Sunday, April 29, 2012 | 2:01 a.m.
“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?