Eugene Robinson wrote recently concerning the elevation of Raul Castro to the top spot in Cuba, “Maintaining rigid policy toward Cuba wrongheaded” (May 29).
He suggested the possibility and probable desirability of revising relations with our neighbor.
I would go further and ask that we totally depart from one of the worst foreign policy decisions we have ever made. The decision made by President Eisenhower and maintained by successors Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush 2 originated from the country’s obsessive fear of communism and the Cold War. Fidel Castro, who while marching victoriously toward Havana, denied that he was a communist but did not take long in shedding his camouflage once he took control.
But what has our painting Cuba as the Latin leper accomplished other than ensuring the suffering of the Cuban populace and satisfying the emotional needs of “Little Havana,” an island inside of Miami?
In order to appreciate what Fidel Castro meant to the working class Cuban, we need to review Cuban history.
The island was discovered, inhabited by Indians, by Columbus in 1492 and Diego Velasquez completed the Spanish conquest in 1512. Spain governed the territory for the next nearly 400 years. Then in 1898, the United States wanted a piece of this rich pie, hence the Spanish-American War. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt named William Howard Taft as U.S. governor. Military forces were sent to Cuba in 1912 and again in 1917 to quell local fighting for freedom and independence.
In 1921, U.S. Gen. Enoch Crowder entered Havana on the battleship Minnesota and set a date for a national election. Once more, this intervention was unwelcome and condemned by the Cubans. By 1933, a large part of the land and sugar industry was owned by Americans while Spaniards controlled the trade centers.
On May 25,1925, Gerardo Machado became president and by 1933 using brutality to crush the opposition, he felt secure in his position. But in August of that year a military rebellion forced his resignation. Next, in our heavy-handed dealing with Cuba, Ambassador Sumner Welles invited leaders of a secret political group called ABC to take part in the new government. This was done without consulting with the new President Carlos Cespedes.
Sgt. Fulgencio Batista enters the picture in September 1933 when he took control of the army and thus begins his climb to the presidency in 1940. He lost an election to Ramon Grau, who defied the U.S. and supported middle and lower class Cubans who had been exploited consistently since the Spanish conquest.
But Batista engineered a coup in 1952 and cancelled upcoming scheduled elections. Once more, we lined up with the wrong guys and recognized Batista’s government.
By the late 1950s Americans controlled 90 percent of the mines, 80 percent of public utilities, 50 percent of the railroads, 40 percent of sugar industry and 25 percent of the bank deposits.
Fidel Castro’s arrival was met with mixed emotions by the separate elements of Cuban society. Those who had languished in poverty and illiteracy for centuries welcomed the new leaders. The upper class and professionals who had done well under the brutal regimes of Machado and Batista left for Miami in force, concerned about the goals of the new government and their means of achievement.
There is no question that it didn’t pay to be in opposition to Fidel and as yet, we don’t know if Raul will be any different – although there are some promising signs.
But if one considers the plight of the present-day average Cuban as compared to the pre-Castro period, one has to recognize some progress. Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates among all countries.
Medical care is available to everyone. The Cuban constitution has been amended and permits the free exercise of religion. Small mom-and-pop enterprises are permitted.
Cuba is poor, partly because of socialist economic policy but principally because we made it our mission to destroy Castro by punishing the Cuban people. While it can be argued that the Chinese would do better economically under a modified capitalistic system, no one can dispute Chinese economic success. So why do we do this?
Well I suppose that in the beginning we were uncomfortable having a Soviet satellite 90 miles away but that concern disappeared long ago. Today, the only justification is to satisfy the fat cats who prospered under Cuban tyrants and were not going to do very well under the intruder. After all, they, in “Little Havana,” can (and did) decide national elections.
We can hope that some day there will be politicians with courage enough to take the risk and make decisions determined by what is right for our country.