Not to be too personal about this, but it’s a shame that Fidel Castro has lived to see this day. He’ll see it as a victory in his lifelong struggle against the United States and the values that it stands for.
Ailing and pushing 90, the tyrant relinquished power years ago. But it can hardly be imagined, as Gov. Bobby Jindal pointed out, that Castro is unhappy to see the first direct conversation between a Cuban leader, his younger brother, Raul, and an American president.
We deeply regret the decades that have followed the Castro revolution of the late 1950s, because of the high cost to the Cuban people. That cost was not inflicted by the United States but by a repressive communist dictatorship at home. That regime today continues to oppress human liberties on a broad scale. Its economic policies are as antique as the Castros themselves, although there has been a moderation of some of the socialist dogma in recent years under Raul Castro.
All that said, is this normalization of government relations a bad idea?
After all, we have embassies in many dictatorships, including that of the mainland Chinese Communists, one of the world’s leading abusers of human rights. We have an embassy in Moscow, where the communists once ruled so harshly and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin rules harshly today.
The normalization of relations, then, should not be a huge matter for controversy. If anything, a greater American presence in Havana and in consulates elsewhere on the island could be embassies for promotion of our values, as well as the interests of American travelers and, eventually, businesses.
It is that latter point, though, where President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations gets into choppier water. Extensive trade and travel restrictions that make up the years of actions called the Cuban embargo are in U.S. law and must be changed by Congress. Many members on both sides of the party aisle might object. On its own, the Obama State Department can review Cuba’s current status as a state sponsor of terrorism; here again, though, Congress likely will be reluctant to leave such a decision to the executive branch.
On a purely parochial note, Louisiana will be looking at the impact of freer trade with Cuba because of sugar. Our sugar cane crops might face greater foreign competition in the future, although domestic cane farmers are protected by a tariff system against imported sugar cane flooding the market. Rice farmers, on the other hand, are likely to want to see more open markets, and they are not alone in being interested in new business with Cuba.
Most businesses across the United States are likely to be eager for a new market for goods and services. Even if today’s Congress balks against freer trade in various ways, the odds are that Obama has cracked a door that eventually will swing open much wider.
The downside for today is that a brutal and obnoxious government will celebrate as if it’s a winner.