Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Why China and not Cuba?
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – The memorial celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life drew more than a hundred world leaders, and among them was Raul Castro, president of Cuba and brother of Fidel. Like President Obama, Castro was invited by the Mandela family to deliver a eulogy, and, they were seated along with the other eulogists in the same section of the massive soccer stadium. As Obama made his way to the podium to speak, he shook everyone’s hand, including Castro’s.
Cameras clicked and flashed, and for some the world stopped as the two presidents briefly clasped hands and exchanged pleasantries before Obama moved on. Florida Republican Ileana Ros Lehtinen, whose family fled from Cuba, called the handshake “especially nauseating” because it took away attention from the plight of Cuban dissidents. She said she hoped it would not lead to any change in policy by the administration.
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., went farther, raising the specter of appeasement. “Why should you shake hands with someone who’s keeping Americans in prison? I mean, what’s the point? Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler.” Comparisons with Hitler are never wise, and cable news channels ran footage of McCain warmly greeting Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadaffi, who in 1988 had given the order to shoot down an American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said the handshake was an unplanned encounter, and that no policy shifts should be read into it. He added that the administration has grave concerns about human rights abuses in Cuba. American contractor Alan Gross has been held in Cuba since December 2009, charged and convicted of alleged spying. Gross was working on development assistance for AID, delivering satellite phones and computers to the Jewish community in Cuba. His case has incensed both Cuban-Americans and Jewish Americans.
Any issues having to do with Cuba are so politically inflammatory that most politicians steer clear whenever they can. But when you put politics aside and step back, there is no rational reason why the U.S. continues to treat Cuba as a pariah nation. Is Cuba’s record on human rights worse than China’s? No, yet we opened up diplomatic relations with China when Richard Nixon was in the White House, and all but the most doctrinaire conservatives applauded President Nixon for his geo-political vision.
The phrase, Nixon goes to China, endures today as a signifier of a bold policy move from an unexpected quarter. When Nixon flew to China, he should have opened the door to Cuba too and let the Cold War dominoes fall. If he had done that, Americans and Cubans today would be interacting the way we do with other people under totalitarian rule. We would talk, visit, and trade while simultaneously working to democratize.
Vietnam, a country we fought a war over and where we inflicted such devastation, is now a tourist destination for Americans. It still has a Communist government, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Why does Cuba continue to be a remnant of Cold War thinking when we’ve moved on in so many other ways with China, and with Vietnam?
Florida politics is what it’s all about. If Al Gore hadn’t sided with the Cuban government in wanting a young boy named Elian Gonzales returned home after the boat carrying him and his mother capsized, and his mother drowned, Gore might have carried Florida and become president. Obama has run his last campaign for election, and if anyone is in a position to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba, it’s Obama.
But he can’t do it alone; he needs Congress. Obama has eased restrictions on travel, and if relations were normalized, Cubans could freely leave the island, which they are unable to do now. But lifting the embargo would require a change in law, and Congress is of no mind to take that kind of action. It’s too bad Nixon didn’t act when he had the chance. After all, why China and not Cuba?
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND