Let's be honest about Cuba

Raul DamasAround this time in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell took it on the chin for opining, “Castro has done some good things for his people.”

Last week Powell spoke about the Castro regime much more honestly, stating that the recent crackdown, sham trials and summary executions “should be an outrage to every leader in this hemisphere, every leader in this world.”

And it was, although the target of said outrage has only occasionally been Cuba. So at whom is the world outraged? Why, the United States, of course.

A recent Reuters headline on Castro’s crackdown tells you everything you need to know: Rising Dissent, US Pressure Led to Cuba Repression.

For more than 40 years, through all the talk about boatlifts, embargos and, occasionally, economics and freedom, one thing has remained constant: Any discussion about Cuba can be exploited and turned against the United States.

One sees a similar manipulation in news coverage of the U.S.’s handling of post-Hussein Iraq. Were one to go only by The New York Times–and countless intelligent persons do–one would believe that Iraq is in total chaos today not because of Saddam Hussein’s three decades of brutality and irresponsibility, but because of the U.S. military’s liberation of the Iraqi people.

You see, it’s not Saddam Hussein’s fault that the Iraqis are facing hunger and poverty; Saddam only ran the place. The fault lies with U.S. foreign policy, which has enabled CNN to broadcast such stories without either the hungry Iraqi interviewee or the CNN interviewer being tortured, as was done in the past.

Returning to Cuba, the Reuters article does provide some interesting information about the reaction of Castro’s stalwart apologists:

The executions shocked European governments that have tried for years to coax Cuba toward democratic change with a policy of engagement through trade, investment and aid. The crackdown was “a terrible slap in the face” for the European Union, which had opened an embassy in Havana just three days before the arrests began, a European diplomat said.

In other words, the Europeans are appalled that a communist dictator would behave like a communist dictator.

Perhaps honesty of action on Castro’s part will lead Europe and the rest of the world to honest discussion regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba. Perhaps they will realize that isolation and the embargo have done no worse than any other country’s approach.

I won’t hold my breath.

Along with the same old pack of lies and willful misunderstandings that have always accompanied debate on Cuba, there has emerged a new set that, while shifting blame for Castro’s misdeeds directly to the U.S., reveals a more disturbing trend in discussions about Cuba.

Before examining that, however, let’s retire one particularly tired and self-contradictory “argument” against U.S. policy toward Cuba: The embargo is a convenient “excuse” for the Castro regime’s failures.

At the minimal risk that a generalization like this creates, nobody who believes in (or at the very least understands) capitalism still holds that Cuba is an economic sinkhole because of U.S. foreign policy. As such, it is foolish to claim that the embargo is an “excuse” for the Castro regime’s economic failure. This argument shifts blame to the Cuban people, for their implied stupidity. No émigrée I’ve ever met believes their hardship resulted from U.S. policy. The embargo is an “excuse” only to the Left, for whose intellectual shortcomings I make no defense.

Everyone in Havana knows they receive one bar of soap per month because of decisions made by Castro, not Washington. To argue otherwise is to deny the Cuban people an “insight” most Americans take as common sense.

The most recent way to blame the United States for Castro’s brutality is by criticizing the actions of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. The argument goes that were it not for U.S. diplomats–invariably portrayed by the media and the Left (quibble, quibble) in C.I.A.-like terms–supporting pro-democracy forces in Cuba, Castro wouldn’t have to hand out life sentences like candy.

This is an insidious form of blaming the victim, along the lines of a domestic abuse counselor inquiring, “Why didn’t you stop complaining after your husband hit you the first time?”

If only those pesky Cubans didn’t want freedom so badly and the U.S. government wasn’t so willing to help them, Castro wouldn’t have to play the stern father.

What appears to be an attack on American actions turns out to be a much harsher attack on those who support American values from abroad. Imagine blaming the Berlin Wall jumpers for forcing the guards to pick them off like tin ducks in a carnival.

Moral relativism is a valued tradition for the Left, but some on the Right also equate a principled policy decision with the type of restrictions on freedom implemented by Castro.

While I strongly affirm the right of individuals to travel freely, I also believe in the right of our government to place restrictions on those freedoms in the name of a good higher than cheap sun, surf and child prostitution. This is where my libertarian rubber hits the conservative road, so to speak.

If indeed our government were to lift the travel ban on Cuba, it is the Right’s responsibility, especially among those supportive of such policy change, to speak out against the tourist apartheid that exists on the island. For visitors to the island would be free, finally, to enjoy the Cuban beaches and hotels still denied the Cuban people.

If those advocating free travel to Cuba are comfortable with such a degree of honesty–rising above principle, as it were–then I say they’ve already paid a much higher price than any travel restriction could impose.

It’s time for a lot of things in Cuba: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, elections. But first of all, it’s time for honesty and that begins with an end to blaming the victim for actions only the bravest among us would attempt.

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