Saturday, November 26, 2016

The “Brutal Dictator” is Dead

But at 90 years-of-age at the time of his death, Fidel Castro was just a feeble old man who had handed over governance to his younger Raul years before. Yes, Fidel was brutal, but his biggest crimes to America were his close ties to the Soviet Union (remember the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, where Russia tried to plant missiles right next to the US?) and his communist confiscation of wealth, businesses and land belonging to the upper and middle classes in 1959 and beyond… most of whom fled to the United States, particularly to the Miami area.
That United States was more than willing, for most of the post WWII decades, to support brutal dictators, from Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet, the Duvalier family, Suharto, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi… well, if I listed them all, there would be no room for this blog. Mere brutal repression of its own citizens was hardly a basis for denying U.S. support. No, what made Castro and Cuba a special case was its proximity to our coast and the passionate and financially powerful Cuban old guard who settled mostly in Florida. Look at all the countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and even Europe where we maintain diplomatic relations, and often with military and humanitarian aid policies. Military aid that is often used in civilian suppression.
As third generation Cuban-Americans are born, as younger ethnic Cubans are replacing the old guard, that powerful, almost always Republican, constituency, tolerance and a desire to reopen and normalize relations with that island nation have rapidly displaced much of that hostility that marked American-Cuban relations for over half a century. The Obama administration did much to begin that normalization process, one that still has serious economic sanctions in place… which are (were?) slowly being pushed aside. But the old guard is still angry and loud.
Until the most recent election. The meaning of “Make America Great Again” carried the rather clear mandate to return the United States to its policies and economic postures of the 1950s through the 1980s, a seemingly impossible effort to turn the clock back. And one of those potential mandates was to undo the normalization process with Cuba begun under the Obama administration. That Donald Trump marked Fidel’s passing by calling him a “brutal dictator” and hoping that Cuba would move to a “free future” is not a particularly good omen for continued progress between these nations. Raul Castro runs Cuba; it is hardly a democracy nor are there democratic movements afoot to depose the current administration.
Having ties only with democracies and free societies is hardly a requirement for workable ties between such countries and the United States. We have formal diplomatic relations and solid trade agreements with countries run by absolute monarchs, dictators and de facto one-party states. Brutality is everywhere. That we were at war with a country or had hostile conflicts is equally a non-starter. We have ties with Germany, Italy, China, Turkey, Vietnam… all representing nations of conflict in the 20th century, and if you want to back far enough, England. In fact, in each of the above circumstances, for each country noted, we reestablished diplomatic ties within a vastly shorter period than our separation from Cuba.
Mr. Trump stated that the United States would not be involved so much in movements to foment regime change. But does that include Cuba? Is Mr. Trump’s loyalty to his Cuban-American business partners in Florida, the dying old guard of still-angry Cubans living in Miami and environs, or to what’s best for America? Europeans and Canadians have been building business ties in Cuba for years, much to the consternation of America businesses who have not been given a level playing field to compete there by their own country. Will he undo what has been accomplished to date by the Obama administration? Mr. Trump is sending a mixed message.
“‘While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve,’ Mr Trump said in a statement.
“Barack Obama, under whom the US restored diplomatic ties with Havana after decades of tension, said history would ‘record and judge the enormous impact’ of Castro.
“The US had ‘worked hard to put the past behind us’ and was extending ‘a hand of friendship to the Cuban people’ at this time, he said.”, November 26th.
“Trump also issued a statement that said, ‘The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.’
“Sitting President Barack Obama, who has worked to restore U.S. relations with Cuba, also commented on Castro’s death in a statement that concludes, ‘Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.’” Variety, November 26th. Unless Donald Trump lives up to his pledge to the old guard in Miami to back off Obama’s policies…
Indeed, that vociferous Miami old guard has a powerful voice in a former GOP presidential candidate and U.S. Senator, who suggests that the continuing Republican majority in both houses of Congress combined with a retrograde presidency are not going to be good for normalizing Cuban-American relations: “Sen. Marco Rubio did not mince words when he weighed in on Castro’s death on Saturday. The Florida Republican called Castro an ‘evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people’ and turned Cuba into an ‘impoverished island prison.’
“‘Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted,’ Rubio said in a statement. ‘The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not.’” Washington Post, November 26th. Rubio most certainly does not speak to the feelings of the majority of Americans.
Isn’t the passing of Fidel Castro enough of a change for now? It is time not only to continue the normalization process but to accelerate it. It has to be what’s best for America and not just embittered, myopic and tiny special interests.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the best interests of the United States can no longer be governed by a bunch of really old men and women, a tiny but powerful minority, living in and around Miami.

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