Cuba is on it's last leg. In the 50 years that Cuba has been around, it's had the iron fisted rule of a ruthless despot who is tied with Kim Jong Il for the Nobel Prize in Evil, a cultural icon which not only kept it's own people filled with false hope for an imaginary utopia, but also inspired the rest of the world, and it's had it's mini-Cold War with the United States.
Recently, we've seen it all disapear. Raul Castro has replaced his brother Fidel, a person whom most people are not positive is still even alive. Although Raul is just as much a Communist autocrat born of a bloody revolution, it is unlikely that he will be able to replicate his brothers talent for torture, barbarity, and oppression.
While college kids and some left over hippies my still wear the image of an insane butcher on their chest, Che's status as an inspiration for a generation of idealistic, drugged-up flower children is almost completely dead. He is seen as a man on a Gap t-shirt, and nothing more. While a student at Berkely in 1968 would have told you that Che overthrew the pig Batista is going to bring a worker's utopia to Latin America, a student at Berkely in 2008 possibly could have told you that he was a revolutionary in Cuba way back when. Cuba is viewed by the population as one of the last desperate failed states, and is not seen as a future paradise any more.
And finally, President Obama has effectively brought an end to the mini-Cold War that has existed since the Cuban Government lost it's sponser when the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic fell in 1991. This has been done through Obama's proposal to losen the trade barriers, and allow greater tourism of the small Carribian island.
Of course, if Raul wishes to keep his nation from becoming a real life Atlantis and sinking into the sea, he will accept at least some of the terms. No matter how insane the entire Cuban Government may be, they cannot ignore the fact that their country is starving and desperate. Their people, blind as they may be, are about as technologically advanced as a pack of chimpanzees. They are hungry. And they are desperate to escape. Raul cannot escape these facts, as much as he may try to. When the time comes to make his descision, he will almost certainly do what any ruler wishing to keep the French Revolution from repeating itself would do: accept. If he does not, it will signal the end of any hope for a bloodless (or even lightly bloody) transition into democracy. The only way that will be able to happen is if every Cuban citizen storms Havana and hauls out a guilottinne.
However, Cuba's stance on the issue is not what most Americans are concerned about: the question for most of us is, should we open to a Communist nation, or keep our doors shut? The important thing to remember before a conclusion can be reached is the context: The trade barriers were erected to starve Cuba into willingness to transform into a democratic state. By some miracle of God, Cuba has been able to sustain itself long enough to keep itself from imploding. Obvioulsy, our plan hasn't worked. Is it time for a new strategy? Or should we just drop the mini-Cold War and let Cuba do what it wants to?
The answer is both. The key to turning Communist Cuba into Capitalist Cuba is to bring America there. Don't wait for Cuba to change, and don't wait for the Cubans to come to America. Let Americans go there, let companies build there, communicate, trade, cooperate. And the reason is not to show Cubans that we are “reasonable people” willing to work hand in hand with a communist state – it's to show the Cubans what Americans are like, and bring them to the point where they no longer just want to come to America -they want to Change Cuba.
How can we bet on this happening? Why should we so recklessly hope that a 50 year old human rights violating failed state run by Asylum escapees would see us, and change?
Because it's happened before.
Go across the world to China, and back to 1972. Richard Nixon is in office, and he's made a trip to the most unlikely of countries: Mao Zedong's China, comparable only to Hitler's Germany in it's total barbarity and degenerecy. Nixon's actions heard a chorus of criticisms from all ends of the political spectrum. Even staunch free trade libertarians decried the visit, claiming that the United States should not be negotiating with these countries.
Stay in China, but fast forward 17 years. On June 4, 1989, several thousand students were slaughtered by the Chinese military for demanding democratic reforms. Richard Nixon had introduced one of the most steadfastly Communist nations in the world to democratic capitalism and western ideals, and within 17 years, it had taken hold. Almost everyone older than 12 remembers watching a nameless, faceless young man with a briefcase – or was it a schoolbag? - holding up a line of 36 tanks for half an hour, before being hauled away by plainclothes police.
The point is that introducing democratic values to a communist nation will take hold with the people – it's happened before, and that makes it a safe bet. The only reason China managed to resist change was because it's military was a modern, advanced one controlled by a modern, advanced burocracy. Cuba would not be able to withstand an attack of it's own people. When the citizens see that their country is changing, that they no longer must run and hide, but have a chance to change their country from the inside, they willl seize it. And the government will fold or be brought down. I may have my problems with President Obama – but his actions toward Cuba, weather or not he realizes it, may prove to be the most important step in bringing democracy to Cuba we've ever taken.