An eruption of modernization is imminent in the isolated Caribbean island, but not because Fidel Castro finally made his resignation official. Handing over presidential power to brother Raul Castro only ensures that Fidels strong-armed rule will continue to suffocate the Cuban people if the Castro clan has its way.
Change in Cuba is looming because of a steady transformation here in the USA. This is the case despite a trade embargo of goods and services against Cuba instituted by President Kennedy in 1962 and continuing through the present. This counterproductive policy has hammered ordinary Cubans already struggling to put food on the table under Castros state-controlled economy.
The average Cuban today earns under $20 a month. As tourism has steadily increased from Europe and Canada, a predictable proliferation of prostitution and begging on the city streets of Havana, Santiago, and Varadero has resulted. Many panhandlers preface their need for money by claiming their lives were more dignified before the revolution or until the Soviets pulled the plug on economic aid to Cuba. Most Cubans are not allowed to travel off the island or even enter hotels frequented by tourists.
Though food is already in short supply, President Bush decided that Cubans werent suffering enough from the trade embargo and Castros policies. In 2004 he decided to limit Americans from visiting relatives on the island to once every three years and paying loved ones there no more than $100 a month.
What are we thinking - refusing to have diplomatic relations with Cuba, a puny country that is zero threat to us militarily? We trade freely with other communist countries like China and even Vietnam, where nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives. Venezuelas president Hugo Chavez has called George W. Bush the devil in front of the United Nations, yet we buy gobs of oil from his country.
None of the three major candidates in the U.S. presidential race have advocated lifting the boycott against Cuba, but at least Barack Obama stated he would end limits on family visits and subsidies. The fact that Obama made such a statement in the Little Havana district of Miami is significant progress. Previously, our politicians have been loath to offend those Cuban-American voters whose only goal seems to be punishing Fidel Castro at the expense of the welfare of 11 million Cubans and the will of the our own people. Polls indicate that Americans overwhelmingly support reinstating diplomatic relations with Cuba.
A significant shift, though, is taking place in South Florida that threatens to turn the Cuban stalemate on its head. The three U.S. House of Representative districts in South Florida have been dominated for years by zealously anti-Castro Republicans of Cuban ancestry. Until recently, these three seats have seen little Democratic opposition and have influenced our nations policies well beyond what South Floridas representation should dictate.
In the upcoming November election, three Democratic Cuban-Americans are running strongly in these districts, agreeing with Obamas policy to end the restrictions on family travel and financial help to relatives in Cuba. Even the Latino population in South Florida is beginning to realize that the economic embargo of Cuba is never going to bring the Castro brothers to their knees. If any of the three Democrats win, there would be a prominent Cuban-American in Congress calling for the trade embargo to be eased for the first time in 50 years.
In the words of the late conservative icon, William F. Buckley, The challenge for the United States is to ignore his (Castro) continued manhandling of freedom and to retaliate against it with the weapon he fears most, which is increased exposure to Western capitalism and Western practices.
It is difficult to argue with that. It is time to end the failed trade embargo and help ease the suffering of the Cuban people.