Cuba: Island in the Dream

05/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." - Jean Paul Sartre

The news that America's policies toward Cuba are changing will further humanize our country while de-humanizing Castro's government. We minimize our political gains with the people of Cuba when we further their hardship under Castro by not allowing any type of transactions with the U.S. President Obama's loosening of restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuban families with relatives in the U.S. will further weaken the hold of the Castro brothers' regime on the island.

The Cuban people have managed to retain great hope through all of their sadnesses. During my only trip to the island in the early 80s, there was consternation about the traction being gained on the global sugar market by NutraSweet. Cuba's economy was reeling. I found it both troubling and funny that Reagan's America was afraid of a nation that might be brought to its economic knees by an artificial sweetener.

The embargo first imposed on Cuba by John Kennedy has not punished the politically powerful in Cuba; it has only harmed the workers and the families and the people who would otherwise love America without reservation. I understand the misplaced notion that if we do business with Cuba we will help their economy thrive and the Castros will receive credit and political power but the Cuban people are considerably smarter than most U.S. policy makers believe. As our entourage was led around the island by "minders," we were made welcome and consistently told by everyone from business owners to cane cutters and master cigar rollers, "We don't blame the people of America. We understand your government does things you don't like."

I thought, "Yeah, that happens now and again."

Our conflict with Cuba is also a product, in many respects, of our government's previous behavior. The U.S. propped up Fulgencio Batista for many years as he reaped fortunes off the backs of campesinos chopping sugar cane, cutting tobacco, or distilling rum while he also allowed the American mob to run casinos and provide him with a big slice off of the top. Dictator Batista imprisoned and tortured as many or more people than has Castro. If people had not been so poor and suffered for so long as they watched the rich Yankees come play on their island and give more money and power to Batista there might not have been the political support for Fidel and Che when they crossed the gulf to start the revolution.

Cuba remains locked in a great time warp today. 1959 American automobiles still roll the roadways because that was the last year the U.S. allowed imports prior to Castro's control. However, a few multi-national corporations from America use foreign subsidiaries to sell items like refrigerators and appliances to the Cubans when they are shipped from factories off sovereign U.S. soil. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a market since most Cubans don't have an income to afford such luxuries as modern electronics. The old Riviera Hotel, once gloriously towering over the seawall in Havana, is mildewed and in need of rejuvenation. The city has an almost ancient ambiance that leaves a visitor feeling time is flowing backwards and almost nothing will jar the culture or the economy into the contemporary world. Regardless, there is also the sense that Cuba's intellect and energy and belief in itself is a potential waiting for an opportunity.

True freedom and capitalism are likely to sweep the island like an intoxicant if America ever gives Cuba actual business reconsideration. The country could balance its budget on a few shipments of rum and cigars to New York and Chicago. In fact, more progressive political leaders from some of the U.S. agricultural states have been pressing since the B**h administration to begin limited trade. Cuba can also be a big market for American products. Perhaps, the simplest way to change Cuba's political system is to give the populace a little sample of our economy. President Obama's first steps are cautionary but they are longer than any of his predecessors in about a half century.

America's policy toward Cuba has been rank hypocrisy. In the years since the embargo was launched, we have done business with bad actor power abusers like Saddam Hussein and have courted the friendship of Saudis, whose money and sovereign soil gave sanctuary to most of the villains that attacked us on 911. As we consider Cuba today U.S. oil companies are lusting over the oil fields in Iran even though we despise that country's government. How many killers and dictators have we had commerce with since the beginning of the embargo? Isn't it safe to say policy would have changed long ago if Cuba had been sitting atop oil reserves? The genocides in Rwanda and Burundi might have been checked by American power had those countries produced a more alluring resource than yams. We don't pick up our guns for yams.

The people of Cuba have suffered far too long. Give them a taste of freedom's honey and watch what happens.