The central premise of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy was that, deep down, everyone on earth shares the same values. It is a gracious, humble, and optimistic way of perceiving the world. Under this precept, any opening of commerce and diplomacy can only be positive. Looking the other way at human rights abuses is just the cost of doing business. After all, who is the United States to talk?
This was the grand, pacifistic, and self-deprecatory basis upon which the United States under Obama loosened its half-century-old economic embargo on Communist Cuba. The purpose of the embargo, so long ago, was to isolate in the Western Hemisphere a nation dedicated to a murderous ideology. The genocides of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong was not some accident of Marxism gone wrong. It was Marxism, exactly as intended.
This is why the Trump administration is wise to repeal Obama’s gift to the repressive Cuban government, for which he received nothing in return. The Cuban state still represses speech and throws critics in prison. It still controls the lives and economic opportunities of all its subjects—because, let’s be clear, they aren’t citizens.
The United States relaxed the travel and business sanctions against Cuba for one reason, and one reason alone: Obama felt America had become too big for its britches. He wanted to stop the bullying and moralizing about capitalism and democracy, and enter a world in which freedom is relative. After all, maybe the humble Cuban folk are happy in their lot.
But here is the problem. When you travel to Cuba, hoping to bring your dollars to a struggling people, the struggling people don’t get your dollars. Instead, your dollars are exchanged into a convertible Cuban currency that you can spend in Cuba, and support those shopkeepers with, but which has no relative value. It’s a restricted currency, because the moment a Cuban owns it, it becomes property of the state.
The only things that can sustain communist regimes are terror and external support. Cuba has always had plenty of both. It was the jewel in the Soviet Western crown, an island paradise. Yet for half a century boats teeming with refugees that often sank beneath their weight sought desperately the shores of Florida. We welcomed them. The Obama regulations reversed that. Trump is wise to restore that beacon of freedom.
President Trump has declared war on the media. The media abides. The administration and the media can spar. Each side is accusing the other of threatening democracy, or America, or whatever. It’s theater. It’s politics. But nobody is going to jail or being tortured. Trump hasn’t thrown dissidents in prison, the Castros have. So who are the heroes and who are the villains?
Why should we open up to Cuba when it continues to oppress its people in horrible ways? Why must we succumb to relativism, when we know the Cuban regime is terrorizing its own people? Maybe it takes a Donald Trump to make this clear.
Maybe the great capitalist, the Baron of Brand, is exactly the person we need to show how Cuba’s negligent Marxist policies lead to a failing economy and a country defined by a storied and long-gone nightlife and a few great baseball players who fled.
As president, Obama’s motto was “America is at fault.” And, look, America has been at fault at times. We are not a perfect society, and it’s important that we understand our shortcomings. But the Castros throw journalists in jail. They torture them without important discussions on NPR and PBS about the relative value of torture. We don’t.
Cuba is a keystone. It’s the earliest link between Europe and the New World. It irks the free world that this keystone hews to Putinist, pro-communist apologies about freedom. If Trump is a Russian puppet, he sure didn’t show it by punishing communist Cuba. If anything, it’s a thumb in Comrade Putin’s eye. Hopefully, it will be one of many from a president who might not be as enamored of the Russian bear as everyone thinks.