Open Cuba; close Guantánamo


Bang! That’s how the Cuban Revolution began. Fidel Castro’s “permanent revolution” is now on the verge of going out with a whimper.

As importantly, America’s historic lapse on Cuban soil is also about to disappear.

American polls show new support for normalizing relations with Cuba. Leading U.S. politicians such as Florida’s Charlie Crist and major media now advocate for change in the adversarial half-century policy that pits the United States against the tiny island nation. President Barack Obama’s recent handshake with Cuban President Raúl Castro became a thawing gesture felt round the world.

The inevitability of normalized relations is just a question of timing. Will it come prior to the 2016 presidential elections? Or will it just take the passing of 87-year-old Fidel Castro, now more reclusive in his twilight?

Regardless of how or when, the certain end of the formalized estrangement between these two nations will be a deathblow to the greatest ongoing justification for Castro’s revolution.

If the end of the Cold War is any indication, normalization will lead to an initial euphoria of increased family reunification. Families and businesses will try to reclaim lost property nationalized after the revolution. Thorough diplomatic negotiations, however, can pre-empt long legal battles. Early euphoria will give way to practical reality, and Cuba will face a painful transition, regardless of the post-Castro regime type — whether an elected democracy or, undesirably, a military dictatorship — and many will suffer through the changes.

The country already has a hard time sustaining its medical care and education systems. Whatever social equality currently exists is based on shared scarcity and privation. Fortunately, normalizing relations and ending the long embargo, which the Cubans refer to as “the blockade,” will flood the Havana markets with necessary food and other goods.

At first, some goods may be subsidized to soften the initial blow. But subsidies always come to an end, as the regime is well aware. In 1996, I was a journalism fellow reporting in Cuba during the “special period” characterized by food shortage and sacrifice. Back then, Cuba’s strategic partner and financial backer, the Soviet Union, had collapsed and its Russian successor state did not renew the deal to send subsidized fuel in exchange for sugar.

Keeping American triumphalism at bay after normalization — as Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did at the end of the Cold War — will be necessary to allow average Cuban citizens, many of them living at the poverty level, to maintain their dignity and national pride. It will be a delicate dance to both encourage and support change, but also to prevent backsliding and profitable exploitation of a country unsophisticated in modern financial and investment structures and swindles, as in post-Berlin Wall Eastern Europe.

Property restitution and family reunification are simple issues, however, when compared to the need to release Cuba’s remaining political prisoners, including American aid worker Alan Gross.

Holding political prisoners in the remaining Cuban gulag who have dared to speak out against the leadership or the party or collectivism’s failure to provide basic nutrition and needs, repressing religion or targeting pro-market forces that are not in the service of the ruling elite — this has to end and the remaining prisoners, including Gross, need to be given back their freedom and their voices.

When it comes to prisoners in Cuba, America also has to reckon with Guantánamo Bay. Gitmo is beyond an embarrassment. It is manifest hypocrisy and the cudgel used by other nations to beat us over our moral stance on human rights. Prisoners at Guantánamo are accused of al-Qaida-affiliations and terrorism, a more serious charge than Cuba’s political prisoners. They are not equivalents and there is no comparison. But one thing that stands out as exceptionally retarded in American human rights performance is the previous dark practice of “enhanced” interrogation methods on the island of Cuba. It was not just wrong. It was torture.

President Barack Obama recommitted himself during this year’s State of the Union address to closing down Guantánamo prison. The time has come to shut down this dark chapter in America’s extrajudicial history and bury the remnants of the debate over torture. U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former POW in Vietnam, would be the perfect person to travel to Cuba and shut down the prison, making sure the last of the prisoners are transferred to other nations or, if possible, into the American judicial system.

This suggestion is not a quid pro quo solution, but the symmetry and symbolism of the actions can bring Cuba back into a human rights respecting community of nations and turn America’s open wound into a scar that can eventually fade.

Markos Kounalakis is a research fellow at Central European University. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

©2014 The Sacramento Bee

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • French food on a slippery slope

    Before my first visit to France, around 45 years ago, I was told that you couldn’t find bad food there if you tried. I was of limited experience, so even a hot dog jammed into a baguette bore witness to that “fact.”

  • Even when the VA does act, it still fails our veterans

    Jymm’s preferred attire is a skin-tight Minnie Mouse T-shirt with bright pink windbreaker pants. Even when not sporting his outfit of choice, he dons short shorts and shirts with holes in them, because that’s what he finds most comfortable. His Santa Monica apartment was furnished with broken chairs and tables he dug out of dumpsters. He held onto his favorite old drinking glass long after it broke. Jymm is a Vietnam veteran (who holds two Purple Hearts), and he’s definitely a character. But he’s never hurt himself or anyone else.

  • Blue-state disgrace

    Immigration is a complex problem. So is the long-term question of how the United States should handle the influx of tens of thousands of children from Central America. Beyond the legal mandates, we owe them basic human decency. On the other hand, to say that they should all simply stay here for good begs big questions about encouraging more children to make this journey, and the rights of all the people abroad who are waiting their turn in line. Unless you believe in open borders, it’s all thorny. What seems right for an individual child can seem wrong systemwide.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category