Cuba Libre

Rum and Coke is a good drink, my cocktail of choice. Oh sure, if I could afford it, I’d drink Crown Royal or Glenmorangie. Barring a lottery win, though, it’s a Cuba Libre for me on the rare occasions that I skip the wine at a party or find myself  in a bar. It goes down clean, and the lime adds a tart brightness to the mix. Plus, good rum is easier and cheaper than good whiskey. Hence the colonials’ fondness for it.  Our forefathers, such as Washington, did not celebrate Christmas with trees, presents and crèches. Instead, they gave out copious amounts of food, rum, and whiskey. I like the term Cuba Libre. It sounds classier than rum and Coke. It also alludes to the shared history of Cuba and the United States. And it’s a long history indeed, complete with some unpleasant truths.

When President Obama finally took the sensible action of normalizing relations with Cuba, a number of Republicans started howling as though they had just found out that the Koch brothers were broke. I can understand Senator Rubio’s unhappiness. He’s Cuban, and some Cubans will never accept that communism is a part of Cuba’s reality. But most people I know who have family ties to Cuba welcome the change. And even if they didn’t, common sense and a long view of history are needed for foreign policy decisions. If U.S. interests in Cuba are in opposition to the wishes of Cuban exiles, oh well. The U.S. government cannot let every refugee group in the country determine foreign policy; it would be a disaster.

Just as it took a Republican, Richard Nixon, to open relations with China, it took a Democrat to fix the broken policy vis-a-vis Cuba. It was a Democrat who started the embargo, and a strident faction of Republicans are too enmeshed with Miami’s Cuban hardliners to break the impasse. Trying to change Cuba’s government through military force and isolation has failed miserably. After nearly six decades of failure, it is time to change strategies. It can’t be worse than what has happened so far. Exhibit A is the thousands of criminals that Castro tricked Ronald Reagan into accepting as political refugees. It has been noted by scholars and politicians alike that trade with China has significantly changed that country from a strict totalitarian command economy into a capitalist/ socialist hybrid in which its citizens enjoy increasing amounts of freedom and improved standards of living.

Why do certain conservatives think Cuba is different? They would do well to think about their own foreign policy successes and failures since 1960 before criticizing liberals for taking a low risk gamble on Cuba. On the success side, there is the fall of the Iron Curtain. Reagan rightly gets credit for that, but the Pope and luck also played roles. On the failure side, look no further than Cambodia, Lebanon, Nicaragua, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Pakistan. That’s a lot of failure. The about face that Dick Cheney did on Iraq alone is enough to make one do an exorcist head spin. Bush / Cheney the First got Iraq right. Bush / Cheney the Second got it horribly wrong.

Even if one shifts some of the blame for the fiasco in Iraq to Obama, no one can fairly place most of it anywhere but on conservative shoulders. The neocons led the charge into the quagmire of Iraq, while giving multiple reasons why it wouldn’t turn into a quagmire. Most Americans have had enough of nation-building and its high costs of blood and treasure in the Middle East. Conservatives used to understand involvement in civil conflicts is to be avoided. Or at least they did when Democrats tried to intervene in foreign problems that weren’t our business. Cuba’s government is an issue for Cubans, not us. Conservatives should stop playing politics and be true to their principles. Part of their mantra for years has been that free trade is good and breaks down tyranny. Capitalism 101. It is a poor patriot who dismisses an idea that benefits the country just because they don’t like its sponsor. No matter how much one hates Obama, he can’t be wrong on everything.

Considering the harm the Cuban people suffered from the Mafia, sugar barons, Batista, and the embargo, it’s amazing that they don’t hate us beyond all hope of reconciliation. Yes, I know about the repression and suffering under Castro. I’m not dismissive of the atrocities committed by the Cuban government. But there was a lot of torture and suffering under U.S. sponsored capitalism as well. I am not saying one is better or worse than the other. I just don’t think anyone can make that judgment.

What I do know is that when the rum starts flowing and the cigars start smoldering, our hemispheric neighborhood will be a friendlier and better place. And when the spring breakers start flocking to Cuba and families reunite after decades of separation, the Cuban government won’t have a choice about changing. Filling Cuba’s beaches with scantily clad young women and men carrying iPhones and iPads will open the world up for the Cuban people. The hard currency from these tourists, as well as from the sale of cigars and rum to the mainland, will awaken dormant Cuban capitalism. Change will occur with or without the government’s blessing. And isn’t that the most conservative ideal of all? Besides, increasing the supply of rum in the U.S. will drive down the cost of my Cuba Libre. And that’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing.