Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Cuba Question Part CXLVIII

Yesterday was a momentous time: Pakistan's election openly repudiated Musharraf; Wisconsin's primary openly repudiated Clinton (Jebus! She got creamed by double digits in a blue-collar state that she's supposed to win); Toshiba surrendered to Sony Blu-Ray; and Castro resigned from official duties as Cuba's President.

What's amazing is that all at once Castro's resignation, with obvious signs of old age and illness, both means so much and so little. Even though Musharraf's huge loss has more meaning, Castro dominated the news chatter all day: at the same time, Castro's departure from the main stage doesn't really, honestly, change a thing.

Castro may be leaving office, but he's kept in place a circle of political elites running Cuba that have no incentive or desire to reform their government. His own brother is technically in charge now, and while Raul is talking considerations of reform there's no sign he'll follow through on anything substantial.

The big reason why there won't be any change is because of us, the United States. Our stance on Cuba has not changed in 49 years, and at some points have even worsened, simply because of ideology and stubbornness. While we have legitimate grievances against Castro's communist (and post-Soviet authortarian) regime, we've never attempted genuine diplomacy and dialog. Instead we've forced embargoes, sanctions, denials, covert ops, basically every hardliner stance we could think of. We'd also tried invasion once. We'd also tried exploding cigars and Nair assaults on Castro's beard (I'm not kidding!).

The problem is that all our efforts are wasted: other countries do not observe the sanctions and embargoes, so Cuba stays afloat (barely) financially. Castro and his buddies, meanwhile, use our bullying ways to act defiant and manly, and they get to look good while they do it. And what's worse, we know it's working for them, and not for us.

But we can't change, can we? Even with all the expert advise, all the obvious clues, we can't change our behavior towards Cuba because no one in D.C. wants to upset 200,000 plus Cuban exiles sitting in South Florida... even though a growing number of them think the sanctions and embargoes need to go.

There's also the issue of all the land, property and businesses that Castro seized from the Cuban exile community. A lot of the older exiles who originally owned that stuff insist on getting them back. Unfortunately, it's not just Cuba owning those properties now, other nations have invested and bought them up, so the issue of ownership has gotten waaaaay more complicated. Even Castro's departure isn't going to fix that...

So, what will happen with Cuba? Not much is going to change, not right now. Our politicians will continue to demand political reform, and that Cuba hold open elections, etc. The Cuban leadership will mock, snerk, and insist on their sovereign right to laugh in our general direction.
The older Cuban exile community will continue to sulk; the younger community will head out to dance clubs. The Cubans at home will live with censorship, meager income, low standard of living and high standard health care.

Oh, and everyone is still waiting for the upcoming Batman film. That's about it.

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