Should the United States Normalize Relations with Cuba?
It has been more than forty years now since Fidel Castro and his communist insurgents captured control of the Island of Cuba. Originally supported by the American government, Castro quickly lost United States backing once the communistic nature of his government became clear. The Revolution did its work, and thousands upon thousands of Cubans were deprived of their property, property that was taken over by the Cuban State, and in accordance with Marxist tenets, "redistributed" among the workers. In response, huge numbers of Cuban citizens fled the country. Many settled in the United States, especially in and around Miami, where they quickly came to constitute a powerful bloc with strong influence over American policy toward their homeland. Of course, over the years, attitudes have softened. Originally cut off from all except its fellow communist nations, and from the non-aligned states of the developing world, Cuba now has relations with most other countries as well...including the major industrial powers of Europe. The United States stands virtually alone in its continuing refusal to normalize its relationship with Castro's Cuba. It is an unusual position, yet one with deep roots in the American psyche. To Americans, their nation is the best of all possible worlds. The United States has a special mission to bring its "superior" way of life to the peoples of the globe. Communism, and thus Cuba, are un-American, and therefore by their very nature, oppressive and inferior. As Ronald Reagan declared during his inaugural address in 1981, the United States has the responsibility to "Remake the world all over again."
Yet is an assumption that American culture and civilization is superior to all others sufficient reason to maintain the current United States policy toward Cuba? No doubt, all the nations of the Earth believe their brand of culture to be the best; however, not every nation feels the same need to propagate its beliefs as does the United States of America. Apparently, the nations of Europe do not feel this need, though their civilization is the one upon which much of America's culture is based. One need only look at the experience of former European colonies to see that it was not acculturation that was the chief aim of European imperial expansion. Though Kipling's notion of "The White Man's Burden," provided an after-the-fact justification for many colonial adventures, the same poem also argues against the very notion of "bind[ing] your sons to exile." Members of the Colonial elites were frequently educated in the Western manner, and adopted many aspects of Western culture. Nevertheless, the primary reason for European conquest was economic, with an element of interstate rivalry thrown in. Not only do most other countries not feel the urge to transform their fellow nations after their own image, but it can also be argued that the very absence of meaningful interactions between Americans and Cubans itself prevents the "transformation" that most Americans so ardently desire. Free trade and travel between the two nations would certainly open up Cubans to American ideas and ways of thinking and doing business, but this, of course, is largely prevented by the continued American embargo. Thirdly, it could even be postulated that this continued embargo has caused such hardship within Cuba, that it has only hardened the anti-Americanism of the Cuban government, and of many of the Cuban people. To be starved into submission, is to be a people under siege. No doubt the defeated citizens of a medieval town were no more inclined to welcome their conquerors than would be many of the residents of modern-Cuba, whether the American "conquest" was the matter of an actual military invasion or not.
Many arguments can be raised against the jingoistic notion that one's country's civilization and culture are superior to all others. Modern theories on multiculturalism are based on the premises that, not only do all peoples have the right to choose the way in which they live, but also that allowing others to live as they desire promotes harmony, and mutual enrichment and prosperity. The Canadian Secretary of State of delivered the following remarks on the occasion of the Seventh Annual Toronto-Cuba Friendship Day:
The Canadian approach to diversity enriches our lives. It helps us to live together peacefully...It has taught us to go beyond merely tolerating one another to respecting and valuing the various backgrounds and beliefs that define us as individuals...Canada and Cuba have maintained an uninterrupted bilateral relationship since 1945. And there are more visitors to Cuba from Canada every year than from any other country.
Here, multiculturalism in the form of bilateral Cuban-Canadian relations actually promotes interaction.
This of course, brings us to our second point, namely that increased interaction between peoples, be they Canadians and Cubans, or any other people one with another, only increases mutual understanding and cultural cross-fertilization. Prior to its defeat in the Second World War, Japan exhibited what could be described as strong, "un-American" tendencies. Its authoritarian society and government, martial traditions, and out-and-out cruelty toward subject peoples and defeated enemies contrasted sharply with perceived notions of the American way, and also with many American, and European, cultural constructs. However, free interaction between Japan and the West in the decades since the war has produced many dramatic changes within Japanese society.
We share with Japan [sic] economists, Japan [sic] sociologists, Japan [sic] historians, and other area specialists common interests in many of the same social patterns: employment practices, family forms, schooling, political organization, legal attitudes, gender ideologies, religious beliefs, etc... this has produced convergent insights and conceptual cross fertilization.
The message is clear: interact with your neighbors in a friendly and meaningful fashion, and your neighbors will learn from you, and you from them. And hopefully, a mixture of what is best in both will be produced.
However, treat your neighbors as though they were less than yourself, starve them into submission, bankrupt them, and do everything you can to force them to accept your ways, and you will doubtless run up against stiff opposition.
I do not say this lightly, and least of all in what is termed "anti-Americanism." For the U.S. was to carry on the same hostility against another Caribbean country, Cuba, since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. For 35 years now it has kept up a blockade, an economic embargo against Cuba, the longest in human history. Not even against the Soviet Union, which the U.S. was to term an "Evil Empire" did the U.S. maintain an economic embargo for half as long as it has against Cuba. The hostility to black and Caribbean freedom, as symbolized by the Cuban embargo, continues apace. The embargo against Cuba was strengthened only last year. And not just embargo. In the 38 years of the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. has carried out more than 2,000 covert operations against Cuba, as recorded by the U.S. Congress. In that climate of implacable and unceasing hostility against Cuba, the U.S. still demands democracy in Cuba. Not even the U.S. itself could develop or maintain democracy, if victim of such unrelenting hostility from its former colonial master - Britain. By the way, without any continuation of hostilities from Britain, it took the U.S. thirteen years after 1776, the year of the American Revolution, before it held elections.
By continuing its belligerent actions toward Cuba, and by relentlessly maintaining its embargo, the United States has only forestalled what it hopes to achieve. Cuba is, in effect, a country perpetually under assault, and nations at war do not make good breeding grounds for democracy.
Nevertheless, there is always another side to any argument. Those who believe that the culture and civilization of the United States is indeed superior to that of other nations - in particular to that of nations that are not democratic - can always point to America's high standard of living. No other people in history has ever boasted of such great physical comfort, nor such lack of want of the necessities of life.
Few other peoples have enjoyed such a long period of national political stability, and such freedom to speak their minds, and to live their lives in accordance with their own personal inclinations. That many Cubans desire these same things is easily demonstrated.
At some Havana clubs comedians fire direct darts at the island's woes, satirizing the blackouts that plague most towns and the bare shelves at the government-run bodegas. A common theme is the daily struggle to make ends meet in a world where salaries are paid in pesos but most consumer goods can be bought only in dollars at a 26 to 1 exchange rate.
Cubans want the "good things in life" too, and clearly, the rigidly controlled communist government is not able to provide them.
That denying the Cuban people access to American consumer goods, and even more importantly, denying them the American-style freedoms to pursue these and other goals certainly breeds discontent. Castro's revolution was born of discontent, and so,…