EDITORIAL: New approach needed to US, Cuba relations
THIS WEEK’S VISIT to Cuba by President Barack Obama of the United States was an act of pragmatic diplomacy. Normalisation of relations between the two neighbours is the logical and sensible thing to work toward. The Americans will be the primary beneficiaries at the end of the day.
There are many people in the United States who are holding on to the events of the past to justify why there should be no thawing in relations with the island. Some point to human rights abuses and civil liberty infringements as the rationale for a hands-off approach.
Thankfully, President Obama is not swayed by such thinking. History will show that the Cuban lobby in Florida and those it represents did not condemn the blatant injustices of the pre-Castro era when Afro-Cubans were knowingly discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. Almost 40 years after the terrorist act in which a number of Cuban exiles blew-up a Cubana airline off Barbados’ west coast killing all 73 on board, there has been no denunciation of this criminal act by the anti-Castroites in Florida.
Those who speak so passionately against engaging with Cuba really have no moral nor legal ground on which to stand. Cuba is not a rogue nation supporting terrorism, it is not a trans-shipment point for illegal drugs nor is it promoting nuclear terror.
Cuba is a communist state as is the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam, both of which the US has also had turbulent relations with over the years. When President Richard Nixon reached out to the Chinese in 1972 during the height of the Cold War leading to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two states in 1979, objections were raised. A right-wing element cited various reasons why it should not happen.
After many years of military conflict with Vietnam and from where the Americans withdrew in 1975 in virtual humiliation, Washington returned to establish full diplomatic ties in 1995. Again they were detractors. Not having relations with either is now unimaginable.
That is why engagement with Havana is perhaps the best way to help that country and its people. It is evident the Castro-era is coming to an end and as such rapprochement should help promote a pluralist society on the island. The old isolationist policies adopted by successive US administrations since the early 1960s have failed. The anti-Castro elements in Florida must recognise that while change is necessary, there can be no return to the old order.
Given the significant economic opportunities which the Americans will undoubtedly exploit in Cuba, total removal of the trade embargo is the next hurdle which must be overcome. It is unlikely the US Congress will address this matter in an election year. But, it must be tackled. It is time for a new approach to relations between the US and Cuba.