I'm happy that the Obama administration has opened up diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. That's not because the Castro brothers are in any way, shape, or form good and decent people. For all their crimes against their own people and more, they deserve to burn in hell.
No, I'm happy for the change because the U.S. trade embargo has manifestly failed at its primary objective of destabilizing the Castro regime.
Which isn't to say the Obama administration is handling the policy change with total aplomb. At the official flag-raising ceremony today at the Havana embassy, dissidents won't be present. Reports the AP:
Cuban dissidents, so long the center of U.S. policy toward the island, won't be invited to Secretary of State John Kerry's historic flag-raising at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Friday, vividly illustrating how U.S. policy is shifting focus to its single-party government. Kerry intends to meet more quietly with prominent activists later in the day, officials said.
The Cuban government labels its domestic opponents as traitorous U.S. mercenaries. As the two countries have moved to restore relations, Cuba has almost entirely stopped meeting with American politicians who visit dissidents during trips to Havana.
Kerry will meet with dissidents later in the day:
Officials familiar with the plans for Kerry's visit, the first by a sitting U.S. secretary of state to Cuba since World War II, told The Associated Press that a compromise was in the works. The dissidents won't be invited to the embassy event, but a small group will meet with Kerry at the U.S. chief of mission's home in the afternoon, where a lower-key, flag-raising ceremony is scheduled.
The Wash Post lays into the Obama admin decision thus:
The official U.S. explanation for excluding the dissidents is that the flag-raising ceremony is a government-to-government affair. This is lame. Inviting the dissidents would be a demonstration to Raúl and Fidel Castro of what the flag stands for: people freely choosing their leaders, a pluralism of views and a public engaging in the institutions and traditions of a healthy civil society. Not inviting them is a sorry tip of the hat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control and rule by fear.
That said, the most important thing is that normalization of relations, especially between regular Cubans and regular Americans (including businesspeople), proceeds apace.
The U.S. has dealt openly with regimes more oppressive than the Castro brothers, often arguing that commerce and cultural exchange help to reform and temper authoritarian regimes. There's little doubt that once Americans can freely travel to and spend dollars in Cuba, the worst aspects of repression will recede. If you doubt that, just take a look at all the nauseating Castro apologists who want the embargo to continue so as to keep Cubans "authentically poor" and keep Havana from "turning into Cancun." Such folks treat the suffering as mascots in a sick game of symbolic politics. Everyone knows that increased access to American dollars, goods, services, and especially attitudes will first raise living standards and then increase political freedom.
Republicans and some Democrats have attacked President Obama for selling out on Cuba and his shameful relegation of dissidents today will only fuel their anger. But it's well past time that critics of opening up to Cuba admit that our old policy was the definition of government failure and we need to look forward to helping the long-suffering residents of Castro's island prison move into the 21st century. The best way to do that is by increasing contact, not by carrying on with a manifestly ineffective policy.
Back in 2008, Reason TV interviewed Sen. Jeff Flake (then a congressman) about Cuba policy. Here's what he said then: