I had the privilege to visit Cuba this winter. It was my second time there (the first was a 2003 people-to-people visit). It was not difficult to draw two conclusions:
1. Castro’s “revolution” (It was not communism. It was fidelismo) failed disastrously.
2. The U.S. blockade of Cuba also failed disastrously.
U.S. policy towards Cuba might be the last vestige of antiquated mid-20th century Cold War thinking. U.S. involvement in Cuba was the accidental product of a three and a half month long “war” with Spain that transformed the United States from a staunch defender of the Monroe Doctrine against European imperial dabbling in the Americas to a far flung imperial power with landholdings that stretched from Havana to Manila.
The result was disastrous in the short run and propitious in the long-run. Cuba gradually fell into the hands of the Mob and Batista. The war to liberate the Philippines became an entrenched, bloody counterinsurgency operation when the U.S. substituted its flag for Spain’s. America’s relationship with the Philippines gradually improved while the situation in Cuba became virtually medieval in its power structure.
It has been convenient for America to look upon Castro as a communist. But he was a communist only by necessity. He was a thorn in America’s side who sought protection from the Soviet Union and then became a thorn in its side as well. He was, essentially, the last gangster to rule Cuba after ridding the island of all the other gangsters who had worked with Batista. Strangely, those who fled Fidel’s rule did not flee life under Batista and the Mob. Draw your own conclusion.
U.S. policy towards Cuba has been driven by nothing more than the absence of a domestic pro-Castro lobby. The anti-Castro lobby controlled several South Florida Congressional Districts and thereby has garnered presidential and congressional attention. So, in many ways, U.S. policy towards Cuba compares to John Mearsheimer’s description of our policy towards Israel: there was hardly a national interest at stake. Instead, national foreign policy is dictated by a small, but powerful interest group. According to the New York Times, this policy shift is based on little more than a campaign promise the President made to the Cuban American community during the campaign.
Blockades and embargoes don’t work. The last half century of U.S.-Cuban relations demonstrates this. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have clearly not paid attention to this as they look to isolate Qatar. It seems that President Trump has failed to learn from history as well.