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January 31, 2015

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where i stand:

For everyone’s sake, it’s time to reach out to Cuba

“How stupid are we?”

With apologies to my young granddaughter who constantly reminds me that stupid is not a nice word, that question is almost all I have been thinking about for the past week after my wife and I returned from an almost week-long trip to Cuba.

If you don’t like the word stupid, try foolish, ridiculous, nuts — or other words that describe the foreign policy of the United States toward Cuba for the past 50 years — because what we saw there just ain’t working.

I realize there are many people — mostly Cubans who fled the Fidel Castro regime when the revolution he headed ousted Fulgencio Batista over New Years in 1958 — who hold a deep animosity toward the man who took everything they had and forced them to leave their homeland. While most of them went to Miami and have since become U.S. citizens, many fled to other parts of the country, including Las Vegas.

We have been fortunate over the years that some made Las Vegas their destination because our community has been enriched by them.

That desire to strike back at Castro, however, while personal and understandable, should no longer drive the policy of the United States toward a country just 90 miles off the Florida coast. The reason is simple: That policy does not work, and it is not in the best interests of the United States.

Not only has the embargo, which was placed on Cuba by the United States a half century ago and which is flouted by almost every other country on the planet, not worked, it has chased Cuba into the waiting arms of practically every other enemy or economic competitor of America. The losers in this deal are the people of the United States who could take advantage of the many opportunities available, and the people of Cuba who have paid a heavy price for not being able to do business — at all societal levels — with the country most convenient and most able to partner with them.

The embargo was placed on Cuba to force the people into such an economic crisis that they would oust Castro and his Marxist, communist, socialistic and anti-capitalistic Soviet colleagues from power, thus freeing the Western hemisphere of any corrupting or competing political ideologies.

That embargo — the Cubans call it a blockade — started in 1960 and was supposed to bring the Commies to their knees in a couple of years.

The cynics among us might ask whether the embargo has worked. I would answer yes, just fine. Just fine, that is, if you consider the collapse of the Soviet Union as the reason for the embargo, which we all know it was not. The U.S.S.R., by the way, disappeared over two decades ago. So, what about Cuba, you may ask?

That country collapsed, too. It collapsed because, as we all know, a Communist economic system does not work. It may have some governance attributes, but that comes with an unsustainable financial capacity. Cuba also collapsed on a human level as more and more young people are leaving their country because there are no opportunities and, let’s face it, Cuba is a dictatorship in which there is no freedom.

When the Soviet Union disappeared, so, too, did the billions of dollars in financial support that Castro was milking from his Cold War benefactors.

But Cuba did not give up and Castro did not go away. What was supposed to take just a few months to accomplish — his demise or rejection — has been going on for over 50 years.

Once the Soviets departed, Castro found other suckers to hit up for the money needed to keep his failed financial plan afloat, the whole time keeping the Cuban people under his thumb.

Perhaps there is a better way.

If you had taken a picture of Havana, Cuba, on New Year’s Eve 1958, you would have seen one of the most beautiful and exciting cities on the planet. You would have seen a locale ready to take its place among notable cities.

Little has changed — literally. The cars that were new in 1958 are still there. The buildings are still there, but they are crumbling from neglect. The energy of the people has been sapped, but their positive attitude remains, as does their fondness for Americans. And, for the life of me, I could not find a Communist anywhere.

A half-century later, Cuba is a failed experiment. But its future, if our two countries can get out of our own way, can be very bright, very exciting and full of promise.

Two billion dollars a year is sent to Cubans from their friends and families in the United States. Imagine if that much money and considerably more could be invested in Cuba — with appropriate laws and protections. Cuba could turn around almost overnight.

All it takes is a little attitude adjustment on our part. We have to give up the idea that Castro, or his brother, or whoever is next, will be leaving anytime soon. And Cuba has to figure out that it is far better to do business with us and the Cubans they chased away who live in the United States than it is to depend on countries half a world away.

There is no reason — other than a prisoner or two, or three — why talks could not start right away and would lead to a new beginning for the people of Cuba and for America, too.

We have made decisions that may or may not have been right when they were made over the past five decades. There is no reason to second guess them.

But today, right now, there is great opportunity for the people of Cuba and the United States to be friends, partners and allies.

The alternative is to continue to ignore reality and each other. If we go that route, I guarantee there will be Americans walking down what were once beautiful streets of Havana, looking at what few beautiful buildings are left and watching the rest turning to dust, all the while looking into the faces of an otherwise proud and passionate people and seeing nothing.

In the end, they’ll be asking themselves the same question that perplexed my wife and me after we returned home last week — we just can’t be that stupid, can we?

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  1. I agree with the author our policy towards Cuba is stupid. And, I'll add it's inconsistent. We've normalized relations with countries that were our sworn enemy - including Vietnam and Libya. Heck, we've bestowed "most favored" trade status on China. Yet, we're still punishing toothless little Cuba. I've always suspected the reason was Cuba embarrassed us. The Cubans fought off our lame attempt (Bay of Pigs) to intervene in that country's civil war. So, we'll make them pay. But, we're only hurting the citizens at this point.

  2. Comment removed by moderator. - -

  3. Insanity, "doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results" perfecting describes the US policy towards Cuba. The time I spent there was amazing; wonderful, warm and entrepreneurial people who exist in a dollar-based economy. Remove the embargo and the State would fall almost overnight.

  4. The Cuban embargo is a waste of time and money. We're beyond this yet politicians are simply too stupid to remove this costly program.

  5. "But Cuba did not give up and Castro did not go away."

    Greenspun -- for once we agree, and "utterly stupid" is a better description of the embargo. You gave us a look at Cuba's history but it would have been far better if you had included why Castro & Guevara & gang overthrew Batista, another U.S.-supported tyrant. Check what then-president JFK said about it all @ --

    "I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear." -- U.S. President John F. Kennedy, to Jean Daniel, October 24, 1963

  6. "...under Castro, Cuba has remained a communist country..."

    BChap -- good you brought it up. I remind all China is and remains "a communist country" without sanctions. More hypocrisy from those we send to to our national capitol, and the best Congress money can buy.

    "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will." -- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 79, 1787-88

  7. Worth reading is the article at, titled "Birch Society's Robert Welch Was Correct on Castro." The article states:

    ". . . All of the above quotes [from New York Times, Look, Reader's Digest, and Newsweek, denying that Castro was a communist] were before December 2, 1961, when in a five-hour-long televised speech Castro said: 'I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be until the day I die.' He also said on the same occasion that he had hidden his belief in communism 'because otherwise we might have alienated the bourgeoisie and other forces which we knew we would eventually have to fight.'

    "But Castro's communism was also hidden [during the initial overthrow] with the help of the American media, and the John Birch Society's founder Robert Welch's warnings were not heard by enough people prior to Castro's acquisition of power to overcome the major-media spin or to alter American foreign policy, which at the time was tilted on behalf of Castro."

    Moreover, in a three-hour-long speech, titled "If you want it straight," (see, Robert Welch proved that our own State Department was complicit in setting up Castro and deposing Batista.

    Is Brian Greenspun finally "outing" himself as a Castroite? Is he hinting that his INSIDER connections with Brookings Institution tell him that the INSIDERS now want a rapprochement with the Castro regime?

  8. The embargo has worked, but it should be strengthened. Too many tourist dollars from Canada, Europe and elsewhere have propped up Castro. Do that and it won't be long until the evil and corrupt government dies.

  9. Mr. Greenspun has writen a wise article. As a Canadian, I can attest that Cuba is a wonderful holiday destination.
    In my opinion, if America began trading with Cuba and treating them like their other trading partners, then wonderful benefits would flow for both Cuba and America. You would open up still another customer for your businesses, and the standard of living of the Cuban people would quickly rise.

  10. "Do that and it won't be long until the evil and corrupt government dies."

    FreedomRadio -- you're showing your profound ignorance on this topic. The embargo has been in place 50+ years. Do try to post something actually relevant to these Discussions.

    "I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to." -- George Carlin

  11. I was born there but don't remember a thing. I came to LV when I was 5, back in the 60's. My mom says that back then, blacks weren't allowed to own land, vote, or hold office. Her parents had a sugar plantation that employed 20 black folks. Some to work in the house, some to work the fields. Her parents had 13 kids, so I imagine they needed help around the house. She says that 10 families now occupy the house she grew up in, but the house hasn't been kept up well, same fridge, broken doors, old paint, etc. Castro basically put everyone on the same level, black white or native, and told everyone they could have a free education, house, and food. Thing is the embargo has kept them from having much of anything. I personally don't understand why we get everything from communist China but hate so much on Cuba. If we traded with them, sure, Castro would be better of but so would the avg person, especially those who work for tips. What would be wrong with that? What is having "stuff" turns Cuba into a China style economy? What would be the problem then? And what about Chavez, why do we trade with him? Makes no sense.

  12. We keep doing the same thing over and over and the US keeps getting nothing for the time, effort and money spent on a 50+ year wasted effort.
    One would think it silly to deal with China the way we do and leave a neighbor 90 miles away to their own devices...
    How many millions would the US save in this economy by stopping the childish behavior??

  13. Certainly it is time to revisit the issue, but Cuban cigars are overrated today.

  14. "where else can you find an original '55 or '57 chevy with all the correct numbers?"

    dipstick -- "Yank Tanks" is an excellent documentary film on just that if you can find it

    "A prohibition whose reasons we do not understand or admit is not only for the obstinate man but also for the man thirsty for knowledge almost the injunction: let us put it to the test, so as to learn *why* this prohibition exists. Moral prohibitions . . . are suitable only for ages when reason is subjugated . . ." -- Friederich Nietzsche 1880 "The Wanderer and his Shadow"

  15. Open up free trade and tourism with Cuba. Do it now. The usual blather from the usual idiots.

  16. The Castros are still in charge.What'new to report.?Change takes two to tango.

  17. If we can negotiate with the Taliban, then maybe keeping a Cuban embargo in place is a bit old fashioned and catering to the old Cuban American elite.

  18. Cuban health care is affordable and very good. Americans could get the care they need at a fair price and enjoy the Caribbean at the same time.