When it comes to Cuba’s dictatorship, there are many who believe that engagement and trade is the answer to ending the more than half-century enslavement of the Cuban people. Ignoring the fact that engagement and business deals with the rest of the world has only served to enrich and entrench the Castro monarchical dictatorship, they continue to tell us that the best way to topple the slave masters in Havana is to drown them in billions of dollars.
Interestingly enough, when it comes to other brutal dictatorships, the opposite applies. In Burma, the military dictatorship there rules with an iron fist, just as the Castro dictatorship does. But according to the Washington Post, the solution to liberate the Burmese people from the yoke of tyranny is isolation and sanctions, not engagement and dialogue.
The latest farce of controlled elections to a pseudo-parliament is hopeful in one sense, though: It shows that the generals care enough about global opinion at least to pretend at democracy. That in turn suggests that outside nations could exert some influence if they chose.
Which brings us to the failing policy of the Obama administration, ostensibly a marriage of engagement and targeted sanctions. In practice, engagement has been half-hearted and fruitless – the regime seems uninterested – and sanctions have been allowed to languish. The administration hasn’t added a single name to the Treasury Department’s Burma sanctions list or cracked down on a single bank doing business with the regime – even as the generals sign multibillion-dollar development deals with companies in China, Thailand and elsewhere.
There’s an honest debate to be had about whether sanctions hurt ordinary people more than their rulers. But a focused effort to target the regime and its cronies might leave more room to expand humanitarian aid to the population. Right now, the administration has the worst of all worlds. It’s not influencing events, it’s not helping the people and it’s positioning itself to be blamed nonetheless.
What is good for Burma is not good for Cuba, it seems. Perhaps if Burma had a bearded dictator that evoked romantic images of revolutionaries fighting in the jungles, and if they had a Che like character that was emblazoned on millions of t-shirts, they would feel differently. But unlike Cuba, Burma is simply a brutal dictatorship without the romantic undertones assigned to the murderous Castro dictatorship.