The outcome of the recent Summit of the Americas was a total embarrassment for the United States – and not just because of the misconduct of the Secret Service detail. Our Cuba policy was roundly condemned by virtually all other governments and it was made clear that if we stick to barring Cuban attendance, there would be no more Summits, for the other governments would not participate.
And why the U.S. refusal to sit with Cuba? Because, we say, it is not a democracy. No, but it is moving in the right direction. At the urging of the Catholic Church, Cuba has freed most of its political prisoners, and also has opened up to the private cultivation of land and to more and more small private enterprises. Surely we could encourage movement in that direction more effectively by engaging and resuming dialogue, rather than by sitting on the sidelines and in effect saying that only when they have a perfect democracy will we talk to them.
Further, the Cubans note that our conditions for dialogue continue to change. For years, we assured them that if they would but give up their ties of dependency on our principal adversary, the Soviet Union, and stop their efforts to overthrow other governments in this hemisphere, then we could begin to engage and enter into a constructive dialogue. By the early-1990s, the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, and Cuba had officially renounced any intentions overthrowing other hemispheric governments. Rather, they said, it was their intention to live in peace with all. And so have they done.
In other words, our conditions had been met. And so did we then improve relations and begin that constructive dialogue? No, quite the contrary. The U.S. then took new measures against Cuba in the form of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and with even greater hostility in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act. The purpose of the latter was clear as Senator Helms vowed that with its passage we could now say “adios, Fidel.”
Well, not quite.
Worst of all, of course, was the administration of George W. Bush, whose objective, quite openly, was to bring about the end of the Castro government. But he did not succeed either. Raul Castro replaced Fidel, yes, but the Revolution remained intact.
Meanwhile, all other governments of the hemisphere did began to engage with Cuba, until it has today reached the point at which only the United States does not have diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Ironically, we are now the ones who are, at least in this sense, isolated- and we will remain isolated so long as we hold to this outdated and utterly sterile policy of refusing to move toward a more normal relationship with Cuba. As some have put it, “It is a self-inflicted wound.”
As indicated at the Summit, the time has long passed for the United States to move toward constructive dialogue and engagement with the Cuban people. Our policy of regime change has not worked, and, instead, is utterly counterproductive. If we keep it up much longer, the United States may find itself in Cuba’s place as the one country isolated from the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
By Wayne Smith.