Archived Sections, Commentary

Heading toward a rational Cuba policy

Fidel Castro has survived ten American presidents, starting with his
revolution in 1959. Since then, America has carried on what many consider to
be a ridiculous policy toward this small island nation. I have often pictured a
giant American elephant being totally spooked by a tiny Cuban mouse. Our
fears for the most part have been almost irrational.
Much of U.S. policy, of course, has been driven by wealthy Cuban nationals
who have lived in south Florida for the past half century with the totally
unrealistic dream that they will one day return to Cuba and the grand old
days of dictator Juan Batista. This group has also had an inordinate amount of
influence in the setting of foreign policy toward Cuba by the U.S. federal
If you think I overstate the case, consider the pivotal role that Florida played
in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Our presidential candidates, to
curry favor with this voting bloc, have followed a foolish policy of trying to
embarrass, embargo, and isolate Cuba. For the most part, this plan has
utterly failed. If anything, it has allowed Castro to continue to paint the U.S.
as the “gringos of the north” who care nothing for the Cuban people and who
are bent only on military conquest. (The Bay of Pigs fiasco is one strong
example, but there are others.)
So what should our policy be? President Barack Obama is the first of ten
presidents to have the courage to get it right, at least partially. Rather than
isolate and aggravate this island, why not flood their markets with the fruits
of our capitalism? What do we have to fear?
We would, of course, sell them no weapons or technology that could be used
militarily. But open the floodgates of trade and show them the value of a free
market and the free exchange of ideas, people, and commerce. It is almost
certain that, over time, the Cuban government would be neutralized and
rendered harmless, without one drop of blood being shed.
How shortsighted we have been for a half century. Had we acted differently
decades ago, it is very likely that Cuba and the U.S. would be in a different
place today.
But there is still time to repair the damage caused by bad foreign policy and
undue influence over some of our legislators in D.C. Surely the Goliath
America has enough positive influence in the region to help bring about a
Cuban “makeover.” We have accomplished nearly nothing in the past. And
the future is now filled with possibilities.
President Obama, while not going far enough, is at least putting the U.S. on
the right track.
Paul Harrington is pastor emeritus of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
(ELCA) in Apple Valley, Minnesota. He is a member of the board of directors
of Metro Lutheran.