Cuba appears to be changing, but U.S. Senate will need proof
The first real winds of change in 50 years are moving over Cuba, bringing the possibility of an end to the 48-year-old trade embargo imposed by the United States against the Communist island nation.
It has always been in Cuba’s power to set the wheels in motion to end the embargo. But Fidel Castro, and in recent years his successor brother, Raul, could not bring themselves to put the welfare of their people above their need to rule with an iron fist.
Cuba remains a closed society, where prison is the reward for political dissent. And a commitment by the Castro brothers to tolerate political opposition has been a prerequisite to relaxing the embargo.
Fidel Castro much preferred to jail his political enemies and to rail against the United States, blaming it for his nation’s problems, rather than take responsibility himself.
Now, the Castros have essentially admitted that their half-century experiment with Communism is failing, leaving North Korea as the most visible example of recalcitrance.
Raul Castro announced last week that a half million government workers will be laid off and forced to find work in an emerging private sector. That’s about a sixth of Cuba’s 3 million government workers and a tenth of the nation’s total workforce of 5 million.
Meanwhile, in run-up to its annual condemnation of the 1962 U.S. embargo, Cuba released a list of steps it suggested President Barack Obama take unilaterally to circumvent the embargo, including easing travel restrictions.
Frankly, the last thing Obama needs from Cuba is advise about how to thwart the will of Congress in maintaining the embargo.
If Cuba is genuinely interested in normalizing diplomatic and trade relations with the United States, one or both of the Castro brothers should say so publicly.
Until that happens, and until more is done to empty Cuban jails of its political prisoners, the embargo will remain a political fact of life.
The United States is the only remaining country enforcing an embargo that was a creation of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. It would serve the interests of both nations to confine this remnant of another age to the dust bin of history. Cuba would receive obvious economic benefits; the United States would stop looking like a vindictive bully to both its enemies and its allies.
But the historically required prerequisite was a good-faith demonstration by Cuba that it was changing. That’s still necessary, for two reasons. First, because it is the right thing for Cuba to do. Second because any attempt to circumvent the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo, could never get through the Senate without significant affirmative action by Cuba.