Time to grow up on the Cuba issue

There is scarcely a more foolish and needlessly punitive foreign policy in global politics than that employed by the United States in relation to Cuba. Despite it being twenty years this November since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the small island nation a few hundred kilometres off the coast of Miami is still being treated by the United States as public enemy number one. While it is lamentable that the hegemony of the brothers Castro does continue, the scale of the measures that the US continues to impose on its relationship with Cuba is out of all proportion and no longer serves any logical purpose or retains any moral support.

President Obama was quite cagey on the Cuba issue in the lead-up to his election last year. It is fascinating that he overtly talked up the possibility of having face-to-face discussions with Mahmoud Ahmaninejad of Iran and Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, but Cuba received no such special mention or attention. Could it be that the prevalence of ex-Cold War combatants in US government circles and the Democratic Party have made Cuba something of a taboo foreign policy issue? Only historical hackles and an ideological war some twenty years buried would seem to stand in the way of these two nations forging a new, realistic relationship for the twenty-first century.

Promisingly, President Obama has just announced a lift of the ban on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban-Americans. This move offers some hope for the future, but it does seem a curiously restricted step forward. It is a signal that Washington is not offering a carte blanche, but is expecting some action from Cuba in return before it will move to consider lifting the trade embargo.

It is also a signal that the United States is still very worried about “saving face”. Perversely, a change in policy now would be seen by many Americans (particularly the conservatives) as some sort of backdown or an admission of failure. Still, I would have thought that after all these years, the United States would be less concerned about “saving face” than kickstarting a useful new economic relationship with a country literally screaming for American imports. When one considers the economic orthodoxy on free trade that is celebrated by both the Democrat and Republican parties, and all of the tin-pot dictators the world over whose countries the United States is happily trading with, its position on Cuba seems even more ridiculous. That’s because it is.

Come on Barack, do something about it. This is one of those issues on which just a little effort and a little willpower could go a long way towards forging a real and lasting achievement for this fledgling administration.