January 21, 2011
Carlos Saladrigas, Miami Herald
A few days ago, Cuba celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its revolution. For nearly the same amount of time, the United States has applied to Cuba a policy cocktail of sanctions, confrontation and isolation. In fact, sanctions applied to Cuba are more comprehensive than any other U.S. sanctions program in the world, even against America's most virulent enemies.
U.S. policy toward Cuba undoubtedly ranks as the most prolonged foreign-policy failure in this nation's history. Supporters of the policy continue to argue for its continuation. One is left to wonder how many more years of failure will be needed to convince them that a change is needed?
Fifty-two years is a long time. No system of government or leader stays in power for so long without a clearly articulated strategy to achieve it. Faced with unrelenting economic hostility, the Cuban revolution has survived the disappearance of the Soviet Union, an economic collapse that saw about 40 percent of its GDP evaporate, literally, overnight, massive economic failures of its own creation, mass exoduses and foreign wars.
What are the keys to its success?
• First and foremost, way more important than physical repression, is economic control -- keeping citizens economically dependent on the state.
• Second, it has managed to have everyone, including its opponents, confuse the regime with the nation and see them as one and indistinguishable from each other.
• Third, it has managed to turn the policy of its nemesis into a source of legitimacy rather than into a denial.
Not bad for a regime that, in its internal policies, has lost all aspects of creativity, economic well-being and vision for the future.
It is hard to find in the historical record another example like this where an adversary actually helped its foe stay in power through its policies and actions, and done so for so long. In competitive theory this would be akin to taking actions that actually reinforce your competitor's key success factors, as opposed to magnifying its weaknesses.
It is encouraging that the Obama administration is taking steps to correct this long-lasting policy mistake. The core of Cuba policy is enshrined in legislation, so the president has relied on a limited amount of leeway under executive authority to effect these changes to facilitate people-to-people travel, greatly ease academic and religious travel, expand the number of airports that can have flights to Cuba and allow people in the United States to send remittances to nonrelatives in amounts not to exceed $500 per quarter, per recipient.
In the latest set of measures, the administration is saying that it sees the Cuban people independent and apart from the regime. It is betting on the people to be Cuba's future agents of change. Taking clues from the only policy that has ever been successful against totalitarianism -- constructive engagement -- it understands that democracies cannot exist without a strong civil society, and has taken action to open America's vast and powerful civil society to help build and strengthen Cuba's own.
Perhaps most important, as Cuba is forced to dismantle its paternalistic state, it seeks to piggyback on Cuba's own changes to help small and budding entrepreneurs be successful and, in turn, depend on themselves and their hard work, not on the state. It is an acknowledgement that economic rights are an immensely important component of human rights.
For way too long, the United States has been aiming to hurt the regime, even while inflicting collateral damage on the Cuban people. The regime's key leaders are all octogenarians, so it is long overdue to realize that the only truly effective policy is to focus on the Cuban people, even if it provides a collateral benefit to the regime. his is a needed, useful and long overdue trade-off.
Carlos Saladrigas is co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group.
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Carlos Saladrigas, CSG Blog
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