Engagement or embargo? That is the question not just in Cuba but also in places like Iran, Russia, and China. Should we trade, or should we withhold our trade in hopes of changing the behavior of other nations? Which will have more impact?
For over half a century, we have had an embargo with Cuba. Not only did the Castros survive it, but they milked it for everything it was worth. As the only source of information on the island for decades, they stoked the nationalism of those Cubans who remained in Cuba to blame America for any of their shortages, instead of the true culprit: socialism.
The embargo did nothing to defeat Castro—absolutely nothing. It is possible it kept him in power longer because of the ability the embargo gave him to further control his people.
President Obama and I agreed on very little, but his slight opening with Cuba was one of those areas. Since his decision to allow more travel and commerce with Cuba, Americans are visiting in record numbers and on their trips they are displaying the greatness of American capitalism: wealth. Every dollar left in the hands of cab drivers, hotel workers, waitresses, and valets is a show of what awaits Cubans if they reject socialism.
We can't spread democracy through force, as we have shown time and again in our recent foreign policy. But we can model capitalism to the world, export it through our people and goods, and win the debate without one bullet being fired.
When I was a kid, my family was virulently anti-communist. We still are. We were opposed to the opening of "Red" China and all that entailed. We were wrong. China may still have aspects of socialism, but no one can argue it isn't more capitalist and freer than before we opened diplomatic relations and trade.
Instead of hiding our capitalism behind a failed embargo, we should tear down the walls of trade restriction and open up travel and trade even more. Instead of allowing the socialists to continue their propaganda unopposed, we should have sufficient confidence in capitalism to let them go head to head.
Let's see what Cubans will choose when they come face to face with iPhones, modern cars, and tourists with fistfuls of dollars buying Cuban services and goods.
I don't fear the government of Cuba. I don't fear competition between capitalism and socialism. End the embargo now and capitalism, like the endless waves that lap the Cuban shore, will erode the weak grasp of socialism, day by day, until freedom comes to Cuba—not with a beach landing of troops, but in the realization that poverty and socialism are, in fact, synonyms.