Raul Castro and the Mending of Fences

Raul Castro, dictator of Cuba and brother of dictator emeritus Fidel Castro, is in the news.   He took advantage of a Cuban national holiday on July 26, 2012 (a national holiday in a communist country -- now that sounds like fun, doesn't it?), to announce his desire to reopen relations with the United States.

Castro seems reasonable; he says that anything can be on the table, as long as it is a conversation between "equals" -- he emphasizes that Cuba is nobody's puppet, after all.

The Castros seem discouraged that the USA never "forgave and forgot" with Cuba, the way that the USA did with so many other countries two decades ago.  We patched things up with East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, even Russia!   Why not with Cuba too?

Remembering the Cold War

Many today have forgotten -- or were never taught at all -- the history of the Cold War.  Grammar school, and less so, high school history classes are notorious for "not finishing the book" -- that is, reaching the end of the school year without getting past WWI or WWII.   One assumes it's just bad planning, but since the past half century reflects so badly upon the policies of American Democrats, a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee unions that include most of America's teachers, it's tempting to think it might be intentional.

So let's refresh.   One can divide the world's dictators into two groups: those who are satisfied with ruling their own countries, for good or for ill, and those who are bent on conquest.  Whatever one may think of the former, it is difficult for the United States to make a case for intervention there.  But with the latter, those who want to spread their rule to other lands, United States foreign policy must pay attention.

Throughout the Cold War -- roughly, the forty-five year period from 1945 until 1990 -- the Soviet Union and its "allies" in the Warsaw Pact engaged in a program of spreading their international reach by fomenting revolution wherever the soil might be fertile for it.  Immediately after WWII, the Soviet communists annexed the eastern half of Europe, when the western republics were too weak, too tired, or too cowardly to react.  They then spent generations trying to build on that base by adding prizes in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.

The 1950s-era Cuban Revolution was a six-year struggle that mirrored Russia's own revolution in many ways.  Like the White Revolution of Russia forty years earlier, a reasonably broad-based opposition to Batista's dictatorship was victorious, and then -- only after overthrowing Batista -- the communists drove out or imprisoned their more moderate rivals within the revolutionary junta.  It's easy to forget today, but it is true nevertheless: the Cuban revolution of the 1950s wasn't communist; only the resulting government was, after the Castro brothers consolidated their power.

And oh, how they consolidated it.  With Fidel Castro at the helm, and enforcers Che Guevara and brother Raul to lead the firing squads, they executed members of the old regime, non-communist members of the revolutionary movement, peasants and activists who might have made a difference... without a constitution restricting government's power, the government can, after all, execute anyone it wants to execute.

Cuba's communist government nationalized banks and businesses.  They drove landowners off their farms and claimed them for the government.  They nationalized all the holdings of all religious organizations -- which is even more significant than it may seem, because that means they not only took over the churches themselves, but the schools, convents, rectories, and dormitories that churches had run.   By expelling clerics and religious teachers from the country, and declaring Cuba officially atheist, the state could get right to the business of indoctrinating the next generation without delay or contradiction from independent institutions like parishes and schools.

By August of 1960, the Castro government had grabbed more than $25 billion (in 1960 dollars) in Cuban land and businesses, and some three times that in American-owned land and businesses on the island, expelling the non-Cuban management, and often imprisoning or executing the Cubans who had worked for them... turning over management to revolutionary cronies, robbing American stockholders of $75 billion in the process. 

The United States economy had been a major force for good on the island for generations, as employers and contributors to the island's economy.  By ejecting foreigners and confiscating their businesses, to be turned over to the management of inexperienced Cuban Marxists, the communists virtually guaranteed economic failure to follow.  As indeed it did.

Cuban Exports in the 1960s and 1970s

Considering the sudden, utter eradication of management talent in Cuba's commercial economy, it's difficult to imagine that the country could have a thriving export business in the following generation, but it did.  Fidel Castro developed a partnership with Nikita Khrushchev, turning Cuba into a client state of the Soviet Union.

For the remainder of the Cold War, Cuba, the most "successful" Stalinist government outside the USSR, was to be the supplier of Soviet-sponsored "advisors," fomenting revolution around the world.   Wherever a nation was to undergo civil war in the next thirty years, Russian arms and Cuban military advisors were most likely at the heart of it.  All over Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, communism was spread by Soviet money and Cuban officers.

Wherever you saw a revolution, Cubans were running it or otherwise supporting it, as proxies for Communist Russia.  Castro sent arms and support to the FALN in Colombia, to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, to the MPLA-PT in Angola, to SWAPO in Namibia.  The fingerprints of Cuban violent agitation are to be found in the successful revolutions of Mozambique, Rhodesia, Algeria, and dozens of others all over the world.

All this makes Cuba a very different case than most countries.  Since its very purpose from 1960 to 1990 was as Russia's tool of universal revolutionary outreach, Cuba has the blood of millions on its hands.  It's not like the world's many isolated dictatorships that are responsible only for internal crimes.  Cuba was for thirty years the most destructive force for change on this planet.  The Soviets revved up their manufacturing sector to make arms and ammunition, then sent it out around the world in the hands of Cuban officers.

We worry today about many aspects of international trade...  the imports of drugs from Afghanistan and Colombia, the exports of jobs from here to Red China... but by far the most dangerous export of the last century has been the bloodlust of communism, from tiny Cuba to the fragile towns and countrysides of dozens of innocent lands, under the supervision of Castro, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev.

Forgive and Forget?

All was to change in the 1980s.  As the West finally started electing firm leaders, resolute in their determination to stand up to the spread of communism, the world of the Soviet sphere was to change at last.

With Western leaders committed not to pusillanimous "Détente" but to the courageous and principled Rollback of communism -- leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Brian Mulroney -- the back of the Soviet sphere was finally to break, and the Warsaw Pact collapsed.  By the end of the decade, nations were throwing off the shackles of Moscow's Politburo. 

Poland overthrew Wojciech Jaruzelski, East Germany overthrew Erich Honecker, Russia overthrew Mikhail Gorbachev.  By the early 1990s, the Cold War was over, as the European nations of the Warsaw Pact were now free and independent states, all having replaced the criminal totalitarians of the past. 

And the West reacted appropriately.  With new governments in charge of these countries, we could reestablish cordial relations with them.  Not just new people, but new constitutions, new political parties, new generations were now in control of these former enemies.  It would have been wrong for us to hold the crimes of Jaruzelski against Walesa, of Kadar against Havel, of Gorbachev against Yeltsin.  We could institute new diplomatic relations with these new governments; we could forgive their nations for their past crimes... because the people of these nations had repudiated the evils of their former tyrants.

Relic of an Evil Past

By a cruel twist of fate, tiny Cuba missed out on the revolutions of the 1980s.  The Castro brothers tenaciously hung onto power while all their sponsors were falling.  At first proud of themselves for their resiliency, only later were they to realize the challenge they would now face without a sponsor.  For over twenty years, they had been bankrolled by the Soviet Union in exchange for their work in the spread of global communism.  Now they would need to learn to stand on their own, and it would be a challenge.

Gradually other countries -- fellow socialists in South America and Europe, people who hadn't directly faced those Cuban advisors for all those years (and people who had been on their side all along), were happy to treat Cuba the same as they were now treating the former Captive Nations of Eastern Europe.  They travel to Cuba for exotic island vacations, giving Cuba's hotel districts a chance to modernize and thrive.  Lacking principle, the European tourists delight in thumbing their nose at their "allies" in the United States who have not yet capitulated.

But the United States cannot capitulate.  We in the United States must apply logic to this process, even if the rest of the world won't.

The United States must notice the difference between the two cases;  we opened up to Eastern Europe when their governments changed, when they overthrew their old governments, when they renounced the evils of their past.  We cannot open up to Cuba yet; Cuba has not yet done so!

Cuba is still ruled, not just by the same party -- which would be bad enough -- but by the same people, the same vicious brothers, who led the revolution of the 1950s and committed those thirty years of crimes against their own people, against the world community, and against humanity.

Raul Castro is Honecher, Jaruzelski, and Stalin all rolled up into one.  Raul Castro, personally, nationalized American businesses, gave the order to eject priests and nuns, to rob American stockholders, to execute thousands and impoverish millions.  Raul Castro, personally, sent soldiers and arms to innocent nations across the seas, to kill people whose only crime was to live in countries that his masters in the Kremlin wanted to conquer.

Can we, should we, forgive Cuba and welcome them into the new world of peace and international trade?  Yes indeed, when Cuba does what Russia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland did twenty years ago.  Yes indeed, when Cuba overthrows its communist tyrants and joins the free world.

But not before.  Not as long as the butchers of the Cold War still rule in Havana, unquestioned, unapologetic, and unpunished.

John F. Di Leo is a Customs broker and international trade compliance lecturer.  His columns appear regularly in www.IllinoisReview.com.