Is Castro’s Cuba Still a Threat?
Harry R. Jackson, Jr. | Nov 13, 2014
I remember seeing pictures of Fidel Castro for nearly 50 years. His
image has changed from a black haired, Liam Neeson like figure dressed
in combat fatigues to a wizened old man. Today’s 88 year-old Castro does
not look as dangerous or iron -willed as he did in the past, but very
little about the essence of the man has changed. Decades ago, Fidel
Castro led the Cuban Revolution, deposing then president, Fulgencio
Bastista in 1959 and replacing his government with a communist one. A
year later, the United States imposed an embargo, banning commercial
trade with Cuba, except for humanitarian items like medicine. Two years
later, the Soviets began placing ballistic missiles in Cuba aimed at the
United States; the ensuing crisis brought the two superpowers the
closest they ever came to a nuclear showdown during the Cold War.
For decades, the Cuban American population—a powerful voting bloc in
places like Florida—has stood uniformly against the Castro regime for
understandable reasons. Many of them have seen or experienced Castro’s
atrocities firsthand: the firing squads, political imprisonments, forced
labor camps, religious persecution, and so on. Most watched Castro seize
their land and possessions, while some saw their family members
murdered. Thus even after the Cold War ended, the embargo against Cuba
remained firmly in place.
With just 110 miles separating Cuba from the coast of Florida, hundreds
of thousands have attempted to flee the Communist regime, many risking
the trip in small boats or rafts. Perhaps the most high profile in
recent memory was Elian Gonzalez, the six year old boy who was found
floating in an inner-tube after all but two of his companions drowned
attempting to escape the island nation in 1999. Months later, Gonzalez
was returned to his father in Cuba, despite massive protest marches from
Cuban Americans who wanted him to be allowed to stay with his relatives
in Miami. Many speculated that the controversy contributed to the
outcome of the 2000 presidential election.
The embargo remains in place today more than fifty years after its
inception, but more recent polls show a shift in opinion, even among
Cuban Americans. On 23 occasions—most recently last month— United
Nations has condemned the policy, calling for the United States to
normalize its relations with Cuba. President Obama himself has often
spoken of a “new beginning for Cuba,” indicating that he is open to at
least softening travel restrictions and economic sanctions.
The editors of the New York Times agree that it is time, writing
recently that Obama should allow Cuba to attend next year’s Summit of
the Organization of American States:
Normalizing relations with Havana would improve Washington’s
relationships with governments in Latin America, and resolve an irritant
that has stymied initiatives in the hemisphere. The Obama administration
is leery of Cuba’s presence at the meeting [of the OAS] and Mr. Obama
has not committed to attending. He must — and he should see it as an
opportunity to make history.
Critics of the embargo point out that it has not achieved its goals: the
Castro family remains in power and enforcing the policy diverts scarce
national security resources to a pointless endeavor. Furthermore, as
various international companies vie for Cuba’s telecommunications
market, American companies will be left out if the embargo is not lifted.
But supporters of the embargo point to its moral as well as practical
importance. Not surprisingly, the Miami Herald editorialized in
opposition to lifting the ban:
The Cuban nomenklatura still runs the Soviet-style planned economy that
largely remains in place, and its members remain its major
beneficiaries…Cuba is still an unforgiving, authoritarian police state
that will stop at nothing to stifle those it deems enemies of the
state…Arrests of dissidents are going up, not down. Press freedom?
Forget about it.
While few Americans fear enemy action from Cuba as we did during the
1960s, Cuba may not be as harmless as some suppose. In March of this
year, the UN confirmed that Cuba was caught supplying North Korea with
various weapons, including two MiG-21 aircraft. But if anything should
give us pause before welcoming Cuba into our circle of international
friends, it is the treatment of American Alan Gross. Gross, who came to
Cuba as a subcontractor for the US government, has been unjustly
imprisoned since 2009. Working to bring internet access to small
communities in Cuba, he was sentenced to a 15 years in prison for espionage.
Since he has been imprisoned, Gross has lost over 100 pounds and his
physical, mental and emotional health is rapidly deteriorating. In
addition to general mistreatment, Cuban authorities denied Gross’s
request to attend his mother’s funeral. This summer, CNN reported that
Gross refused to see visitors and has said goodbye to his family
members. Although the State Department insists that it is pushing
continually for Gross’s release, many of his friends and relatives are
hoping for stronger pressure from the same government that went to great
lengths to secure the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Cuba may or may not present a real threat to America, but it is clear to
anyone paying attention that its government has not changed in any
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