Barack Obama’s accommodation with Castroite Cuba is a low point in the history of American international relations. Benjamin Franklin affirmed, “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” The Obama administration, in its attitudes on Iran, Syria, and Ukraine as well as on Cuba, appears to prefer the principle, “Where tyranny dwells, there is my country.”
About Cuba, consider historical precedents. The 1972 opening by president Richard Nixon to Communist China, then in the turmoil of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, realized a justifiable foreign policy goal—a common response to Soviet intrigues—and was cautious and narrow. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, encouraging the abandonment of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, stayed firm in calling for genuine change before they would embrace new political authorities in the former Soviet empire. Labor rights were granted beginning in Poland, media censorship was abolished in Moscow, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and free elections were held in the former party-states. All furnished sensational evidence of an authentic transformation.
In 25 years since the Wall was demolished, new developments have been uneven in the European post-Communist states, with which Cuba shares the greatest political heritage. Some are thriving; others are bogged down and have failed to reform completely. The real success stories comprise the former East Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states. Yet from Russia to North Korea, arbitrary misrule and cronyism endure. The former Russo-Cuban puppet states in Africa—especially Angola—have advanced economically, but still deal with the abiding consequences of their past.
The rest of the European post-Communist lands have, at least, restored intellectual freedom, even when slow to restructure economically, and in certain instances, politically. In some, ex-Communist cadres have regained power by a fair vote as Socialists, or stayed inside state institutions.
The Czech Republic, long an object of great hope, suffers economically. In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orbán has been described accurately by John McCain as a “neo-fascist dictator.” The Yugoslav successor polities must contend with the effects of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, as well as corruption and resistance to dismantling of statist economies in Slovenia and Croatia, which have joined the European Union. Bosnia-Herzegovina is partitioned. Serbia is a black hole and will remain one, probably, for decades.
Nevertheless, cultural life has undergone an impressive rebirth in all the ex-Communist societies of Europe, including Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Moldova. If people in some of these lands are still mostly poor and ruled by venal bureaucracies, they have widespread access to the Internet and independent media, and generally free expression.
Cuba has adopted no such reforms. Its economic liberalization has been trivial; harsh censorship prevails; absurd “consultations” take place instead of elections. Cuba has suffered as much poverty as Albania did under communism, and it is difficult not to notice the daily struggles by the subjects of the Castro brothers to stay fed, as well as the distortion of news and denial of political rights. Cuba also continues to foment radical leftism in the Western Hemisphere, in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador, with ancillary attention to minor Caribbean island states.
For those who know Hispanic culture, the Castroite devastation of what had been a major power in Spanish-language literature and art is also deplorable. Contra the arguments of remaining enthusiasts for the dictatorship, Cuban cultural life did not begin with Fidel Castro, but much of it ended with his rule. Writers and artists, including active supporters of or participants in the Castro revolution, were forced abroad, imprisoned, or otherwise stifled.
In 1956, Castro led a seaborne expedition across the Gulf of Mexico to the Cuban coast, seeking to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The attempt failed. Of 82 men who set out on the journey, all but twelve were killed by Batista’s forces. “The Twelve”—Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and nine others—became a powerful symbol of the revolutionary movement.