It has been said that carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. This phrase has been running through my mind a lot as I read the comments made by Cuban American politicians upset over the thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States. To hear their hysterics you would think America was arming people who want to kill Americans (a policy they seem to support for the Middle East), instead of liberalizing trade and travel with one of our closest neighbors.
With any argument (especially a big one like this), I try and see both sides.The rhetoric coming from Cuban Americans against liberalizing trade with their homeland has always puzzled me. Most of the Cuban Americans I know are staunch capitalist who have seen firsthand the destruction wrought by Communism. So why would they be against free trade, especially with their former homeland? The more I read and listen to the arguments for keeping the embargo the more I am convinced that the real reason is good old fashioned malice.
The Cuban exile community has good reason to be spiteful towards the Cuban government. I have heard terrible stories from exiles about how they were treated by the “Revolutionaries.” Most left the country with only what they could carry on their backs. They lost their homes, businesses, and farms to a government that nationalized everything. These people lived through what those of us in the liberty movement fear most, a total government takeover.
So, for the average Cuban exile the thought of the Castro brothers getting rich off tourists happily snapping photos of their parents’ crumbling mansions, and enjoying rum and cigars from businesses that their families built is too much to bear. I can’t really blame them for feeling this way. It’s kind of like having a thief steal your car, and then watching them drive it around town. It’s only natural to resent the theft of your property. For the Cuban exile, they resent the theft of their country by the Castro brothers.
The survivors of Communism carry deep scars from the experience. Ayn Rand is probably the best known to the liberty movement. Her experience left her wanting to reject anything and everything even remotely related to Communism. Even voluntary trade with a Communist nation was a betrayal in her eyes. During a March 1964 interview with Playboy, Ayn Rand advocated for an economic boycott of both Russia and Cuba:
“I would advocate a blockade of Cuba and an economic boycott of Soviet Russia; and you would see both of those regimes collapse without the loss of a single American life.”
Clearly this policy has not worked, but the belief that boycotting hostile governments will end Communism is clearly evident in Atlas Shrugged. The residents of Galt’s Gulch become a self-sufficient hermit kingdom, effectively withdrawing from the world, and refusing to share their talents with “looters.” It is telling of the attitude at the time that even Ayn Rand, a champion of individual rights, quickly lost sight of the fact that Cuba is an island of 11 million individuals, some of whom may want to engage in trade and travel with the 350 million individuals within the geographic territory of the US.
Ayn Rand died in 1979, so unfortunately she did not live to see the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia, or the rise of the market economy in China and Vietnam. What ultimately brought about market liberalization in all former Communist countries was the realization, from the party leaders all the way down to the workers, that people living in western countries enjoyed a standard of living that was exponentially better than their own. There is a reason that East Germany was the first Communist country to fall. The East Germans had friends and relatives living on the other side of the wall who were smuggling them gifts that could not be acquired in East Germany for any amount of money. It is easy to imagine East Germans thinking, “Why can’t we have that?” Ultimately it was not an embargo, or an invading army that brought down the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was nearly 293 million individuals asking themselves why a factory worker in West Germany could afford a car, while they had to stand in line for toilet paper.
As we have seen, embargoes have done nothing to weaken the power of Communist governments in Cuba or North Korea. On the contrary, the power and influence of these governments have grown, mostly because their people have almost no contact with the outside world. Even though the citizens of these Communist countries have endured decades of indoctrination and brainwashing they ultimately cannot deny their own senses. It is hard to convince someone that their crumbling system is superior once they see for themselves that other people around the world can enjoy unheard of luxuries for doing the exact same occupation.
To me the case for liberalizing trade with Cuba is a slam dunk. The average Cuban makes $20 a month. Any exposure they get to the wealth and abundance that their neighbors are enjoying is going to make the average Cuban fundamentally question why their economic system is operating so poorly. The ironic thing is that even Cuba’s senior leadership must be getting covetous of American materialism for them to have agreed to a thaw in relations with the US. Communist party officials must know that liberalizing travel and trade with the US will weaken their position, but I am sure that most of them are willing to give up some of that power for an iPhone4 and a 20 pack of Charmin Ultra.
Ultimately we are all human and want more or less the same things: love, comfort, food, security, friendship, happiness, and freedom. We don’t all agree on the best way to achieve these things, but if we are allowed freedom of association, then in general the best ideas get adopted and the worst rejected. I can understand why Cuban Americans are so upset over the thaw in relations with Cuba, but punishing the average Cuban with sanctions isn’t going to bring back their lives before Castro. It’s only going to hold off the transition to a market economy.
I am constantly amazed at the power that forgiveness holds. It seems to be the only thing that can bring peace to people who have been grieved, especially those with no hope of restitution from their aggressors. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to lose everything, and then endure the humiliation of watching the thieves live in your house for decades, but poisoning yourself with malice hasn’t worked for the past 60 years. The one thing that has been proven to work has been to set aside ideology and allow individuals the freedom interact with whom they choose. I think most of us would prefer those interactions to happen over mojitos, instead of malice.