As the Cuban revolution recently observed its 54th anniversary there is unfortunately quite a mound of failed policies, hollow rhetoric and ineffective strategies to take note of and hopefully learn from by those promoting democracy and human rights on the island.
While I can readily acknowledge the failure of many of the approaches the U.S. government — largely prompted by Cuban exiles — has pursued against the Castros’ regime, I must also recognize that I am (like so many others in this community) personally vested in this issue; therefore, sometimes the forest is hard to spot because of the trees.
Years ago, former Florida International University professor Damian Fernandez and I spoke several times about this personal involvement Cuban-Americans have with everything Cuba. He called it the “politics of passion.” He named a book after it, Cuba and the Politics of Passion (2000). For me, the “skin” that I have “in the game,” so to speak, is precisely what makes it so difficult to objectively assess the situation and, thus, many times, the strategies I have promoted to combat Cuba’s ruling regime have been counterintuitive.
By no means does the lack of objectivity Cuban-Americans may have displayed towards Cuba excuse, justify or support the abject failure that is the Castros’ revolution. For as myopic as exiled Cubans may have been in their approaches to depose Fidel and Raúl, the brothers Castro have been so criminally dictatorial that they have left little doubt in the international community that their goals have more to do with a Machiavellian preservation of power than the equality and social justice their revolution promised over half a century ago.
The Cuban regime was the great benefactor of the Cold War. Once the island’s future was wrested from the hands of Cubans and was instead determined by the “war of wills” between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Cuba’s fate was sealed. As the Caribbean nation became a geopolitical pawn in the Cold War chess board, Fidel Castro’s government became hermetically sealed by the U.S. economic embargo and President Kennedy’s non-intervention pledge to the Soviets (part of the Missile Crisis resolution).
The question then becomes: How to rid the country of this deeply embedded despotic regime?
Tactics and policies should be targeted at engaging the entrenched, reluctant dictatorship. This rationale is deduced from the increasingly obvious fact that the status quo aides the intransigent government in Havana.
The notion that solely opening up commercial avenues — by instantly ending the economic embargo — will automatically bring about political change is naively simplistic at best. What I am suggesting is a negotiation for changes far more rooted and tangible than simply allowing American companies to do business in Cuba.
Raúl Castro’s government once again faces an economic precipice as the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez seems imminent and many in Venezuela (including some Chávez supporters) are increasingly growing tired of having their oil coffers ransacked by the Cubans, who are perpetually looking for handouts due to their tragically ineffective economy.
Cuba’s ruling leaders are entering the throes of yet another economic debacle, thus making their flank weaker. It would be interesting to test the waters and see how much of their totalitarian apparatus they are willing to dismantle, if any at all.
If one more clearly focuses on the Cuban polemic, void of the impassioned “winner takes all” attitude that Fernandez highlighted in his book, the issue stops being one of “never legitimizing Cuba’s rogue political leaders” and rather one of strategically prodding the regime where it is most vulnerable and by doing so, beginning to pry the dictator’s grip from the island.
We owe those that “passionately” sacrificed so much to see a free Cuba a better effort than to stand idly by commemorating historically somber dates — pursuing the same irrational policies that do not yield effective results for Cuba’s elusive political conundrum.