News Column

Opinion: Cuban Thaw

Jan. 18, 2013

With President Barack Obama having yet to achieve one of his professed, pre-2008 election diplomatic goals, improved relations with Cuba, it is interesting to see that nation taking steps to improve its situation in the world.

Taking the more mechanistic view of Cuban policy, it is a fact that Fidel Castro is feeble, his brother Raul, now president, is 81, and Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela who has helped the Cuban economy immeasurably for years by providing cut-rate oil, is fading fast with the succession in Caracas unclear. All of these factors might argue for a more open approach to the world on the part of Cuba.

Almost none of what is happening in Cuba is due to U.S. policy, which continues to be a monotonous waiting for the Castros to die, then hoping to improvise an ongoing policy from there. The latest wrinkle in the U.S. policy toward Cuba is that the neoconservatives, having failed to skewer Mr. Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., with being insufficiently zealous in his support of Israel and the Vietnam and second Iraq wars, have now turned to suggesting that he is soft on Cuba, and, on that new basis, should not be approved by the Senate for the Cabinet post for which Mr. Obama wants him.

The fact of the matter is that there is no reason whatsoever for the United States not to have decent relations with Cuba, a small island 90 miles from the American mainland, 54 years after the Castros came to power, 52 years after the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion, and 22 years after Communism stopped being a threat to the United States with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Cuba's own latest move was action to liberalize most Cubans' ability to travel abroad, including to the United States. Cubans still have to obtain a passport from their government before travelling, just as Americans do, but can now leave the island and return, pretty much without hindrance. One reason for the change of policy was economic. Cuba was losing too many of its trained personnel, especially doctors, through travel outside the country that turned into exile.

Whatever the Castro government's final motivation was, the change should be commended as a general, albeit slight, lifting of a still autocratic government's heavy hand off its people's neck.

___

Distributed by MCT Information Services