12/14/13 - CNN (blog) - Give capitalism a chance to change Cuba
By Fareed Zakaria
In the midst of the extraordinary spectacle of Nelson Mandela's funeral -
in a stadium with some 90,000 mourners, including more than 90 heads of
government - a small gesture caught the world's attention. President Barack
Obama moved to greet Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil. On his way,
he shook hands with the person to Rousseff's right. The photograph of that
handshake ricocheted around the world. Understandably, because the man
Obama shook hands with was Raul Castro, president of Cuba.
Remember, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba,
and has a tight trade embargo in place against the island nation. So, many
wondered whether this handshake was the beginning of a great shift in
I hope so. Let's begin by asking whether the existing policy is working.
In 1960, the United States enacted an embargo against Cuba. Its purpose was
simple and explicit: regime change. Did it work? Well, until he retired
from the presidency in 2008, Fidel Castro was the longest serving head of
government in the world. Surely that's about as powerful evidence as one
can get that the policy did not work and is not working.
The truth is that Cuba's miserable economy is almost entirely its own
fault. The Castro regime has coupled political repression with communist
economic policies and the result, predictably, has been total failure and
stagnation. But things are changing in Cuba. The government has been
experimenting with opening up elements of the economy. By some estimates
about 20 percent of the Cuban economy is now in the private sector.
The best path forward for Washington is one that has been recommended by
many experts, from Jorge Casteneda, the former Mexican foreign minister to
Human Rights Watch. The United States should shift from a policy of regime
change in Cuba, which has not worked, to one that promotes reform and human
President Obama should offer the Cuban government a series of steps that
would relax restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba - but only if they
are matched by real economic and political reforms in Cuba. Let the Cuban
people know, for example, that if its government were to free all political
prisoners, the United States would be willing to relax the embargo.
Americans should have greater faith in the power of markets, trade and
travel to eat away at the Cuban dictatorship, strengthen Cuban civil
society, including private business, and thus change the character of the
country. Washington has tried isolation, sanctions, and embargoes against
Cuba for more than five decades with dismal results. Why not try capitalism
for five years?
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