The June 11 opinion by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont argues for engagement with Cuba, even if the Cuban government makes money off of the engagement and has no history of changing in response to American pressure.
Senator Leahy had an entirely different attitude with regard to engagement with South Africa and its apartheid government in the 1980s. In 1986, he voted for the Anti-Apartheid Act, which prohibited loans and investments in South Africa and imports of commodities from South Africa. The bill put sanctions in force until South Africa met certain conditions. It gave our president the power to impose new sanctions if there was no change.
Sen. Leahy thought sanctions would work, but they didn’t. They hurt ordinary South Africans, white and black. The sanctions informed the South African leaders that the rest of the world opposed that form of government. The government did not begin to change until 1990, when President F. W. de Clerk moved to legalize the African National Congress, released Mandela, and government leaders realized that change was inevitable.
Political prisoners were released and exiles allowed to return. Negotiations continued because both sides wanted non-violent change. It took another four years for Mandela to be elected president.
Is a cruel, authoritarian communist government somehow more admirable than a cruel, authoritarian apartheid government, Senator?
Cuba will not change until the Cuban Communist Party finally chooses a leader, like de Clerk in South Africa or Gorbachev in Russia, who realizes that his government is on the wrong side of history. That is not likely to happen soon.
Meanwhile, tourists spending money in Cuba and farmers selling grain to Cuba should know that they are supporting a government that imprisons and tortures political prisoners and does not allow a free press or free speech.
Michael A. Van Dyk,