In her classic book “The March of Folly,” noted historian Barbara W. Tuchman wrote about nations pursuing policies inimical to their interests “despite the availability of feasible alternatives.”
It would be wise for those advising President Biden on Cuba policy to read this book — especially now that the administration says its new policies aim to “support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom.”
Still, several questions are in order: Does the new Cuba policy advance American interests? Does it help the people of Cuba? Were alternatives available and, if so, were they presented to the president?
In the absence of congressional hearings, we may have to wait for a high-level Biden adviser’s memoir to find out.
In the meantime, consider the following:
The State Department says that the policy shift is needed to provide Cubans “greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home.” But Cuba’s misfortunes are not because of the U.S. embargo or other policies. The Cuban tragedy results from the regime’s repression and its economic policies, which have brought similar results in every country in which they were tried, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and others under communist rule — and even North Korea and North Vietnam today.
If the administration wants to see the end of widespread hunger and food shortages in Cuba, it should convince Raúl Castro to end the internal blockade, the monopoly the regime holds on economic activity and the imprisonment of farmers who attempt to sell their products to other Cubans.
Providing resources to the Cuban government delays the inevitable: the day when it’s forced to discard its current economic system. To continue exporting frozen American chicken to Cuba, paid by remittances from Cuban Americans, doesn’t make sense. When Cuban farmers’ productive capacity is liberated, Cuba will need little food imports.
Cuba’s significant development before Castro was made possible by its sugar industry, a considerable export. Today, sugar is negligible to the economy, and the embargo had nothing to do with it. In a historic speech in 1970, Fidel Castro acknowledged his responsibility for the disaster.
Under a free-market system, Cuba could feed its own people. It could export food products.
It is admirable that the administration wants to reunite Cuban families. But why didn’t it include in its concerns the plight of Cuban doctors, athletes and others who escape abroad, while the regime prohibits their going home to visit their families for seven years?
Biden could have conditioned the flow of millions of dollars that the regime wants to the reunification of more than 1,000 political prisoners with their families. The president could have asked Raúl Castro to decree a political amnesty, like the one that freed him and his brother Fidel, after serving less than three years of a 15-year sentence for an attack on an army garrison where many Cubans died.
Instead, Washington politely called “on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures.” Lame.
Why give concessions to Havana when the regime has yet to condemn Moscow’s threats to deploy military forces in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as a response to a greater U.S. presence in Europe in light of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine? When is Raúl Castro going to go on the record, objecting to Putin’s statements about the use of nuclear weapons?
Shouldn’t the withdrawal of what Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, has denounced as “a Cuban Army of occupation in Venezuela” have been a precondition?
Why not demand that Cuba allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit its political jails, when the IRC has visited the detainees at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo?
Perhaps many of these matters would have been handled differently had the administration kept its pledge to consult with the Cuban-American community and with congressional committees on these issues.
And Biden still has promises to keep. He did say in 2021 that the United States would provide free internet access to the Cuban people.
Frank Calzon is a Cuban political scientist.