With the news that longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro is stepping down, I was reminded of the chance I had six years ago to dine with Castro. After digesting that unique experience, I wrote in these pages, "Despite more than 40 years of effort, the Cuban embargo has failed miserably in its objective -- to oust Castro."
The only thing that has changed is that another half-dozen years have gone off the clock.
To believe that communism will die with Castro's end is probably wishful thinking. Although his brother Raul is a reported 76 years old, Castro has surrounded himself with youthful staffers, and they are no less committed to communism than I am to democracy. There is no reason to assume that a new generation of Cuban leadership will change course, so the question remains: how should we respond?
We should learn from our mistakes. Castro did not stay in power despite the American embargo, he survived because of it. The embargo gave him a ready-made excuse - blame the Americans! - for all that has ailed the Cuban standard of living. We inoculated him from the sort of economic pressure at home that caused the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. Instead of fostering his ouster by giving the Cuban people a taste of the fruits of capitalism, we facilitated his continued governance.
Castro's rule has been one of the longest of a non-monarch leader. Unfortunately, our foreign-policy mistakes on Cuba ran just as long.
It's time to revise it. We must end the embargo, allow American businesses to do business beyond the current realm of food and medication with Cuba, and permit Americans to vacation on the island. At the same time, we should undertake a new era of open diplomacy. If the Olympics can be held in China, we should be able to sell goods to Cuba in 2008.