The Embargo-Industrial Complex Finds a New Argument for Helping Cuba's Castros

05/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who knew? After all these years of the stale same-old, same-old, the ideologues who've hijacked Washington's Cuba policy for the last couple of generations have managed to come up with a new and updated twist. And this one's a bit of a doozy.

It's a motley cast of fools and/or knaves who've made careers out of keeping Cuba the sole odd country out in a U.S. foreign policy which even under George W. Bush has talked -- or tried to -- with unsavory regimes like North Korea and Burma and eagerly snuggled up to various others including China and Saudi Arabia. And right now many are in a tizzy. More and more anxious at growing signs that the de-Bushified Federal government will be easing some limited aspects of the spectacularly pointless, half-century-old embargo against the island, they're cranking up the public vitriol and are putting pressure anywhere they can against any kind of fresh approach.

The latest weapon in their hot-air arsenal was deployed in an op-ed in this past Monday's Miami Herald by one of the usual suspects, Mauricio Claver-Carone of the inside-the-Beltway U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. He must've thought himself oh so clever in his ploy to play on Americans' justified outrage over government bailouts for nefarious characters and companies.

"Bail Out Cuba? No Way!" tries to compare the Castro regime to U.S. robber barons who despite massive Federal largesse continued to gold-plate their bathrooms, fly their private jets, and dole out oodles of undeserved bonuses. "For Cuba to become a credit-worthy nation, it must first become a multi-party democracy that respects its citizens," Maury concludes.

Gee, I wonder if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama got that memo, given that following Madame Secretary's late-February hat-in-hand pilgrimage to the Middle Kingdom, she felt compelled to admit that issues like human rights, repression in Tibet, and threatening Taiwan had to take a back seat so as not to "interfere with the global economic crisis, the global-climate-change crisis, and the security crisis." Oh, did I mention that China is not a "multi-party democracy that respects its citizens"?

I'll give this latest "no-bailout-for-dictators" argument a couple of points for up-to-date creativity. But the special interests making it continue to pretend that the embargo is somehow doing something other than encouraging Cubans' isolation and increasing their government's hold over them. Why Cuba should be the lone exception unworthy of engagement rather than isolation is never satisfactorily exchanged. Instead, they always try to shout opponents down, as in today's op-ed, as "surrogates [pleading] for a handout" for a "bankrupt dictatorship." Loud and vulgar name-calling is their trademark, as when extremists picketed Obama's appearance last year at the Miami meeting of the National Conference of Mayors with hysterical shrieks of "Communist!" and "terrorist!"

These extremists' wilful refusal to understand how real diplomacy and engagement can and should work isn't surprising, given that all their millions' worth of lobbyists and PACs and ineffective propaganda efforts and diverted funds would no doubt dwindle drastically should relations with Cuba be more normalized. Others have even murkier ulterior motives. The bottom line for all is that it's not in their interest.

But it's most certainly in the interest of the rest of us and of U.S. foreign policy to do what we can to encourage peaceful reform in Cuba -- and if that means engaging and countenancing Chinese-style reform within the current system, well, it's simply obtuse not to finally recognize that this is the card that history has dealt all of us. Nothing we've done so far has changed anything, so why would they roll over for us in the foreseeable future, even if Raúl Castro, too, were to leave the picture? Even respected on-island dissidents such as Oswaldo Payá get this.

If we talk only to governments we like, we're not going to get far in this world. So if we engage, what might that help encourage is a gradual move toward eventual democracy, as happened in South Korea and Taiwan, or greater economic freedom and prosperity within a one-party state, as with our (ahem) pal China? Only time will tell.

But either one would be an improvement, therefore it stands to reason the right and smart thing to do is encourage any way forward instead of unproductively huffing and waving our fists. But no, for now we remain stuck with this ludicrous double standard in which Cuba is required to transform its current order in a way demanded of virtually no other country in the world. The result is a recipe for yet more failure and yet more suffering for Cubans both on the island and off. Not that the embargo-industrialists care.

David Paul Appell is co-founder of the apolitical social-media site CubaEnLinea.net.