So, South Florida Cold War warriors, we hear you took offense at the commie claptrap coming out of Cuba this week.
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That you’re ticked off because Havana claims the U.S. government and right-wing forces in Miami radicalized Alexander Alazo – the Cuban-American who’s confessed to shooting up the façade of the Cuban embassy in Washington with an assault rifle two weeks ago. That you’re indignant because Cuba says, with no proof, Alazo was really part of your yanqui terrorist plot.
OK. But here’s a bigger question for you: How’s it possible the Cuban regime is even hanging around today? I mean, it’s been three years since President Trump, after vilifying Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba, re-tightened U.S. sanctions and promised you the Castro crew would be gone “in the very near future.”
But they’re still there, nagging the United States of America.
Three years after dusting off the 20th-century playbook.
That’s two more years than U.S. Cuba policy hardliners like Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba. In 2016, on the first anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties, Rubio blocked the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Havana because, he said, it was obvious normalization was a flop. According to Rubio’s rarefied logic, because engagement with Cuba had failed to achieve in 365 days what isolating Cuba couldn’t do in half a century, isolation was obviously the more effective policy.
And that’s what he and all the "cold warriors" got when Trump took the White House.
Now, after three whole years, is it fair to call Trump’s re-isolation a flop? Sí, señor – at least by the glaring double standard Rubio and the cold warriors uphold. But you wouldn’t know it listening to them as they try to distract us from that failure by tearing into Joe Biden’s re-engagement proposal.
Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger, said recently he’ll restore Obama’s policy and reverse many of the economic penalties, like tougher restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba, that Trump resurrected. That prompted one senior Trump campaign adviser this week to charge Biden “wants to support the Cuban regime.” A Cuban-American adviser said Biden’s proposal “is a slap in the face” to Cuban exiles.
If he’s elected President, Biden will certainly need to execute engagement with more toughness than Obama often did – such as negotiating reparations for property seized by the Cuban Revolution in return for re-loosening sanctions. But what’s striking about the Cuban-American's “slap in the face” remark is its tacit, de rigueur disregard for the Cubans who actually live on the island.
That overweening oversight on the warriors’ part – not taking Cubans into account as fervently as they do Cuban exiles – is a big reason their Cuba policy, original and sequel, hasn't effected regime reform even as the island flirts with bankruptcy. But it’s why, in the long run, engagement has a shot.
To better understand that, I’d recommend the warriors read Anthony DePalma’s insightful and moving new book, “The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times” – a portrait not of Miami’s denizens but of Guanabacoa’s.
Guanabacoa is a historic Cuban town across the harbor from Havana. In it DePalma, a former New York Times correspondent, profiles folks whose long marriage to the revolution is estranged if not in bitter divorce proceedings. But they’re helpless to alter Cuba’s bleak, repressive situation, let alone rise up against it – as the warriors keep believing ever-tighter pressure on the regime will inevitably impel them to do.
Their quotidian struggles range from the irksome (keeping birthday cakes from getting destroyed on buses because there are no cardboard bakery boxes) to the gruesome (a loyal revolutionary houses her dementia-ravaged father in a closet because public elder care has collapsed). DePalma reminds us these Cubans are far too preoccupied with finding ways around the island’s economic disaster to tear down their own Iron Curtain.
“That resourcefulness became one of their greatest strengths but also their most paralyzing weakness,” DePalma writes, “because adapting to hardship kept them from demanding change and addressing the underlying problems of Cuba’s reality.”
Engaging them – especially the U.S. visitor engagement that buoys their independent private businesses and affords them personal contact with Americans’ democratic ideals – holds more potential for undermining the regime than isolating them does, especially after the regime’s old guard is gone.
That doesn’t mean it’ll free us of Cuba’s commie claptrap in one year or even three. But ask yourselves, cold warriors: do you really want to risk it hanging around for another half century?