Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Is Obama that naïve?

Published:Monday | December 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ewin James, Guest Columnist

We all pity the people of Cuba who have lived under tyranny and deprivation most, if not all their lives. The things we take for granted they can only dream of. Therefore, any help offered to them must be welcomed, provided it is offered in principle and in such a way that it will help them and not their oppressors.

President Obama is rightly sympathetic and wants to help the people of Cuba, and for that we must commend him. However, the way he is going about it shows a naivete that is frightening in a president of the greatest country on earth, for there is no reason to believe that what he wants to do will help the people of Cuba.

He has decided to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. In doing so, he has directed the State Department to open an embassy in Havana, review Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, allow the export of software, medical devices and telecommunications equipment, and ordered an expansion of travel between the two countries, though only Congress can restore it fully and lift the half-a-century-old trade embargo against the Castro regime. He thinks this will begin to end tyranny and communism and help the Cuban people. I think he is being naïve in the extreme.

Like many misguided people, he thinks that the woes of the Cuban people have been caused by the United States embargo. But the person who is responsible for the misery of the Cuban people is Fidel Castro.

It was Fidel who overthrew the government of his country then led by Batista; who nationalised all American businesses and paid not one cent for any of them; who took his country into the camp of the Soviet Union; who crushed all opposition; who cut off his people from the world, jailed thousands of them who dared speak out against his tyranny, murdered thousands more, and made himself dictator for life; who outlawed the formation of any political party and resisted all overtures from home and abroad to relax his tyranny and enter the modern world.

All that the United States has done is stand on principle and say that 'as long as you continue, we won't trade with you and treat you as a normal government'. That's like the teacher telling the bully on the playground that as long he continues to harass the other children, he won't be included in their games.

For more than 50 years, Fidel and his brother have played the bully with their own people and have given no hint that they are willing to change. But President Obama believes that holding out the olive branch of restored diplomatic relations can turn them into friends.

Wrong direction

That is a pipe dream. The Cuban regime has given no hint that it has acknowledged the pain it has caused to its own people. Raul Castro, in his statement about releasing Alan Gross, said not one word about the regime acknowledging it has been on the wrong social and economic path and will even consider slowing down.

In recent times, Cuba has tried to court private enterprise, but this has been done rather for the benefit of the State than the common people. The foreign exchange earned has gone right into government coffers. And Fidel continues to live in opulence on a private island off the mainland away from the suffering millions.

So why does President Obama believe that restoring normal relations will weaken repression and benefit the common people? Maybe he feels that being kind to enemies can make them friends; but he should have seen the folly of this by now. The Muslims he has sought to placate with smooth speech in Turkey and Egypt, when he came to power, are as implacably opposed to the US as ever.

Or, maybe he feels that America, with its money and military might, is the cause of what is wrong with the world and has a moral obligation to make amends, whatever the outcome.

More likely, he wants to go down in history as the American president who ended the estrangement between Cuba and the United States, as the president who offered all Americans health care, whether they could afford it, or the president who opened the door the widest to foreigners wanting to come and live the American dream. But he should first dip his ideas into plausibility.

Ewin James is a freelance journalist living in Florida. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and eroyjames@aol.com.