What do you call a US policy that allows a notorious international terrorist to walk free on bail? A policy that detains and fines a class of New York high school students for taking a study trip over spring break? A policy that has been repudiated at the United Nations by virtually every other country in the world? A policy that, after forty-eight years of abject failure, is still based on the false assumption that success–in the form of “regime change”–is just around the corner? Imperial. Illogical. Irrational. Insane.
As Wayne Smith, former chief of the US interest section in Havana, has observed, Cuba seems to have “the same effect on American administrations that the full moon has on werewolves.” For almost five decades this small Caribbean nation has inspired some of the most rabid US policies, from economic embargoes and diplomatic sanctions to covert ops, paramilitary invasions and assassination attempts. Fidel Castro has survived such aggression from nine US Presidents, and it now appears he may outlast a tenth.
The next occupant of the White House will have an unusual opportunity to bring US policy toward Cuba into the twenty-first century. Slowly but surely, the political actors are realigning. Castro’s illness opened up unprecedented possibilities for change on the island, and the stable transition of power to his brother Raul exposed as a fallacy Washington’s prediction that the regime would disintegrate without its founder. Recent opinion polls reflect more moderate attitudes among Cuban-Americans, a shift that could ease the vise-like grip hard-line exiles have held over the crucial swing state of Florida. The Democratic takeover of Congress has placed limits on the power of right-wing Cuban-American legislators. Finally, the Administration has drained the blood from its global crusade for regime change with the self-inflicted wound known as the Iraq War.
In Washington, there is a reinvigorated, and increasingly bipartisan, effort to pressure Bush, presidential contenders and the new Congress to lift parts of the embargo and move toward normal relations. On April 18, for example, the New America Foundation launched an initiative to shape a “new consensus” on Cuba at a press conference featuring Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. Speakers at the event echoed a recent report from the Center for Democracy in the Americas, In Our National Interest: Top Ten Reasons for Changing US Policy Toward Cuba: “We need a new Cuba policy rooted in America’s national interest and our common sense.”
Those reasons, which include the constitutional right to travel, the harm the embargo has done to American business and the advancement of US security interests such as drug interdiction, have begun to resonate in Congress. Bills are being introduced to lift or modify the trade and travel embargoes. In an opinion piece in the April 14 Washington Post, Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Charles Rangel argued that it is time to “increase American influence by building bridges rather than barriers to Cuba.”
Toward that goal, The Nation has devoted this issue–guest-edited by Peter Kornbluh–to Cuba and US policy toward the island. We agree with Wilkerson that this is “the dumbest policy on the face of the earth.” The time has come to change it.