Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cuba: The End of 50 years of Isolation: Same as China?

21 December 2014
Global American Series

Cuba: The End of 50 years of Isolation: Same as China?

In 1972 President Richard Nixon went to China, which had been an isolated country that had suffered under the leadership of Chairmen Mao.  In 1982, I was one of the first negotiators sent to China by America’s Fortune 500 to try to sell pollution control technology for coal fired power plants.  When I arrived, China had nothing; it was as backwards as Cuba is today. Thirty years later when I went back China had transformed itself because of the market economy. And it still has a Communist one-party government.

When President Obama decided to end the embargo of Cuba, I look at it through the eyes of someone who saw the same thing happen in China, a country that we have traded with ever since Nixon’s historic trip—despite their involvement in the Korean war.  The Chinese in 1982 had a few cars that were 1950’s models (that is what they drove us in to see the Great Wall). In 2012 when I went back they had ten lane highways clogged with new cars and creeping traffic.  They had an Internet but I could not access Facebook or my own corporate email.  I was startled to see huge crosses on churches, many of which have been pulled down in the last couple of years.

So, when I view today’s Cuba and its leadership, I see the same system China had – one party rule and ancient cars.  I don’t expect ending the embargo will change its politics any more than trading with China has changed its politics the past thirty years. But if we can trade with Communist China as we did with the former Soviet Union and as we have done with Russia (both of whom have missiles pointed at us), then I see no reason why we should not trade with Cuba.  What’s the difference?

Opening China has exposed millions of young Chinese to the west. Many of them have come to America for education, where they have received a taste of American values and openness. Sooner or later that will have an impact on a closed political system that wants to hammer down any head that rises above the crowd, as it did when the young students in Hong Kong filled the streets demanding the right to choose their own leaders.  The Chinese government beat them down, but that desire for freedom has not gone away. Sooner or later the Chinese that have gained the comforts of material wealth will then want political freedom. Call it Maslov’s hierarchy -- or human nature.

I believe that Cubans will want the same political and economic freedoms we have once they are able to get an Internet and see how the rest of the world lives.  Fifty years of isolation has only given Castro the means to stay in power because the people know nothing else. America has always been Castro’s excuse for their rotten economy. That excuse is no longer available. Recently, they have allowed small businesses to open. Removing the embargo will encourage more Cubans to open small businesses that cater to tourists, etc.  The days of everyone working for the government is over in Cuba.

I say to the skeptics that oppose this move by President Obama that they are on the wrong side of history. Isolationism didn’t work in Cuba for over a half century. Continuing the same policies that have failed --and expecting a different result-- is the classic definition of insanity. It was time to try a new strategy: engagement with Cubans.

I don’t expect Cubans to suddenly become democrats but the real winners will be the ordinary people of Cuba. For the first time, they will be able to engage with Americans; they will be able to see more of their families that now live in the United States. They will be able to buy new parts for those 1950s cars – which could be snapped up by American collectors and replaced by newer, more fuel efficient cars. Farmers in the Midwest will now be able to sell grain to Cubans who can sell cigars and rum to Americans.  Trade lifts all boats.

We lose nothing by this change. Fidel Castro is 88 years old and not long for this world. It’s time America looked past our old conflicts and treated Cuba like Nixon treated China so we can put aside cold wars and failed policies and replace them with trade and tourism.

Michael Fjetland
Author, Better Times Ahead April Fool
including “Agenda for American Greatness

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