The Price of American Diplomacy in Cuba

Sunday, August 23, 2015
By Michael J. Totten in The World Affairs Journal:

The Price of American Diplomacy in Cuba

If you watched the American Embassy’s reopening ceremony in Cuba on television, or saw some of the photographs, you may have noticed dozens of bare flagpoles in the background.

After the US and Cuba dissolved relations during the Cold War, the former American Embassy building became the US Interests Section.

Not a lot went on in that building since our two nations didn’t have normal relations, but even mutually hostile governments have to talk to each other once in a while, especially if they’re neighbors, so the US posted diplomatic staff there.

And in 2006, they created a gigantic electronic billboard in the windows of the building to broadcast messages to the Cuban population outside. They quoted some terrific people.

 “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent” – Abraham Lincoln

Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” – Frank Zappa

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”—Universal Declaration on Human Rights

According to The Wall Street Journal, the billboard even pointed out that Forbes listed Fidel Castro as the seventh-richest head of state in the world. The guy is worth 900 million dollars while the wages of his miserable subjects are capped at twenty dollars a month.

You can imagine how well that went over down there. The whole thing enraged Castro. Remember, he and his brother Raul own all the newspapers in Cuba. You can’t buy the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Economist down there. Google News doesn’t exist either because private Internet access is outlawed.

If you want to read something, you’re stuck with the Granma, the Communist Party daily, or Rebel Youth, the magazine written by the elderly walking dead for the island’s young people who’ll go to prison if they rebel or even complain.

So yeah, Castro hated that billboard at what’s now the American Embassy. How dare the United States quote Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. So he erected 138 black flags in front of the building so the people of Cuba couldn’t see it.

In 2009, Barack Obama pulled the plug on it.

Let’s get one thing out of the way here. Barack Obama is not best friends forever with Fidel Castro. He does not prefer a tyrannical regime to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. He pulled the plug because he wanted to improve relations with Cuba, and that billboard got in the way.

Fine. But it creates a bit of a quandary, doesn’t it? How does it look from the Cuban street if the United States government is all chummy with the government that kicks them in the ass every day?

Maybe it’s fine. Honestly, I don’t know. You won’t encounter much if any hostility from Cubans toward Americans if you go down there like I did. The same was true of the communist bloc in Europe during the Cold War.

Remember the 1979 revolution in Iran? Anti-Americanism was rampant there then. Why? Because the United States was all chummy with the tyrannical regime of the Shah Reza Pahlavi. Iran is still hostile more than a third of a century later.

And let’s not forget that Cuban anti-Americanism of yesteryear was the result of the United States government being all chummy with the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Sometimes you have to choose between having good relations with a nation’s government or good relations with a nation’s people. When dealing with awful regimes, you generally have to pick one or another.

There are exceptions. The US gets along just fine with both the government and the people of Vietnam right now despite the fact that Vietnam is still ruled by a one-party state that calls itself communist. Perhaps the same can happen in Cuba after a while. I have no idea, really.

Either way, I rather doubt the people of Cuba enjoyed having their access to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln denied. Because they certainly aren’t getting inspiring messages from Fidel or Raul Castro.