What will be the likely result of President Obama’s breakthrough in U.S. relations with communist Cuba?
The President seems to assume that everyone agrees that the old policy was designed to bring about regime change — ideally democratic, or at least milder form of authoritarianism that granted greater respect to human rights — and that this policy was not going to succeed. The president’s assumption is not exactly true. Refusing to grant diplomatic recognition and continuing commercial business as usual has been much more a position of moral opposition to an illegitimate regime as it has been any kind of plan of action for regime change.
The President seems to convey that the goal of his new policy will bring about such change. But simultaneously, he says as the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl has pointed out, that his policy is designed towards achieving stability and avoiding chaos in Cuba.
Meanwhile, in playing a pivotal role in the U.S.-Cuban breakthrough, Pope Francis appears to believe that greater democracy, respect for human rights, and freedom of religion can result if there are more peaceful relations between the two countries. When he was about to become Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he wrote a book arguing that such results can and should come from greater dialogue between the United States and Cuba.
I can see only one path by which such an outcome might take place. This path involves what amounts to the psychological disarmament of the Cuban dictatorship. Under this scenario, the Castros, their Party apparatchiks, and their cronies, will begin to let their guard down because they will become convinced that the United States is no longer heaven-bent on regime change. Their government-controlled businesses will become ever-more dependent upon trade and tourism with the United States to the point that they allegedly will have a vested interest in keeping U.S. attitudes favorably disposed towards Cuba. This vested interest, in turn, will be counted on to restrain the internal security authorities from those excessive human rights violations that would arouse and alienate the U.S., thereby putting their commercial relationships with America at risk.
Indeed, a variant of this scenario took place in the Soviet Union, but it varied sufficiently from the Cuban scenario insofar as America had put such economic pressure on the Soviet military economy that Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s principal policy was not to embark on genuine political-economic reforms, but to seek a Western economic bailout. This bailout depended on eliminating the idea in the West that the USSR was the “enemy.” Therefore, Gorbachev could ill afford to appear like one by throwing too many more people into the Gulag or killing more people than he did.
The problem here is that Castro has never sought a Western economic bailout unless it is solely on his own terms. Those terms amount to preserving the communist system and his regime’s monopoly on power at virtually all costs.
Instead, the US-China relations model points to the much more likely future, which is that American businesses will become so dependent upon Cuba trade that they will not wish to rock the boat politically.
Because U.S. companies have become so dependent on trade with China, Beijing feels utterly no restraint against throwing whomever they wish into the Laogai, not to mention continuing their massive espionage, military buildup, and regional attempted land grabs.
The kind of peace that exists between the U.S. and China, which is very much the result of a dialogue of the kind that Pope Francis has recommended, is, in fact, illusory. There is one very good reason for this: there can be no peace without justice. There can be no peace without respect for human rights.
As Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet inventor of the hydrogen bomb turned human rights activist, taught us: The Soviet regime would never have genuine peace with the West until it had peace with its own people.
One fervently hopes, under the circumstances, that the optimistic scenario for Cuba envisioned by Pope Francis will come to pass, but I have my serious doubts.