Giving a hairy middle finger to the surgeon general, Fidel Castro smoked his way through half a century as Cuba's president. His tenure finally ended, Fidel is leaving the country in the hands of his brother, Raul. Now is the time for the United States to drop its inept, 46-year embargo against the little island.
Fidel is 81 years old and temporarily gave up power in 2006 when he required emergency intestinal surgery. Raul has held the reigns of Cuba's communist cigar boat in the meantime. Indeed, Fidel hasn't even been seen in public since then, leading some in the Gauntlet office to speculate that he actually died at the time, further suggesting that the Cubans have been led by a ghost-puppet since.
The situation in Cuba is very interesting. Not only does the country provide universal health care to all its citizens, it also hosts a much admired education system. Despite this, the new regime faces the tremendous battle of resuscitating a decrepit economy. It may be a very good thing Raul will be driving the country from now on. It was reportedly his work that prevented the Cuban economy from sinking into the ocean after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As such, with power now totally in his hands and at a time where at least some change will be expected, Cuba may be able to prompt an economic recovery of sorts. Fortunately for Cubans, Raul, though suggesting that there will only be minor economic reforms, seems to have recognized this.
The most important issue facing Cuba, though not directly controlled by Cubans, is the ongoing American embargo against the island. Since Feb. 7, 1962, the U.S. has conducted no trade or financial transactions with Cuba. It is not difficult to see why this came about, so obvious were tensions between the U.S. and communism at the time. Indeed, the embargo was imposed only a few months after the miscarried Bay of Pigs invasion and preceded the Cuban missile crisis by only slightly more than a half a year. As well, democracy (or rather, the U.S. via the Monroe Doctrine) was gearing up for its insane proxy war with communism in Vietnam at that time. It is, then, no surprise that the embargo was implemented. Its continuation, however, is cruel and entirely unneccessary.
Communism has largely died out as a viable political system in the world. There are only a handful of communist regimes left (Vietnam, incidentally, amongst them) and the largest, China, has spent the last number of years moving steadily closer to a capitalist system. Accordingly, the argument that Cuba must be weakened because its political system represents a threat to the American way of life can surely be discarded. The embargo must now feign legitimacy by asserting its intention to be seeking freedom for all Cubans, including of course, political prisoners. This historically dubious argument is nothing short of dishonest and malicious now.
Clearly the best course of action the U.S. can take to secure liberty for the Cuban people is to open up trade with them. Rather than encouraging the continuation of dictatorship, this will likely lead to further freedoms for the Cuban people. The government, finally trading with the west, would be forced to modernize and expand rights, both economic and political, to the people of Cuba who will otherwise be unable to keep up with the levels of productivity Cuba requires to be successful in its economic resurgence.
The U.S. is already calling for reform. President Bush recently said "the U.S. will help the people of Cuba realise the blessings of liberty." The question now is whether they have learned their Iraq lesson and will be willing to seek better ways to bring about change than through violence and sanctions. Fidel's decision to step down from the role of president (be he dead or not) means that now is a good time to try. The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been around for more than 46 years and clearly isn't working. If the U.S. is actually seeking to take the high road and see the Cuban people gain more freedom, they should back off in their game of political Roshambo and allow the change they supposedly desire.