I have to admit that I’ve read so many anti-embargo columns that when I find a columnist who agrees with me I have to rub my eyes.
Here’s one from someone named Roger E. Hernandez:
In the wake of Fidel Castro’s resignation, it is not difficult to find pundits dismissing the Cuban embargo as a Cold War relic supported only by a handful of old men in Little Havana, “hard-liners” who have somehow taken control of U.S. foreign policy between domino games at the nursing home.
Pundits and congressmen, I should say.
“I wonder what twisted new rationale they will create to continue their failed policies,” says Jose Serrano, the South Bronx Democrat, about those crotchety right-wing viejos down in Miami. His press release actually compliments the Cuban dictator: “This important figure defies the attempts of his critics to paint him simply as a power-hungry authoritarian. Instead, it proves that Castro sees clearly the long-term interests of the Cuban people.”
Yes, a member of the United States Congress, explicitly and without shame, defending an internationally condemned violator of human rights. And Serrano is not even Republican.
Serrano was one of more than 100 congressional representatives who sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for a “complete review of U.S. policy” because the current policy “leaves us without influence at this critical moment.”
You see, Castro’s resignation brings the possibility of “a new chapter,” Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, another signatory, tells us. “Whether that new chapter will be open, however, largely depends on a new approach to Cuba by the U.S. government,” he says.
So don’t fault Cuba’s 49-year-old, one-party, Marxist-Leninist, Maximum-Leader system for failing to embrace democracy. Blame America first.
And Flake is not even a Democrat.
Actually, what would really really leave the United States without influence in Cuba is to unilaterally lift the embargo without preconditions, as some have urged.
There would be no better gift for an essentially unchanged Cuban regime than re-established trade with the United States or (their fondest hope) a friendly normalization of diplomatic relations. The Havana leadership hopes that with U.S. backing, the system can perpetuate itself for a generation. And that is why the embargo cannot be reduced to an outdated policy favored by a couple of old guys in Miami. The embargo cannot bring democracy to Cuba, but lifting it at the wrong time can keep democracy out.
Still, Cuba is in a moment of uncertainty, or at least less certainty than there was before Fidel Castro became ill. Should U.S. policy just proceed unaltered as if nothing had happened?
There have been calls for an incremental lifting of the embargo, calibrated on what actions Havana takes. “If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades,” went Barack Obama’s statement on Castro’s resignation.
Nothing new there. The embargo has always rested on the premise that if Havana moves toward democracy, Washington lifts the embargo.
Which is all that Miami is saying anyway.
Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
(c) 2008 King Features Synd., Inc.