Donald Trump got it right upon Fidel Castro’s death on Friday, even if the president-elect was simply stating the obvious: “The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Mr. Trump said in a statement hours after Castro’s death was announced.
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Since then, Mr. Trump has reiterated his harsh and hard line vowing to rescind President Obama’s normalization of relations with the still-oppressed island nation.
But the Editorial Board thinks that Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo got it “righter” when he said at a weekend press conference: “Only the Cuban people can free Cuba.”
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After more than 50 years, the United States’ hardline policies did little to effect change in Cuba under Fidel Castro. Human rights remained an unrealized dream for Cubans. And, unfortunately, after almost two years of this country’s normalized relations with Cuba, they still are elusive.
Again, Mr. Trump is right to criticize the lack of concessions made by the Cuban regime since Mr. Obama announced the stunning diplomatic thaw in December 2014. The Board, too, has repeatedly stated its disappointment.
However, for the United States, the overarching realization should remain this: Change is coming in Cuba. It is inevitable.
Raúl Castro has said publicly that he will step down in 2018. And though the U.S. embargo should remain in place until there is movement toward freedoms, isolation — a pragmatic policy, perhaps, for the mid-20th century — is not the smart path for the 21st.
Our advice as the new administration takes over: Let the Cubans do it. A new generation that has seen their parents, and their grandparents, survive the oppressive regime damaged, but with dignity, will not be denied control of their lives. Not in the time of Yoani Sánchez. Not while the Ladies in White march unbowed and unafraid. Not with the internet and cell phones.
These are not a helpless people, and U.S. policy should not treat them as if they are.
Cuba is better off without Fidel Castro. His death is a blow to the old guard, which considered him indestructible. The repressive machinery is still in place, but if the history of the region — and around the world — is any signpost, the Cuban system cannot defy indefinitely the rules of political gravity any more than Castro could defy mortality. The pull has been toward democracy in the hemisphere. Papa Doc, Trujillo and their ilk have come and gone.
In Venezuela, the president insists on keeping Fidel Castro’s twisted dream alive, despite the human toll. His buffoonery is proof that it’s a failed vision.
Last year, Freedom House reported that, “After years of civil war, the region experienced a remarkable change of course, in large measure due to patient American diplomacy. Death squads were suppressed, the left abandoned violent insurrection, and elections brought to power parties of the center-right and center-left.
“Between 1980 and 2014, nearly every Central American country experienced significant gains in [democratic freedoms.] Only Honduras lost ground, and Costa Rica maintained its already strong performance. The biggest improvements took place in El Salvador and Guatemala, which had been notorious for the brutality of their regimes.”
History’s arc has bent toward freedom. The Cuban people should take the lead, with U.S. encouragement, rather than a heavy hand.