Why Not Open Up To Cuba?

by Dish Staff

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 12.43.00 PM

Aaron Blake flags one argument that won’t get much traction – that Cuba is a genuine national security threat:

Despite Cuba’s proximity to the United States (about 90 miles from Florida) and its alliance with other antagonistic countries like North Korea and Russia, Americans have grown progressively less and less concerned that the island country actually poses a threat to the United States. A CNN/Opinion Research poll earlier this year, in fact, showed that just 5 percent of people viewed Cuba as a “very serious threat” and 21 percent said it was a “moderately serious threat.” Another 72 percent said it wasn’t a threat at all or “just a slight threat.” Back in 1983, two-thirds of Americans viewed Cuba as at least a “moderately serious threat,” but that numbers has fallen steadily since then.

Zack Beauchamp notes that another favorite talking point of anti-Cuba hardliners – calling the country a state sponsor of terrorism – is a bit outdated:

The US government designated Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982, which imposed financial penalties on the Cuban government. At the time, the US accused Cuba of supporting the Spanish Basque terrorist group ETA and the FARC militants in Colombia. Though the US continues to label Cuba a terrorism sponsor, that’s just transparently untrue. According to the State Department‘s most recent annual review of terrorism worldwide, “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

“Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government,” the report reads. And “throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.” That doesn’t sound much like a state sponsor of terrorism.

In fact, FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire yesterday, possibly (though not necessarily) pointing the way to peace in Colombia. Richard McColl wonders whether these two events were connected:

How much influence Cuba had in the decision taken by the FARC is up for speculation since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been making conciliatory overtures in his statements to the press in recent weeks. Now the question in Colombia, is, will a bilateral ceasefire be announced in coming days? In the past, Santos has been stubbornly opposed to a bilateral ceasefire, but his position on the issue may be shifting. In an interview with W Radio in Bogota on Wednesday morning before the news about Cuba broke, he said that he was waiting for concrete actions from the FARC that would enable a deceleration of the conflict. Less than six hours later, the FARC potentially came good on the challenge.

Larison pushes back on the notion, per Elliott Abrams, that Obama’s opening to Cuba will embolden other enemies of the US:

Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba isn’t going to have negative “repercussions” around the world. For one thing, persisting in a useless policy towards Cuba doesn’t tell us anything about Washington’s willingness to back up its guarantees elsewhere in the world. It does hint that the U.S. is eventually capable of recognizing policy failure when it is staring it in the face, and that has to be modestly reassuring to our allies and regional neighbors. If there are any repercussions from this decision, they are all likely to benefit America. Latin American governments will have less of a reason to fault U.S. policy towards Cuba. The U.S. will be able to demonstrate that it is still capable of resuming relations with states that it has previously treated as pariahs, and that might make U.S. diplomacy more effective in other places.

Ishaan Tharoor finds it odd that Republicans who tout the benefits of trade liberalization everywhere else don’t extend the same optimism to Cuba:

It’s a strange irony that some of Washington’s biggest proponents of free trade don’t want to see the United States enable such liberalizing changes in Cuba. Closer ties to Cuba, including trade links, will ideally lead to a deepening of Cuba’s own curtailed civil society. That, at least, is the current message of the Obama administration. The more open Cuba gets, the more access its people may have to the Internet and to outside channels of information. That, the hope goes, may speed political reform in Havana.

Critics may point to countries like China and Vietnam, where decades of economic development and free enterprise have yet to yield any real liberal, democratic dividend. But Cuba is fundamentally different; it exists in the U.S.’s shadow and its links to the American mainland, including some 1.5 million Cuban Americans, mean that even the most dogged authoritarian leader will struggle to inoculate the regime from American influence — that is, once Washington finally chooses to engage with Cuba.

Joe Klein makes a similar argument:

Those who favor a continuation of our failed Cuba policy are a reflexive lot with a muddled argument. They’re the usual myopic tough guys–John McCain and Lindsey Graham immediately jumped on the President after his Cuba announcement today–who have no idea of the seductive power of the American way of life in the rest of the world. I can understand why the corroding Iranian regime would want to keep us out (a sign in Tehran: “When the Great Satan praises us, we shall mourn”). I’ve always thought: then let’s recognize the hell out of them. Let ‘em mourn. Let the Revolutionary Guard try to fend off Kanye West and Star Wars. Good luck with that.

Rich Lowry, however, insists that easing trade restrictions won’t spur the growth of free enterprise in Cuba, but rather will only enrich the Castro regime:

Consider tourism. The Cuban military has a enormous holding company called GAESA. One of its companies, Gaviota, operates an extensive network of hotels and resorts from which it earns a bonanza of foreign exchange, according to the strategic consultancy Stratfor. Imagine if the Pentagon owned the Radisson, Marriott and Hilton hotel chains. That is the Cuban tourism industry in a nutshell. If tourism were the key to empowering and eventually liberating the Cuban people, the country would be a robust democracy by now. About a million Canadian tourists go to Cuba every year. In total, more than 2 million tourists visit annually, and yet the Castro regime is still standing.

Michael Daly, meanwhile, points out that Cuba still harbors a number of American fugitives, including the infamous Assata Shakur:

Among the roughly 80 other American fugitives in Cuba is Ishmael Ali LaBeef, who hijacked an airplane after he and four buddies murdered eight innocents during a robbery at a Virgin Islands golf course in 1972. There is also Victor Gerena, who is wanted in connection with a $7 million armored car robbery in Connecticut in 1983. And then there is William Morales of the Puerto Rican independence group the FALN. He lost most of both hands while assembling a device in an FALN bomb factory in 1979, but managed to escape from a hospital ward where he was being fitted for prosthetic hands after being convicted of weapons charges and sentenced to 99 years.