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There Is no Cuba -- There Is Only Castro

Comment

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that his administration had spent the last 18 months in negotiations with Cuban President Raul Castro. This culminated with the issuing of executive orders that will lay the groundwork for normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. for the first time since 1961.

For most Americans, my bet is that this news was marginally interesting. But for my family, it's a different story. My mother and father fled to the United States in the early 1960s after the Castro government took power. For my mother, it was the religious persecution that ensued after Fidel Castro, the brother of Raul and the architect of the "Revolucion," consolidated his power. For my father, it was being forced off his land at gun point and seething as property that had belonged to his family for generations became spoils for Castro cronies.

But in America today, many people, both on the left and the right, see the steps taken by the president as long overdue. They believe that the laws that prohibit normal relations with Cuba, composed of six separate statutes but collectively known as the "embargo," are a relic of the Cold War and make no sense in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, the American people have very short memories. It was the Castro brothers, aligned with the Soviet Union, who brought the world to the edge of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They fomented unrest and violence in Angola in the mid-1970s and shot down two American civilian aircraft in 1996. And of course, they have been responsible for the systematic oppression of the Cuban people, treating them as disposable commodities, directing every aspect of their lives from birth to death, even using them as trade goods, like the exchanging of Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil.

After so much international mayhem, after causing so many people so much suffering, the Castros are nearing the end of their lives, and by many accounts do not have a solidified succession process.

Why, then, would the U.S. offer them the benefit of the additional hard currency that would flow in the wake of normalization and that would increase the chance of perpetuating an evil regime? Our best bet would be to wait until Raul Castro passes from the scene and then use normalization and the financial windfall that would come with it as a bargaining chip with those vying for Cuban leadership who would align with the U.S.

Still, despite all of this, if I believed normalization would really help the Cuban people, I would be in favor of it. But that simply is not the case. The Castros have shown time and again that any concessions they receive, any benefits whatsoever, go only one place: their own pockets. Saying that the embargo has impoverished the Cuban people is a canard. One hundred ninety nations trade openly with Cuba. So where is the food for people to eat? Where is the good housing? Where are the basic items of subsistence that one would expect to find in a place that has tremendous natural advantages and that enjoys doing business with every nation in the world but one? They are only to be found in communist party courtyards and tourist-only enclaves. In the end, there is no Cuba. There is only Castro.

This is the basic fact that I think President Obama fails to recognize. If he believes that Raul Castro is having this conversation with the U.S. because he wants to help his people, then the president is acting foolishly. Raul and his brother have remained in power for 55 years just 90 miles off the coast of the United States despite antagonizing every president since Eisenhower. They've been able to do that because they are cunning and savvy, and I would expect this current conversation to be nothing but their end-game gambit aimed at preserving their revolution after they are at long last gone.

Let's not help them be successful. The president should avoid the temptation to use Cuba to burnish his legacy. Republicans should resist using the situation for political gain. Let us act together in the best interests of the Cuban people to ensure a future free of the stain of Castro and his half century of subjugating a proud people.

Jorge Riopedre is the executive director of Casa de Salud. His parents emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in the early 1960s in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's ascension to power in 1959.

REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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