The Blockade

by Geraldo Rivera | Dec 20, 2013

Fidel Castro sucks; so does his brother Raúl, his successor as ruthless, human rights trampling Cuban dictator. There, I got that out of the way, so don’t hyperventilate for a minute and give me a chance to explain why I think it was perfectly appropriate, indeed smart, of the president to shake Raúl Castro’s hand at the Nelson Mandela memorial services in rainy South Africa this past Tuesday.  

Further, I hope the handshake is the gesture that accelerates a long overdue easing of the harsh U.S. policy toward Cuba, which since 1960 has been one of unrelenting hostility and confrontation. For 11 successive American administrations beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower, who ended diplomatic relations with Cuba and put in place the first economic embargo, and John F. Kennedy, who launched the failed 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion, we have sought to undo the Cuban revolution that overthrew Fulgencio Batista, another ruthless, human rights trampling dictator who was at least pro-American.

Having experienced two extended assignments in melancholy Cuba, the communist-ruled Pearl of the Antilles, I have a fair grasp of how sad things are still for the 11 million prisoner/residents on Castro’s island. Cut off from the two million Cubans who have managed to flee to the United States and elsewhere, island residents today are largely supported by that Diaspora, those sons and daughters of Cuba who live abroad. Since restrictions were modestly eased in 2011, Cuban Americans can now send food, cash and other aid to their oppressed and impoverished relatives still on the island. From Miami’s Little Havana to Hudson County New Jersey, that $2 billion a year in family remittances have become one of the mainstays of the Cuban economy.  

What is the point of what remains of the embargo? As then Senator Barack Obama said in 2004, “The Cuban embargo has failed to provide the sorts of rising standards of living, and has squeezed the innocents in Cuba and utterly failed to overthrow Castro, who has now been there since I was born. It is now time to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed.”

Similarly, Bill Clinton was scornful of the embargo. In his book “The Clinton Tapes, Wrestling History,” Pulitzer Prize winning historian Taylor Branch says President Clinton “…confided on tape that the embargo was a foolish, pandering failure. It had allowed Castro to demonize the United States for decades … The president said anybody ‘with half a brain’ could see the embargo was counterproductive.”

But like Bill Clinton, who was severely trashed by the Cuban exile community over his handling of the wrenching 1999 Elián González controversy in which a refugee youngster was returned to his Cuban father over the objections of stateside relatives, President Barack Obama caved once he got into office, losing the courage of his earlier conviction about easing the 51-year-old embargo. Although both presidents felt that our embargo of Cuba was a counterproductive relic of the Cold War, they lost their nerve when it came to reforming relations with our neighbor 90 miles from Key West. They had seen the brute political power of the Cuban exile community, when almost single-handedly it wrenched the 2000 elections from the hands of Democrats in Florida.

Fueled by a half century of resentment and bitterness over the uncompensated seizure of their homes and businesses by Castro’s communists, the exiles have been unrelenting in their insistence that the United States be as unforgiving as they are toward the Castro regime. The result of their intransigence is the current hostility where they are still uncompensated; their family members on the island are suffering as much from embargo-related economic deprivation as from political oppression, and their adopted country, the United States, is ridiculed for a foreign policy out of step with virtually every other country on earth.

In 2013, the United Nations for the 22nd time passed a resolution condemning the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. The vote was 188-2. Of all the governments representing all the rest of the human race, only Israel sided with the United States. That score again, Cuba 188, the USA 2. The 188 who voted against us include Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Germany, Mexico and Britain, all major trading partners with Cuba.

Like I said at the top, Raúl Castro is a ruthless, human rights trampling dictator. In that regard, he is much like the ruthless, human rights trampling dictators who run China, Russia, North Korea (where 34,000 Americans died in a brutal war) and Vietnam, (where another 50,000 Americans lost their lives in another brutal, decade-long war). In fact, Castro is more like the ruthless, human rights trampling dictators that run most of Asia and half of Africa. And yet we do business with all of them, except Cuba.  

The handshake was smart. The embargo is dumb.

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