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Is normalizing relations with Cuba a good idea?

Obama in Cuba. It could be the title for an opera, as was “Nixon in China.” Both have been ground-breaking, epic steps in international relations — and both filled with wonder that the entente happened after decades of estrangement and hostility — and also why it went on so long. 

Both happened for the same reason: a third-world nation got taken over by the alien (to America) philosophy of Communism, which forcibly tried to negate the system of private property, corporate adventure and potential profit for trade. 

Cuba was taken over by guerilla revolutionary Fidel Castro on New Year’s Day 1959, ousting the banana republic tyrant Batista, who was friendly to American corporations and provided an anything-goes playground for the wealthy. Although many thought Castro would also be a pal, within months, he nationalized all U.S. properties — and President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, put the island nation off limits and under boycott for trade. 

Cuba immediately became a briar patch for President John F. Kennedy, who in the first months of his administration, supported the Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro Cubans then, seeing he was walking into a potentially calamitous confrontation with this client state of the Soviet Union, backed off and denied air support, letting it fail. 

The Soviets saw JFK as a softie and in the next year, 1962, set up nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy blockaded the island. For two weeks, fingers were on nuclear buttons, a moment historians consider the closest we’ve come to nuclear doomsday. The Russians backed down and JFK is given reluctant credit by many historians for saving the world. 

The short version of Cuba and Castro is that this little nation has been a shoehorn to many problems that just haven’t been worth it in the last half-century of boycotting. Cuba has the notorious prison and air base at Guantanamo, which the U.S. nabbed during the Spanish-American War, more than a century ago. It’s a socialist country with plenty of poverty and not a lot of free speech. Americans haven’t been allowed to go there, but you could pop in from Mexico City. 

There’s always been a lot of political hay to be made by condemning and boycotting Cuba, as recently as the Helms-Burton Act, 1996, which punished any nation that traded with Cuba, since Cuba was enriched by stolen U.S. corporate assets. 

Finally, President Obama in December 2014 shocked the nation by reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and easing travel restrictions. Polls showed 61 percent of Americans back the move. Even a majority of anti-Castro Cubans in Miami are OK with it. Thirteen airlines have applied to start flights there later this year. 

As a sign of how gingerly the government is treading into this former morass, the U.S. Treasury Department stipulates that all visitors now must engage in “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.” They have not stipulated if laying on Cuban beaches with a Cuba Libra in hand falls in this category. 

We asked Ashlanders: Is this normalization good thing, or does it reward a historically oppressive government that doesn't allow freedom of expression? 

Philip Thomas — It’s good, because humans are people. So is Obama. He’s elegant, intelligent and compassionate with high communications skills. He’s leading the understanding between Cuba and the U.S. The policies of (Senator Jesse) Helms were really stupid. Fifty years of this? Give me a break. It’s wonderful to see the happiness of the Cuban people sharing their country with Obama, the flowers, the cheers, the kisses thrown. As (President) Raul Castro pointed out, no country has a perfect human rights record. At least in Cuba, you can get a good education and health care free. 

Julian Johnson — Opening diplomatic relations is a good idea with lots of countries, I mean if they’re not entirely corrupt and crazy, but even if they are corrupt and crazy, why not open relations with them and start to resolve it? 

Sean Elseth — It’s a good idea and should ease tensions. There’s no reason to make an entire country off-limits. They’re a close neighbor. We should be moving past all that. It doesn’t mean we have to agree to all their politics. 

Tommy Larson — It’s a good thing. There’s a lot of history there. Anything that opens relations between people is good. It will promote development in Cuba and opportunity for their people, for travel and cultural exchange. It’s better to have a neighbor that’s not hostile. We may not have agreed with Fidel’s method of leadership, but why should we put our beliefs on his system of government? Let them make their own choices. I’ve been at Guantanamo, flew in there as an Air Force pilot 15 years ago. 

Derek Barber — The borders should be entirely open or very selectively permeable. It should be all or nothing. That shouldn’t be a deterrent for governments. People should have whatever dealings they want. The organizations will be incentivized or disincentivized but the entire country shouldn’t be. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.