The Price of Cuban Normalization

Ever since the release of an American citizen following negotiations between Raul Castro’s government and the Obama administration, the president outlined a handful of steps that he intends to take to better relations between the two countries. This represents a potential thaw in the cold relationship between Cuba and the United States that froze following Fidel Castro’s historic rise to power and the United States’ attempts to overthrow the communist regime.

The United States’ announcement that it would pursue the normalization of ties with Cuba resulted in a national debate on its merits. Critics of the embargo claim that the cold ties with Cuba did not benefit the Cuban citizens, believing that normalization would result in a bottom-up change in the political and social climate of the nation. However, those who stand by the embargo claim that Cuba’s leaders have yet to demonstrate any desire to change their political atmosphere and allow Cuban citizens the freedoms that the United States gives to all of its citizens.

Cuba has done nothing to demonstrate that it is ready for change. According to Freedom House, Cuba is “not free.” The Cuban government denies Internet access and freedom of the press. On December 30, authorities detained journalist Reinaldo Escobar and other political dissidents prior to a free speech demonstration. Even after Obama’s announcement to improve ties, the Cuban government continues to curb civil liberties and implements the same illiberal policies that are antithetical to what the United States represents. However, the United States continues to believe that normalizing ties with countries like Cuba could result in governments changing their policies and moving towards democratization.

This has been a continuous problem with American foreign policy since Richard Nixon normalized relations with China in the early 1970s. Despite opening up trade and economic relationships with Mao Zedong’s government, the Chinese government continued to implement the same policies curbing speech and press freedoms. The 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square resulted in a massacre by government troops. Stories about it are censored within China. Though the goals of Nixon’s normalization with China were to put pressure on the Soviet Union and to facilitate the end of the Vietnam War, the continuation of Western influence on China did not result in a change of illiberal policies within the Chinese government.

A less-discussed example of how United States’ normalization strategy failed to bring democratic and social change was when the United States facilitated the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Following the Oslo Accords between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the United States played a key role in enabling the PLO to become a governing body in the areas of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. In a nutshell, the United States and its allies believed that giving a terrorist organization funding, as well as access to the media, would result in changing Yasser Arafat’s attitude and result in a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, not only embezzles the millions of dollars in aid given by Western countries, but he also denies his people the right to free speech by imprisoning journalists who speak ill of him. On top of that, he continues Arafat’s genocidal campaign against Israel, inciting his people to kill Jews through the state-run media. Rather than displaying hopes for peaceful dialogue and coexistence, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas continues to promote separation, violence, and the denial of Israel’s existence.

If history is any indicator, then it shows that unless a true change of government and leadership occurs, there will not be any changes to the undemocratic, illiberal policies that the United States and the Western world stand against. Cubans should not continue to suffer under a dictatorial regime that prevents them from exercising freedoms of speech and of the press. Why should the United States attempt normalization with governments that do not proactively work toward reforming their policies and giving their people basic civil liberties?

The United States should wait until Raul Castro firmly demonstrates his commitment to democratic reforms before the United States goes any further in normalizing ties with Cuba. How can the United States serve as a beacon of liberalism and freedom when it is willing to compromise on its core principles and normalize relationships with those who deny freedom to their people?

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