The Editors
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Time has accomplished what a U.S.-supported invasion, a crushing economic embargo, the collapse of the Soviet Union and any number of external and internal catastrophes could not: the removal of Fidel Castro from direct control over the people of Cuba. Suffering from failing health, Castro has finally ceded power after five decades. The apparent political demise of El Jefe offers a unique opportunity for the people of Cuba and for their closest neighbor to the north to pull out of a half-century spiral of enmity and antagonism.

Fidel is not the only Castro in Cuba, nor the only hard-liner; his brother Raúl has been the de facto ruler of the country for two years now. February elections elevated Raúl to the office of the presidency and other hard-liners to positions of greater power, muting expectations of rapid change. But Raúl has spoken publicly about the need for structural changes in Cuba, and is believed to favor more widespread economic reforms. His advanced age also suggests his rule will not be a long one, and a new generation of younger Cuban leaders may soon take on more responsibility.

Cuba is blessed with prodigious natural resources and a well-educated population, but is bedeviled by the same forces (including a brain drain of skilled professionals to other Western nations) that have brought low so many of its Caribbean neighbors. Should Cuba’s internal security apparatus break down in the aftermath of any transfer of power from the Castros, Cuba and the United States could face an enormous wave of attempted immigration to the United States, straining American resources while further damaging Cuba’s prospects for economic prosperity. Much as South Korea has done in preparation for the eventual fall of Pyongyang, so too must American politicians and diplomats work for a “soft landing” for Cuba in the coming years, helping its people make the transition from a socialist state to a market economy with a minimum of economic and political disruption.

A useful first step will be a measured easing of the American economic embargo, which has played just as much a role in the economic privation of Cuba as the most misbegotten of Castro’s policies. It is also a relic of a bygone age, begun as a bulwark against socialist revolution but now little more than an expression of an irrational grudge. Worse, it has given Castro a raison d’être. Recent years have seen Canadian and European investment in the Cuban economy growing, while the vast resources of the Cuban-American community are not directed toward its own roots. Should the sitting president lift the embargo, there is no question that many Cuban-Americans would be outraged and express their dissatisfaction demonstrably. President Bush is in a unique position to make such a potentially unpopular choice, since his status as a lame duck gives him some freedom from traditional political pressures.

While it is important to recognize the legitimate grievances of Cuban exiles in Florida and elsewhere, the United States will need to make clear to any future Cuban government that the United States will not support efforts toward repatriation of land or economic assets and is willing to bury its historical grudges, much as we have done in recent years with the government of Vietnam.

The United States can also recognize the legitimate accomplishments of the Castro regime, including its achievements in education, health care and racial harmony. The Cuban people may seek capitalism’s prosperity, but not at the expense of socialism’s gains. Any careful transition to new economic structures should not repeat the mistakes the United States made in Russia and Eastern Europe after the cold war, endorsing an economic free-for-all but failing to support local social institutions. Changes in Cuba provide a chance for the United States to restore the international reputation so damaged by the war in Iraq. With Cuba, America can show that its seeming arrogance is matched by appropriate munificence.

John F. Kennedy, whose support for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion convinced Castro that the United States could not be trusted, nevertheless once spoke to the newly free nations of the world in words of particular pertinence now, promising that “one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny.” Fidel Castro has long accused the United States of seeking to return Cuba to a colonial outpost of its imperialist ambitions. The actions we take toward Cuba in the next few years can be our chance to assuage similar reservations among the Cuban people.

 

Two scholars discuss "The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castros Classmates from Revolution to Exile." Read "Debating the Boys from Dolores" I and II.

Comments

Rafael Garcia | 4/7/2008 - 1:22pm
Dear Editor: After reading the editorial "Cuba Si, Castro, No!" in the March 10th edition I felt that good points were made but an uncritical acceptance for leftist dictatorship is also conveyed. I was born in Cuba. I often disagree with attitudes of the so called "Cuban-American Community", which is obviously not a homogeneous block. I think as Christians, we are moved to see reality from beyond "left" and "right" perspectives and certainly seek non-violent, reconciliatory resolutions. Accomplishments and injustices are just that, whether from the right or the left and should be measured by Christinas according to Gospel-Scriptural values. The embargo has not brought positive change to Cuba and has for decades buttressed the regime's battle cry that a U.S. invasion is imminent. As pointed-out, it has given Fidel Castro a "raison d'etre" for nearly 50 years. If anything, it has isolated Cuba even more and probably prevented changes in earlier years. Yes, U.S. policy has been a great part of the problem, in Cuba and in so many other nations. But I take exception with descriptions like "well-educated population", "socialism's gains", "socialist state", "social revolution". Fidel constantly used the term "Marixism-Leninism" when referring to the revolution. Cuba was under the control of the Soviet Union and served as a military base for them (a type of "colonialism"). The revolution was violent and many were killed by a firing squad. Undoubtedly there is repression of the people, controlled media, and lack of freedom of expression and of movement/travel, etc. "Well-educated people" might better be described as "well-indoctrinated people" with skills. A good education is not possible in a closed society where censorship is the norm. When one speaks with people who have recently left Cuba, one gets a much different scenario than the somewhat content and stable one that the editorial indirectly portrays. Those who have ventured into the high seas, who typically are people who were born under Castro after 1959, and attempt to flee on make-shift rafts, many of whom do not survive the journey, should make one step-back and reflect that "socialism's gains" in Cuba may not be that satisfactory. All human beings yearn for freedom of speech, of religion, of self-determination. I hope and pray for a peaceful transition in Cuba that will bring justice and peace and all the values that the Social Teaching of the Church desires for all people. Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J. Jesuits - New Orleans Province
Mike Evans | 3/2/2008 - 11:25am
A good first step would be closing and returning Guatanamo Bay to Cuba. That would remove our presence militarily from the island and also be a gesture of goodwill to the entire Carribean area. In this day and age, it is hard to imagine we need such a base only 90 miles from our border. It would also resolve the many issues surrounding the imprisonment without any civil rights of all the current Gitmo inmates.
MARIA SCAPERLANDA | 2/29/2008 - 2:56pm
What a disappointing editorial on Cuba and Fidel Castro! I am one of the Cuban American refugees, whom you label dismissively as mere "exiles." Our family did not leave Cuba because of it's economic conditions, but because my father was imprisoned and our family persecuted for their Catholic faith. But economics is the only aspect you seem concerned about. I concur with Pope John Paul II's assessment during his visit to Cuba that the embargo must end. Yet in your narrow focus and overt praising of the "legitimate accomplishments" of Castro's regime you become no different than the secular media--and you offend not only Cubans, but all refugees in this country. What about Cuba's persecuted People of God? Are you aware of the underground Church? What about the hundreds of prisoners of conscience suffering in Cuba's prisons for standing for their faith and principles against government's policies? (see Amnesty International records)I expect more from America than what I read in the New York Times. I expect a faith response.

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