Friday, December 19, 2014


Not being of Cuban descent and not being from Florida, I have given very little thought to Cuba in recent years. Of course, I can well remember the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Castro's visits to New York in 1959 and 1960, President Eisenhower's termination of diplomatic relations in January 1961, the Bay of Pigs later that April, and the October 1962 Missile Crisis during which Kennedy and Khrushchev took the world to the very brink - because of Cuba. After that, Cuba more or less receded from mine - and, I suspect, most non-Cubans' - consciousness. Every now and then, we get some reminder that Cuba is still something of a problem - but hardly the threat it once was to the national interest when, as a client state of the Soviet Union, Cuba was in the business of fomenting revolution and otherwise making trouble not just in the Western Hemisphere but also in Africa. 

On the other hand, Cuba has remained a perennial problem for our political class, as evidenced by the latest round of speculation whether President Obama's action might cost Hillary Clinton (or whoever) Florida's electoral votes. Personally I think it is just too soon to know and so should also be too soon to speculate. There is some credible evidence of ideological movement on this issue on the part of younger Cuban-Americans, who could comprise a decisive segment of Florida's voters. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Besides the United States and Cuba, the third big winner in the restoration of full diplomatic relations would seem to be the diplomacy of the Holy See. Two previous popes - Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI - have visited Cuba, and we now know that the Holy See has been directly involved for a year or so in the negotiations that have led to this latest development. The fact that President Obama made a point of praising Pope Francis' role in this process speaks not only to the significant contribution of  the Holy See's diplomacy but also to the continued potential for cooperation on common concerns between the Holy See and the Obama Administration. And that is surely all to the good, as is the Holy See's enhanced diplomatic profile.

Needless to say, this rapprochement between the United States and Cuba does not signify a fundamental change in the character of the Castro regime - or any re-evaluation of that regime on our part. If diplomatic recognition meant moral approbation, we would have far fewer embassies indeed! The basic facts about the Castro regime remain the same and are likely to remain so for some time. And change, if and when it comes, will not necessarily reflect American and democratic values. China, for example, has changed enormously since President Nixon's much more radical opening to China and the restoration of diplomatic relations. Compared with Mao's regime, China today is a much better society to be sure, but no one would seriously suggest it has moved or is likely to move any time soon in a more democratic direction. 

In the larger picture, I am not sure how much it matters that full diplomatic relations are to be restored between the U.S. and Cuba. But it may matter very much that both countries can communicate better and that this particular relic of the Cold War may finally be put to rest and we all get to move forward instead of staying stuck in the 1960s. 

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