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The minimum you must know

Cuba has evolved from a communist country into a democracy mostly embracing capitalism. But the Cuban people still identify very closely with the ideals and objectives of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, which brought communism and peace to the country.  The Castro family saved the nation, providing for everyone when many had nothing. There is a deep (and almost cultural) sense of respect in Cuba for the Castro family and current government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as a result.

President of the Republic of Cuba

Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez

(October 2021)


This perhaps was understood well by then President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s administration, which treated the Cuban government and people with tremendous respect. They seemed to understand that Cubans and their government are sophisticated, peaceful, and ready for improving relations with the United States. They recognized the advanced level of Cuban society compared with island countries in the area, and the fundamental devotion the government and population feel towards one another. Although internet is still proliferating, and only enjoyed by the majority of the population, literacy has been mandatory for years. Every young person can read, and adults are on average better read there than in the United States. Consequent sophistication may be the reason Cubans love peace. The Cuban government and population believe in doing the right thing for each other, including improving relations with the United States.

There is a historic opportunity for courageous leadership and diplomacy. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez can make even more progress on regular conference calls, and announce they’re working together at the United Nations. A short and simple joint press release on peace may forever improve relations between great nations.

As the countries work together, some historical context may be helpful. Cuba has had decades of challenges resulting from the U.S economic embargo. They feel there is a moral responsibility for the United States to be economically permissive, and make it easier for the Cuban government to meet the needs of their people. It’s the right thing to do. The nation has been prevented by the U.S. embargo from receiving basic goods the population needs for too long. Cuba also hasn’t had the chance to sell products on the open marketplace. The Cuban government therefore deserves tremendous credit for doing an amazing amount for their people under unfair circumstances, especially following their predecessor's thoughtless administration.

The Fulgencio Batista regime of the 1950s was very corrupt. Prior to the rise of Fidel Castro, Batista's government had unsuccessful open trading relations with the United States. This was because the Batista government opened Cuba primarily to criminal elements of U.S. society. Cuba became Miami's safe-haven for mafia. Without a Cuban embargo on the United States in place, influential gangsters became Cuba's primary investors, developing tourism there at the population's expense. Today's peace in Cuba and peace among Cubans in the United States stands in stark contrast to the challenges experienced in a previous era, when Meyer Lansky, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, and Benny "Bugsy" Siegel joined Batista to dominate Cuba with iron fists. They trampled on everyone. They intimidated and stole. They simply didn't care about the human rights of average Cubans. By allowing criminals to buy up property across the country at unreasonably low prices, especially in the most beautiful beachfront areas, Batista undermined the perception of capitalism with his population. Average Cubans sacrificed tremendously without gain. Their government did nothing for great people. African-Cubans had to live in squalor, want of basic necessities. A large percentage of the population - millions of people - went without food, healthcare, education and opportunities for work.

That changed under Fidel Castro, who set a wonderful example in Cuba still embraced by the Cuban government today. He returned a sense of dignity to the Cuban people, by bringing peace and calm to the island state, where his devoted followers and even his few critics enjoyed opportunity for the first time. Fidel Castro eliminated all of the criminal businesses from Cuba. Then he attempted to establish more honest trading relations with the United States. The U.S. mafia was expelled from Cuba. Then Fidel Castro travelled to the United States with great hope of improving relations. He made a tremendous though unsuccessful effort to create alliance between Washington and his new government. Today Cubans very much want an end to the U.S. embargo, and to trade freely with the United States. But this isn't leverage for the United States with the Cuban people. Want of great relations with the United States isn't unconditional because it was previous generations of Cubans (not previous generations of Americans) who rejected open trading relations, when they stood up to and expelled U.S. mafia business-types.

What perhaps isn't well understood in the United States, because the U.S. government considers itself a moral and ethical authority, is that the average Cuban isn't pressuring their government to work with Washington. In fact, average Cubans aren’t comfortable with the idea that a corrupt U.S. government and corrupt U.S. businesses may return there. They aren’t comfortable with the idea that capitalism may once again deprive Cubans of land, education, and healthcare rights, the way capitalism has in the past. Therefore, the United States must work with the Cuban government to help them create support for improving relations in this way.

In recent, years the government of Raúl Castro and President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez introduced voting in Cuba, and a market-based economy, very similar to the ones that exist in the United States. (Close to 80% of the country participated in their first election, and overwhelmingly chose their existing leadership.) The population and government also welcomed President Obama's diplomatic efforts. Cubans clearly want peace and better relations with the United States. They’ll welcome additional trading opportunities for their country. But it's the U.S. government (not the Cuban leadership) with a reputation problem in Cuba. The Cuban government will certainly welcome a full lifting of the embargo. But they’re under no pressure whatsoever from their own population to have entirely open trading relations with the United States.

President Obama's optimistic diplomacy with Cuba was tremendously successful. He understood that the Cuban government had nothing whatsoever to do with the results achieved for Americans by the United States government. The Cuban government made ending the embargo a centerpiece of Cuban foreign relations. Both governments therefore correctly sought an end of the nearly century-old embargo that separated family members from one another across a short ninety mile waterway. But the United States hasn’t convinced the average Cuban yet that a completely open trading relationship is in their country's interest, because Cubans want to retain their national identity and consequently their land rights.

Fidel Castro's "revolution" gave average Cubans a sense of peace and calm for the first time. It gave Cubans a sense of ownership of their own country. That’s a privilege for the Cuban people. The Castro government created dignity for millions of Cuban citizens by giving them each their own home. Fidel Castro was so popular in his homeland for ending homelessness that to this day many Cubans consider themselves to be his "revolutionaries," a compliment in Cuba with a perfectly peaceful connotation. It means courage and integrity to eleven million Cuban people.

Fidel Castro cared a lot more than just about peace. So does the current Raúl Castro and President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez administration. Fidel Castro created a sense of honesty for the government, and real work opportunities for the population. Under extraordinary circumstances, without the help of open trading relations with most other countries, Castro gave the entire population jobs. He created love and respect among Cubans for one another, and restored their sense of optimism, by making sure every single Cuban citizen (without exception) could meet their basic needs. He made it possible for every Cuban family to live inside a home, and receive excellent healthcare and education for free. Although the U.S. trading embargo made this challenging at times, millions of Cubans gained the dignity of peace, shelter, job opportunities, healthcare and literacy for the first time. This rapid progress for the Cuban people was about much more than just peace. It created durable support for the government that's much more deeply felt than perhaps is widely understood in the United States.

The United States should have understood this when Fidel Castro took office in the late 1950s, and taken advantage of his several visits to the United States to establish relations with Washington. But the context for those visits was simply too unhelpful. Today the United States is closely aligned with governments of all types. But in prior decades the United States wasn’t understanding of foreign systems of government. Senator Joseph McCarthy and United States congress created deep suspicions about foreign governments and their populations in the United States. They pursued non-existent boogie men (they branded “members of the communist party”) in the United States, as though belief or even mere interest in foreign systems of government such as Marxism represented disloyalty to the United States. McCarthy and his xenophobic contemporaries in Washington cast doubt on good and honest people (with the media watching), and created so much needless suspicion across the United States, that Fidel Castro’s efforts to improve relations with Washington were wasted. Castro furthermore supported the peaceful African American civil rights movement in the United States, and the women’s rights movement in Cuba, which was considered potentially destabilizing of the United States. Of no fault of Fidel Castro's whatsoever, who wanted to do something wonderful in opening Cuba up to the United States, his initial efforts for a great relationship with Washington didn't stand a chance of success.

Clearly nowadays there is the possibility of improving U.S. Cuban relations. Cuba has its first democratically elected government, and an increasingly capitalist society. Cubans can work for themselves or private businesses, the same way that people in the United States can. But Cubans are hesitant to let better foreign relations deprive them of their socialist property rights. Fidel Castro made it possible for the entire population to have shelter. They don’t want to let U.S. businesses accumulate their houses again. To be successful improving relations with Cubans, the United States must be culturally sensitive to their socialist real estate rights.

The Obama-Biden administration perhaps understood this in a way that few have. They understood that the U.S. embargo on Cuba created for the United States and all countries an ethical and moral obligation to ensure the entire Cuban population’s food and other basic needs are met all of the time. Their administration deserved tremendous credit for improving relations with the Cuban government in a way that was thoughtful of the average Cuban citizen. Perhaps they understood that "revolution" in Cuba wasn't a challenge to the United States. It referred to the dignity the Cuban government created for the Cuban people by ending corruption and returning civil liberties to minorities (much like President Obama), such as millions of African-Cubans, who gained equal rights.

Presidents Obama and Biden seemed at that time to identify with the struggle of minorities in Cuba the same way they did with minorities in the United States, and realized that prejudice instead of reason might have been preventing a U.S.-Cuba alliance. When they heroically opened up U.S. diplomacy with Cuba (in one of the best moments in the history of peace), and were negotiating an end to the embargo in 2016 that had the hope of U.S. congressional support, they started to restore the U.S. reputation in Cuba. They created a tremendous opportunity for mutual understanding to develop between U.S. and Cuban people by being generous. U.S. and Cuban people have every reason to be friends. One of the great moments in U.S.-Cuban relations was when President Obama travelled to Havana and gave fabulous speeches with Raúl Castro to the Cuban people. Current President Joe Biden fully supported then President Obama’s initiative. The Obama-Biden foreign policy towards Cuba was courageous and visionary.

Although only President Biden can make the decision, there’s real a possibility he will take the same approach again, and treat both the leadership and population in Cuba with the same respect that his administration shows the governments and people of all peace-loving countries.