Since the U.S. first implemented a policy of isolation against Cuba over 50 years ago, it’s been enforced and defended by Republican and Democratic presidents alike. It’s not an issue that breaks neatly along party lines. In fact, when President Obama announced plans last week to ease trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), usually a fervent supporter of the president, was among the harshest critics of the move. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), hardly a fan of this administration, said he agreed with the policy change.
I too don’t find myself agreeing with President Obama often, particularly on foreign policy, but he was right to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. For conservatives, there is much to recommend about this new way to address Cuba.
First and foremost, for over 50 years the policy of isolating Cuba has failed to achieve any democratic reforms. It has, however, succeeded in giving the Castros a convenient excuse for the failures of socialism. While there may have been a compelling case for the embargo during the height of the Cold War, those arguments clearly no longer apply.
Easing trade and travel should not be viewed as a concession or reward to the Castro regime. I believe that it’s actually a true “get tough” policy. It’s been no accident that in the past a warming in U.S. posture has been met with Cuban provocation. The Castros know that while increased contact with the U.S. may have a positive impact on their economy, it comes at a cost. The island’s fledgling private sector strengthened by these changes will pose a greater challenge to any future tightening the regime may seek to pursue. Far from rewarding the Cuban government, we are saddling them with entrepreneurs who will soon wield real economic power.
And when I joke that a “get tough” policy with the Castros would be forcing them deal with Spring Break, I’m only half joking. Sure, some Americans will simply travel to Cuba for sunshine and mojitos, but many will have more lasting intentions – and they will bring with them flash drives, cell phones, books, and other items that we may take for granted but the Castros know will erode the control that they currently maintain over the island.
This is, fundamentally, an issue of freedom. U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba aren’t restrictions on Cubans — they are restrictions on Americans. I’ve long said if a government is going to tell its citizens where they can and can’t travel, it ought to be a communist country, not the greatest country in the world.
There’s an added benefit for conservatives when we allow Americans to travel freely. We have a veritable museum of the failures of socialism just 90 miles from our shores. Every American ought to see what happens when government controls not just the commanding heights of the economy, but all aspects of society. It isn’t pretty, and it makes on better appreciate the freedoms we often take for granted.
U.S. foreign policy ought to embody American ideals – freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. By isolating Cuba we’ve ignored the power of those ideals. After 50 years, it’s time for a change.