Elias Atienza is a history sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Thank God Fidel Castro is dead.
The communist dictator of Cuba was a madman who imprisoned political opponents, took land away from citizens, enriched the Cuban elite and allowed Cubans to starve while exiling more than one million of them. Cubans do not have the right to vote nor the right to free speech or protest. Their dehumanization extends beyond disenfranchisement, as Castro placed thousands of gay men in concentration camps and denied them basic rights such as the ability to join the Communist Party.
Castro’s passing is a symbol of the end of an era; an era of economic and political suppression that was brought to an end by Obama’s thaw of Cold-War era tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. Obama’s efforts were similar in intentions, if not in practice, to Nixon’s efforts with China.
However, neither act of diplomacy went without criticism. The same people who opposed opening relations with China now oppose the Cuba Thaw.
People such as Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz voiced their opposition to the Cuba deal, while the president-elect has gone so far as to say that he would rip it up.
However, the policy of isolationism pushed by ideologs like these has not worked. Despite 50 years of embargo, the Castro regime has continued to commit human rights violations at an alarming rate. The Castro brothers have used the Cuban embargo to justify their positions of power, blaming the U.S. for the poor economic status of Cuba. As the Cato Institute’s Daniel Griswold wrote back in 2005, “If the goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba is to help its people achieve freedom and a better life, the economic embargo has completely failed.”
History has shown us that free trade is actually better than the threat of war. I believe this unquestionable principle will inevitably turn opponents of the Cuba deal into reluctant supporters.
The U.S. actually has historical precedent to continue to roll back embargoes on its Caribbean neighbor. Currently, the U.S. has diplomatic and trade relations with communist countries such as Vietnam and China. Engagement with these states fostered more open economies, that focus on central planning and capitalism. This means that the invisible hand of the market is just as powerful as the communist state itself in terms of determining which industries draw the most workers.
This international involvement is championed by all aforementioned opponents of the Cuba deal (with the exception of the president-elect). Senator Rand Paul made a nod to this hypocrisy in TIME, “The supporters of the embargo against Cuba speak with heated passion but fall strangely silent when asked how trade with Cuba is so different than trade with Russia or China or Vietnam,” Paul said.
Opponents of this comparison would argue that it is unfair to compare countries that are so geographically, and thus culturally, distinct. However, Cuba’s geographic proximity actually affords the U.S. the chance to have a much greater influence on this transition to economic and political freedom. The U.S. is the ultimate lifeline that can rejuvenate the Cuban economy and if we can convince the Castro regime of this, then the ensuing wave of capital investments will bring with it more than just a revived economy.
By introducing the Cuban people to the freedoms of capitalism, the U.S. gains leverage. Once the Cuban economy is given a taste of the free market, the Castro regime will no longer be able to perpetuate the myths that frozen relations with the U.S., and thus the embargo, are in the best interests of the people. When Cubans realize how strangled their current economy is, it will put pressure on the regime to do everything it can to defuse the situation and prevent a revolt.
This gives the U.S. leverage and means President-elect Trump will be in a position to demand the Castro regime release political prisoners and give their people more political freedom before Congress fully lifts the embargo.
Economic protectionism, a policy of embargoes and sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Cuba, should be phased out.
We should celebrate the death of Fidel Castro, but in doing so we should look forward to continuing relations, opening our borders for travel along with gradually lifting the economic embargo so Americans and Cubans can help each other thrive economically and culturally.
Let us hope that a tidal wave of free trade and capitalism will push Cuba and the Castro regime to allow economic freedom and basic political rights that Americans take for granted every day.