Guy W. Farmer: Changing U.S.-Cuba relations
A couple of my friends have asked me about President Obama’s unilateral decision to renew full diplomatic relations with Cuba. After thinking it over I’ve decided that I generally favor Obama’s decision, but don’t think he should have renewed full relations in one fell swoop. In doing so he struck a one-sided deal that favors Cuba and the authoritarian Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.
Although I supported the Cuba embargo for many years, it has become clear that the embargo has outlived its usefulness. Shortly after 1959, when the Castro brothers overthrew a corrupt dictator, Fidel showed his true colors by pledging allegiance to communism and the Soviet Union. That was followed by the failed, CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade against all ships bound for Cuba — an extremely tense period in U.S.-Cuba relations.
I have closely followed our relations with Cuba ever since 1967, when I joined the U.S. Foreign Service, especially during my two tours of duty in Venezuela, 1968-70 and 1986-90. After the Castro brothers took over, many well-educated Cubans fled to Venezuela, second only to the U.S. as a destination for Cuban exiles. I learned a lot about Cuba in the late 1980s when I served as embassy public affairs officer (PAO) for U.S. Ambassador Otto J. Reich, an outspoken Cuban – American and staunch anti-Communist who had been the public face of Col. Oliver North and the Nicaraguan “Contras.” Reich is still pounding the anti-Castro drums in Washington, D.C.
Returning to President Obama’s decision to renew full diplomatic relations with Cuba, I believe it was time to loosen our 50-year-old trade and tourism embargo against the Castro regime, but I would have favored a cooperative plan in which the president and Congress would have worked to free thousands of Cuban political prisoners. Instead, Obama traded three convicted Cuban spies who had American blood on their hands for ailing American businessman Alan Gross, who was held unjustly for five years in Cuba’s prisons.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Obama’s decision “reflects a historic turning of the page on enmities born of a different era and toward a brighter and more promising future,” adding that we will continue our “strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.” I’m quite dubious about that, however, given the Castro brothers’ dismal record on democracy and human rights. For his part, Cuban President Raul Castro told fellow citizens that he signed an agreement with Washington “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, slammed the agreement, calling President Obama “willfully ignorant” and “the worst negotiator” since Jimmy Carter. Ouch! Rubio said normalizing relations with Cuba will allow the Castro brothers to shore up their power base and continue oppressing the Cuban people.
For those who refuse to recognize Communist Cuba’s horrible human rights record I strongly recommend “Against All Hope,” a 1986 book by dissident writer Armando Valladares, who spent 22 years in Cuban prisons for criticizing the Castro regime. His book vividly chronicles many examples of torture and murder that he witnessed in prison.
One of the first steps I’d take to improve U.S.-Cuba relations would be to shut down Radio and TV Marti, which waste more than $26 million taxpayer dollars per year on a radio station that no one listens to and a TV station that no one watches because of Cuban jamming. Our government has flushed more than $500 million down that drain since Radio Marti went on the air in 1983. Basta ya! (Enough already).
Guy W. Farmer is a retired diplomat.