Here’s the least surprising news story of the day: a handful of Republicans have swiftly condemned President Obama’s long-overdue first step toward a “normalized” relationship with Cuba. We’ll get to the Why of this latest GOP fit of hysteria in a moment, but first: a word on what actually happened.
A story you may have read recently concerned Cuba’s release of two American citizens who were being held on espionage charges. In a quid pro quo, the US answered by returning three Cuban spies to their native country.
Shortly afterward, it was revealed that months of “secret talks” will finally result in Cuba’s removal from the United States’ list of “states that sponsor terrorism.” Furthermore, these diplomatic victories are to serve as the first step toward opening up “normalized” relations with Cuba, which will culminate in the construction of mutual embassies.
These two events mark the biggest change in US-Cuba relations since 1961. If you don’t want to do the math, that works out to 53 years. That’s 53 years of pointlessly strained relations with one of our closest neighbors.
Republicans were quick to praise Cuba’s release of those two American citizens, but were even quicker to denounce the larger implications of this new-found cooperation between our nations. Speaker of the House John Boehner stated publicly that our relationship with Cuba “should not be revisited… until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not a second sooner.” He concluded by calling Obama’s diplomatic victory “another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship.”
John Boehner is a duly elected representative in a country that, at least ostensibly, prides itself on being a bastion of peace, freedom, and mutual respect. That he so roundly criticized what most others would call a long-overdue victory for diplomacy simply betrays how removed from reality he really is.
Republican senator Marco Rubio, who actually happens to be of Cuban descent – was equally critical of the Obama administration’s overtures of peace as he made the talk show circuit. You’d think he’d have a unique – and perhaps enlightened – perspective on this development, but instead he called the new policy “an illusion [based] on a lie” that sets a “dangerous precedent [that] will only cause other tyrants… to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté.”
You know what’s really naive? The idea that the world’s most powerful country should be bullying its neighbors into thinking as we do. Has that ever worked? Even once in the history of the civilized world? It certainly hasn’t worked for Cuba.
America’s 53-year embargo on Cuba is proof positive that Team America is wholly incapable of spreading capitalism and democracy using the Big Stick method. Look – I’m not about to defend Cuba’s draconian treatment of its own citizens. For far too long, even the thought of employment in the private sector was essentially a pipe dream for Cuban citizens.
In recent years, however, the Castro regime – now led by Fidel’s brother Raul – has introduced important, albeit limited, reforms to civil rights. It’s clear that the country is poised for even greater change, and a closer relationship with the US might be just the push they need to get serious about it.
If nothing else, the clarion call of the Almighty Dollar should be enough to get the GOP on board with this plan. There’s little question that maintaining close diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba has all kinds of potential for the economies of both nations. In fact, it’s an absurd contradiction that they’d so roundly condemn a financially promising new relationship with Cuba when the only language they seem to speak is money.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Obama has not made this decision in a vacuum. Recent polls have consistently revealed that the majority of Americans, Cuban Americans, and, yes, even Republicans, support strengthening ties with Cuba. The will of the people is being served, but the GOP seems content to ignore that inconvenient detail.
For my part, I think we ought to be celebrating the fact that Raul Castro and Barack Obama were able to carry on a 45-minute phone conversation to finalize the details of their plan; it was the first such call between our two countries in more than 50 years.
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