by Dish Staff
— Slate (@Slate) December 17, 2014
Perhaps the most persuasive argument from skeptics of Obama’s historic opening with Cuba is that he didn’t extract enough concessions on democratization from the Castro regime. That’s the reason why Yoani Sánchez isn’t celebrating just yet:
What we have yet to hear is a public timeline that commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of these announcements to extract a public promise from the government, which must include, at a minimum four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months: The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island.
Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism. As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to believe that the day we have longed for is still far off. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.
Morrissey wonders why Obama didn’t demand more reforms:
It’s true that our 52-year embargo has failed to do anything to deflect the Castros from their oppression. The price signals from the American embargo may not have had the impact we hoped, but changing policies sends a signal, too. In this case, the signal seems to be weakness, or at least indifference to the regime’s continued oppression. We didn’t get very much out of this except our own people out and a handful of dissidents momentarily let out of prison. For that kind of shift, we should have demanded more reform from Cuba. Instead, we got an embassy and a likely return of Cuban cigars to American tobacco shops. With that in mind, small wonder most Republican contenders to replace Obama reacted negatively.
Chuck Lane expresses similar sentiments:
The one thing [Raúl Castro] does have is a clear goal, keeping himself and Cuba’s Communist elite in power, and a time-tested approach for doing so: permitting the minimum economic and political liberalization consistent with total control, and nothing more.
Greater engagement with the United States does indeed pose risks to the regime, not the least of which is that incoming tourists and businessmen will start to erode a pervasive system of social and political control. But Cuba’s authorities have years of experience manipulating foreign investors from Latin America, Canada and Europe, and with controlling Cubans’ interactions with foreign visitors, who tend to be more interested in exploiting the local population than liberating it.
Continetti, brimming with unreconstructed neocon absolutism, takes that criticism to the next level, calling Obama “a dictator’s best friend”:
The China option—foreign direct investment from America—is Raul and Fidel’s only play to sustain power over the society they have impoverished. And Obama says yes, yes to everything: an embassy, an ambassador, diplomatic relations, travel and exchange, status among nations, removal from the list of state sponsors of terror, and a serious opportunity to lessen the embargo that has kept the dictators caged for decades. In return, the Castro brothers give up … well, what? Alan Gross, a political prisoner and persecuted religious minority who shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place? A second man who has been in captivity for decades? Thin gruel. …
This isn’t giving away the store. This is giving away the shopping mall, town center, enterprise zone. And it is entirely in character with President Obama’s foreign policy.
But Drezner pushes back hard on this line of criticism:
[A]nyone who tells you that the sanctions just needed more a little time to work is flat-out delusional. After more than a half-century, they were never going to work.
By switching course, the United States reaps a few benefits. First, the odds of orderly liberalization and democratization in Cuba have increased. Not by a lot — maybe from 2 percent to 10 percent. But that’s still an improvement. Even if full-blown regime transition doesn’t happen, economic liberalization does make a society somewhat more free. Today’s Post editorial points to Vietnam as the worst-case outcome for the Cuba policy. But Vietnam now has a considerably more liberal climate than before the US opening, so I don’t think that’s the best example.
Moisés Naím offers another obvious counterpoint – i.e., that political reform doesn’t always happen by proclamation, and that the Castros may have a hard time maintaining their vice-grip on a more open economy and society:
Cuba is unlikely to embark on a political opening any time soon, unless the current regime suddenly implodes. Cuba’s dictatorship has proven very resilient to political pressures, and systematically and brutally clamps down on dissidents. The government will surely try to maintain its chokehold on the population; at times, the repression may even become harsher as the need to reassert the regime’s power mounts.
But in the long run, it will be hard for the Castro regime to maintain a tightly controlled political system if it allows more freedom of communication, travel, commerce, and investment. It’s easier to keep a lid on politics when a country is closed, hungry, and isolated than when it’s more open to the world.
In the aftermath of the agreement, the Cuban government will no longer be able to blame the island’s bankruptcy on U.S. policies. Throughout Latin America, the embargo has been perceived as a relic of heavy-handed U.S. intervention in the region. But that symbol is now fading for critics of the United States.