Suddenly, there appears to be movement, or at least the start of a conversation, regarding policy toward Cuba on the part of the European Union and Americans interested in the welfare of the Cuban people.
This is a healthy development. No policy should be declared sacrosanct and off-limits for periodic review, particularly those framed during the height of the Cold War.
There’s just one thing missing in this picture: The Cuban government.
The government’s hard-line stance on human-rights issues represents an obstacle in the thawing of relations that cannot be ignored. Moreoever, not only is there no sign that the Castro regime is interested in any sort of dialogue or negotiation over its despotic policies, but rather the opposite.
The latest evidence of the regime’s perfidy puts the Castro government squarely in the middle of a global weapons-supply chain to North Korea, in violation of explicit U.N. sanctions.
And just days before pollsters in this country released findings indicating that majorities across the board, including people of Cuban descent, favored a thaw in relations between the two countries, police raided the home of prominent dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antunez. He was hauled away and detained for hours — and so was his wife, after demanding his freedom — before being released. Their home was vandalized and sacked.
This is standard operating procedure by the Castro security apparatus. Both at home and abroad, Cuba stands on the side of the oppressors, as it always has.
Opponents of the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, which grew out of restrictions imposed in 1960 by the Eisenhower administration, would argue that the failure to make an impact on Cuba’s behavior after all these decades is proof that the embargo doesn’t work.
But countries in Western Europe and elsewhere that have fielded a more flexible and engaging policy toward Cuba haven’t made a difference either. The larger point is that the Castro government cannot survive without resorting to the use of police-state tactics to maintain control and refuses to risk any softening, regardless of the carrots and sticks extended by other countries.
Why, then, should this be the time for any country that wants to help the Cuban people soften the policy toward the government?
The European Union has set in motion a review of its “common position” toward Cuba, but European leaders say any progress in relations will be conditioned on improving human rights in Cuba. That must remain the uppermost consideration. To be fair, the process should involve getting input from dissidents, meeting with independent members of civil society and sticking with the current policy until all the issues have been resolved.
For the United States, the release of American Alan Gross from a Cuban prison where he is serving a 15-year sentence for what amounts to a customs violation should be a pre-requisite for any consideration of changes in policy.
It has been clear for years that attitudes toward Cuba were changing in this country, particularly among younger Cuban Americans. But Cuba’s dismal human-rights record should be the foremost consideration in any domestic dialogue about U.S. policy.
Unilateral steps by the United States must be measured by the prospect that they can provide relief for average Cubans from the daily abuses they continue to suffer under the unchanging regime of the Castro brothers.