think apartheid would have ever ended without the sanctions. South Africa was a rich country that had plenty of trade and a good economy with apartheid. Apartheid was more than anything a protection scheme to protect white workers from competition for jobs from blacks. No way were those whites going to give up that protection voluntarily or out of economic self interest.

    1. Yes, this is true. Sanctions worked in the case of South Africa, probably because it was a democracy and a Commonwealth country with deep ties to the Free World. We settled the debate over efficacy in under a decade. We found out, in relatively short order, that they worked because the government was toppled in under a decade. Cuban Sanctions, in the other hand, have been failing for over half a century. How long must we run this experiment before we conclude that Castro is not De Klerk and Cuba is not South Africa?

      It’s time to run the B portion of this A/B experiment and find out what 50 years of engagement can do.

    2. And how are things working out for South Africa, today?
      Everyone meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation, landed it into the same shithole as the rest of “free Africa”.
      As usual, the oh-so-righteous ignored that, even under apartheid, more black Africans were immigrating to South Africa than emigrating from it.

  4. Cuba is a different story. They are not rich and unlike the leaders of South Africa, the Castros don’t care that they are not. Sanctions only work if they either really hurt the ruling class or if they don’t the ruling class cares about the welfare of the country. The Castros clearly don’t care about the welfare of Cuba and the sanctions haven’t hurt them personally enough to get them to change. So the sanctions in themselves are never going to run the Castros out of power or get them to liberalize.

    The problem is that ending the embargo won’t get them to do that either. This is not free trade with Cuba. This is allowing Americans to trade with Cuba in ways the Castros see as beneficial to them. That is it. Anyone who thinks America tourists going to walled plantations in Cuba manned by Cuban slave labor is going to do anything but make the Castros wealthier and better able to oppress their people is fooling themselves. Ask yourself this, did England buying cotton from the antebellum South make the slaves who worked on the plantations more free or any better off? No. It just made the slavers rich. Cuba is one giant slave plantation. None of the money you spend there is going to go anywhere but to the slavers. It is that simple.

    1. I am not opposed to ending the embargo. I don’t think it will do much harm. Cuba can’t get any worse and the embargo isn’t making things any better. And even though it will help the Castros, they are fucking morons who no doubt fuck it up and blow any money they make. But anyone who thinks ending the embargo is going to make things better for the average Cuban is I think fooling themselves.

      1. I don’t know John. Look at China. Yeah, they are still oppessed and far from where they need to be but millions have been lifted out of abject poverty due to trade with the US.

        1. The Chinese leadership under Deng is not the Castros. China opened its economy. That is what changed China, not trade with the US. If China had not opened its economy, trading with the US would have made no difference.

          The better example is North Korea. North Korea has trade zones and little plantations where they cater to Chinese tourists. But that trade has not opened up the society because it is still under the strict control of and one entirely for the benefit of the government. That is what happens in Cuba and will continue to happen there as long as the Castros are in power.

          1. China opened it’s economy after Nixon reestablished relations with them. I don’t know what would had if be lift the embargo. Keeping it doesn’t seem to be doing anything though. May not find out for a while.

            1. No. They were in the process of doing that when it happened. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Deng and Mao were fighting it out in 1972. Nixon going there did not cause China to open its economy and reform. They were doing it or Deng was trying anyway. One had nothing to do with the other.

              And again, Cuba is not China. Our lifting the embargo is not going to get them to liberalize. Why would it? Trade with the rest of the world hasn’t. There isn’t a Deng in Cuba right now.

              1. Good points John

                1. I hope you guys are right. I would love nothing better than to see Cuba turn into a civilized country. I just can’t see it happening anytime soon.

        2. China also has over a billion people to work in the factories making the latest iPhone and various sundry at Walmart.*

          *SLD there is nothing wrong with that.

          1. I have to wonder at some point if private sector wealth if allowed to accumulate turns into political power and demands for reform. Without wealthy barons there would have been no Magna Carta.

            1. We can only hope that some enterprising young people are able to make oodles of money and aren’t absorbed or killed by the junta.

            2. Only if that wealth can buy weapons.

              1. good point

        3. I don’t know John. Look at China.

          Yes look at China.

          Deng began liberalization in 1979.

          Then, there was a sever poliutical repression in the early 1990s and the Tiannemen Square incident.

          Finally, China began engaging with the global economy in a significant way in the mid 1990s.

          So political and economic reforms in China happened more than a decade before expaned trade.

        4. This is nonsense. Millions have not been lifted out of poverty. They’ve been moved from their countryside villages to factory housing in the city, amounting to a barren “apartment” that is more sized to a US jail cell, given factory food, and 50 cents per hour. If this is your idea of lifting them out of poverty, we have different definitions.

          Since I’ve actually been there dozens of times and seen the conditions, I’ll take on the view and talking points given to you by the media. It’s bull. An elite small percent of well connected people have been the face for this to the west. Not because China has seen the errors of their way, but because they need middle managers, essentially the slave overseer slave of the antebellum South. The rest stand around in factories without heat and work 12-15 hour days with no hope of change in sight.

          But even the overseers are disposable. Those who embarrass their masters who allow them to live a comfortable life, don’t get a second chance. They are often known to “commit suicide”, usually by a bullet to the back of the head.

          This “middle class” of China that you refer to is minuscule and barely exists only to make people like you think capitalism there is winning.

    2. It just made the slavers rich.

      It made everyone rich, except the slaves.

      1. No it didn’t. If you think all the white people of the old South were rich, you’ve been watching too much Gone With The Wind. First, only about 1/3 owned any slaves. Second, most slaves were household servants doing the dusting and cleaning and gardening for the slave owner. Only a small percent of slaveholders actually got rich. If you’re going to talk history, how about having even just a few facts before you go around correcting others.

    3. Well Said!

  5. Eh… the people who think this will lead to inevitable Cuban freedom… prepare for let down. I hope to be proven wrong, of course.

    I have struggled with this, but I think, in the end, the question must be why are we placing restrictions on Americans? I am more worried about telling US citizens that they will face the end of a gun if they move, trade or communicate with Cuban people, than inadvertently helping the geriatric despots of that miserable island.

    Want to restrict selling them weapons or such…I can see that, perhaps. But telling someone they cannot go see the ancestral home one more time…nope.

    1. I have a phrase I use in these situations:

      “I would pay money to be wrong about this.”

  6. Doubling down on a shitty war. Corruption. Scandals. Opening diplomatic relations with a communist country.

    All those similarities and Obama still ends up being an even worse president than Nixon.

    1. That asshole won’t build a pipeline that is wanted and very important to Canada. But he will fucking trade with Castro.

      I understand why Libertarians who always prefer trade to no trade would support ending the embargo. But no one should give Obama any credit for doing this. He didn’t do this because he cares about trade or gives a fuck about the Cuban people. He did this because he is a faculty lounge Leftist who thinks Castro is a swell guy and a victim of US imperialism and this will allow some of his cronies to make a bunch of money doing business with Castro’s cronies. That is it.

      1. I’m still wondering what, specifically, is in it for him. Obama is a complete narcissist, he doesn’t even pick up a pen unless there’s some direct benefit to him. I wonder which donors want something from Cuba.

        1. You’ll see what’s in it for him when we see the Mariel Boatlift sequel. The last one turned out to be 125,000 people being shipped to the USA, most of whom were desperately poor, criminals, insane, or several of the above. These were put on OUR welfare and jail systems instead of Cubas. But now most of them vote Democrat. It’s just a matter of time (I’d say a year) before we see and effort that will make the Mariel Boatlift and the most recent 100,000 assault on our southern border look like a preview of coming attractions.

      2. Definitely not giving him credit, just noting the similarities between the two.

        My own personal rule with all politicians, but Obama especially (because it’s been so blatant and open) is: Who does he owe/Which of his cronies is this policy going to help?

      3. It is those who think Oblamo wants this move to make Cuba more like the US, rather than the US more like Cuba, are the ones who are deluded.
        This clown-in-chief epitomizes government and anything the government touches turns to lead.

  7. OK, one last time – not expecting Paradise?, not thinking this is gonna “solve” anything immediately, don’t have any unrealistic expectations – BUT:

    The US’ Cuba policy for the last 50 years has been laughable and silly, and accomplished NOTHING that I can see except not allowing me to travel there with my Canadian friends for a paid vacation doing a little bagpiping to entertain the locals. “Ohhhh, too bad your gummint won’t allow you to travel there for pleasure….” And making the US govt look foolish and inept (as if they need the help).

    So – I’ve openly supported “normalizing relations and trade” with Cuba TO SEE IF THAT APPROACH MIGHT PROMPT THEM TO CHANGE FASTER. Not the US “supporting” them, nor providing “aid”…nothing like that. But let me buy Cohibas legally if I want, and if they want my Mustang, I can sell it to them. And let’s have an embassy there, and they here, so we can at least talk like adults.

    partly this is to poke the collective eyes of the Miami Mafia. I’m so sick of those insufferable pricks….but, mostly, it’s….”can’t we all get along? Give Peace? a Chance!” Let’s just try it.

    If it doesn’t work, Winston can PERSONALLY send the “fuck you, embargo back on” note to the Castros when we pull the plug. But I don’t think we’ll get there…

    1. If Obama declared a people’s dictatorship and took everything you owned and you had to flee to Canada, I bet you, your children and your grand children would be insufferable pricks about US relations with Canada too. I know I would be.

      I don’t expect you to agree with the Miami Cubans. But Libertarians of all people should understand and sympathize with the grudge they hold. If I were them, I wouldn’t want to trade with Cuba either and would have no use for anyone who did want to. How could you feel otherwise if you were in that position?

      1. Choosing to not trade with Cuba personally and enforcing your choice on everyone in the same geographical area as you are very different. You can still hold the first point of view in a principled manner and allow that others should have freedom to decide how they spend their time and property.

        1. I would agree except that so many of the Cubans in Miami still have family in Cuba, and they perceive any wealth going to Cuba as direct support of the Castros which will use this new revenue stream to further oppress their aunts, uncles, etc.

          Would you support my right to trade with a regime if you were convinced (rightly or wrongly) that every cent I sent to said regime was being used to oppress your Uncle Stan?

    2. The US’ Cuba policy for the last 50 years has been laughable and silly, and accomplished NOTHING

      That’s because people today have forgotten how toxic Cuba was in exporting communist revolution in the 1960s and 70s. Including have several hundred thousand troops in Africa at one point.

      The Embargo did not cause regime change but it did limit the damage that that regime could inflict on neighboring and not so neighboring countries.

      Of course, all of that has gone down the memory hole thanx to left wing marxist apologists in the US media and academia.

  8. The Fox-heads are full on “This is giving in to Castro and Blame
    America.” I think not. And it will be very cool when Major League Baseball gives a franchise to the Havana Sugar Kings. Too bad, back in the 50s, that Fidel couldn’t hit a curve ball or his career may have looked a bit different.

    1. That will be an added bonus – a lot more baseball players. Hopefully some that can freakin’ hit.

    2. You know who else struggled in his preferred career (as a painter)?

  9. “is very glad I was able to visit Cuba several times before US tourists try to turn it into Cancun”

    Because Cancun is SUCH a hellhole…

    1. It is to leftist fucks who see third world poverty as “authentic.” To them, American tourists have away their right to have an authentic Mexican experience.

  10. I looked at the paycheck that said $4961 , I accept …that…my neighbours mother woz like they say actually making money part-time on there computar. . there dads buddy haz done this for under twelve months and just cleared the loans on their house and purchased a brand new Nissan GT-R: .
    try this site and free register ———

    1. Nissan GT-R? What happened to the Aston Martin?

      1. Come off it. Nobody drives an Aston Martin any more.

        The workmanship is terrible.

  11. Totten visited Cuba last year, and said it’s, no surprise, a shithole.

    “Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. ”

    In other words, have at it, Scahill. I’ll stick to Cancun.

  12. *The US’ Cuba policy for the last 50 years has been laughable and silly, and accomplished NOTHING*

    So f*cking disengenous.

    You know why the embargo did jack sh*t for most of those 50 years? BECAUSE THE USSR WAS BANKROLLING THE CASTRO BROTHERS.

    Gee, if Mommy grounds me but Daddy helps me climb out the window every night, guess thum thar sanctions dint work neither…derp!

    1. How is it disingenuous? The sanctions did not work. Whether or to what degree Russian subsidy was a factor doesn’t change the truth of the statement.

      As we have no control over Russian policy, you can treat it as a given in analyzing our own foreign policy. Given the givens, the embargo has been a failure.


    2. You mean the same USSR that hasn’t been around for the last half of those 50 years?

  13. If we are told, in the case of Cuba, that sanctions and embargoes are a failure, why should we believe that they will be successful when applied to Iran and Russia?
    What courses of action can enduce other nations into changing the way they do things?
    A concerned world wants to know.

  14. Hey Libertarians,

    Since when do you prop up a failed government with new financial means to continue a deplorable system that enslaves and dehumanizes it’s people? Especially without any assurance they will not just become a wealthier tyrannical society?

    (That being said, I’m torn for two reasons. First, I see no signs that continued sanctions by the US only will avail any other improvements. Maybe you start opening up travel and Cubans will finally find the means to revolt themselves. Second, if indeed Russia is making inroads to destabilize the US via Cuba, I can buy the preemptive move a bit more.) But it’s ridiculous we trade 1 geezer – CIA or not – for 5 who have killed Americans.

  15. Does the writer think that American policy toward Cuba has been a unilateral thing all along?

  16. WHY? All these years that the Cuban people had to live all these years like they have because of one crazy idiot that we supported back in the 60’s Time to grow up and move on and try to help these people get back an economy . I would go there in the future anytime we are allowed. Do not understand the anti that we are now allowing some of these freedoms to start? What is the real reason to not do this except for someone own personal reasons? Castro should have been blown away years ago for what he did to this country. He lied to us at the time he was taking over the country and we let him do this? President Obama and the Pope are encouraging this? Go Cuba! We will be there soon and your country will be coming back again?

  17. today on the TV show the five . Bob Beckel just made an outrageous statement that talks are ongoing between Obama and Cuba or Cuba and somebody in America.
    And that’s just an outrageous statement because it’s something said to push their ball further down the road .It is something that can never be proven.
    they cannot see the cliff that the ball will go over.
    foolishness but that’s what the left does. There are over 50 criminals from America vacationing on the American dollar in Cuba yet Obama didnt say a word about even the nasty bitch who murded a Policeman. Their talking about Obama being a young man and just going to Cuba! It will be on their travel brochure course America will pay!
    This is almost like when Mohammed had his mountain something like that or maybe it was his sheep. It’s an old story.
    except in this new one is pretty obvious! He is just bringing mountain loads of people. How many people does it take to sink a country?
    How many people would take to destroy the greatest nation and the most generous nation in the world has ever seen ? Prepare as best you can for The days we sit in now is glorious in the respect The Lord God Almighty we see the terrable troubles his people are in.
    What the foolish have done but it is the Lord god Almighty who has put them where they are in this place of Every path is watched deep in each and everyone sits the truth.

  18. What so few understand is if and when Obama gets his illegals it will never stop! Any illegal picked up after that point will simply say they were granted permission because they are one of the 5 million.
    That’s what so incredibly dangerous about this action it will be used to bankrupt the United States of America. Thanks to Barack Hussein we are over $18 trillion in the red. The federal government had already printed out millions of fake IDs.
    Obama and his people will flood the judicial system, the welfare system, and take control of the elections. This is just one among the many
    reasons these are the last days! Praise the Lord God Almighty in both good as well as evil I fear the good is gone!

  19. ‘… “Castro’s Hipster Apologists” will shed many bitter tears when Starbucks and Urban Outfitters and Tesla help remake Cuba into something more like America.’

    That was my first thought: ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ No doubt, though, there will be a lot of caterwauling and laying of blame on all sides no matter what happens.

  20. That framing of this article is off base. The Cuba embargo debate is not about freedoms of Americans, it is about the proper policy for dealing which a very hostile power 90 miles from our border. Americans are free to travel to Cuba – they just can’t depart from a US air port. My lefty in-laws went there and came back, naturally, in thrall to the people’s paradise they encountered.

    Cuba has tried its best to damage the US, from the Mariel boat-lift, where thousands of criminals were dumped on our shores, to the support for Leninist regimes in the Americas, to providing bases to the Soviet Union, to Fidel Castro’s personal request to Khrushchev to nuke the US.

    The author proclaims, without evidence, that the sanctions have been a miserable failure. Of course, this is only true by setting a definition of success that conveniently isn’t met. But is it a failure, or has the embargo reduced Cuba’s ability to endanger US interests? I don’t know, but the author doesn’t address it.

    It may be the time to reduce sanctions. It may not. In either case, the issue is far more complex than addressed in this risibly offensive article.

  21. It’s not the American embargo that’s caused hardship in Cuba. Our embargo has not prevented any other country from having trade relations with the island.

    The cause of Cuba’s problems since the communist takeover has been the Castro brothers – and Kennedy’s decision to let them keep the control they seized.

  22. For Nick Gillespie.
    I’m writing because I just sent a check to the Reason Foundation and it’s a little difficult to read some of the stuff in print.
    I was in high school in Brooklyn (Fort Hamilton followed by St. John’s University)at the time all this occurred – yes the same Brooklyn where you grew up.
    It seems a number of writers at Reason were not present at the time.
    That may be the reason they are bloviating about something that they did not experience and about which they have little knowledge.
    It was real, it was serious. A bunch of thugs took over a small country
    and used their thuggery to control the population.
    The “boycott” was important if for no other reason than a lesson to other thugs who shared their communist dream.
    Not enough space here to do justice to the issue.
    But Nick, I suggest that you an Matt Welch do a little more studying about this historical event before you come to any more unsupportable conclusions.

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