Joel Mowbray
In the wake of Jimmy Carter’s embrace of Fidel Castro, the movement on Capitol Hill to engage the communist dictator is gaining force, which is very bad news indeed for the Cuban people. Arguing that free trade will eventually defeat despotism—-typically a winning claim-—the Cuba Study Group (CSG) is pushing to lift both the embargo and the travel ban to Castro’s island prison. Free trade with Cuba, however, is impossible, at least the way CSG envisions it, which is by going thru the communist dictator. Castro’s iron fist crushes the invisible hand, and in so doing, he suspends the laws of economics by preventing any wealth or freedom from filtering down to his people. Unlike in other communist regimes, such as China, companies doing business in Cuba never directly interact with the Cuban people. Castro’s henchmen choose which people get which jobs, and then the dictator pockets 95% of the cash intended as pay for the workers. When companies rent Cuban workers from Castro, less than 5% of the money actually makes its way to the people on the factory floor. Travel to Cuba would be just as rigged as the joint ventures. Castro’s regime has worked assiduously over the years to keep sunlight from reaching the Cuban people. The beautiful beaches and luxurious hotels shown on television are strictly for tourists. Jimmy Carter, in fact, stayed at a hotel that prohibits Cuban citizens, even if they are with a registered guest. Rather than exposing Cubans to freedom through foreign visitors, “European tourists have solidified a structure where Cubans are second-class citizens in their own country,” notes a senior administration official. The CSG has no problem with allowing Americans to travel within the tourist apartheid system, but the benefits to Cubans seem speculative at best. The most likely beneficiary of engagement, in fact, is Castro himself. After the fall of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, the communist dictator scrambled to find new sources of revenue. Replacing $5 billion per year—-the amount the Soviets annually kicked in—-is no small task, which is why Castro turned to capitalism to save communism. Establishing joint ventures with foreign companies to create hotels and nightclubs, among other tourist-related businesses, was Castro’s last-ditch effort to preserve the communist system. These business activities have provided enough dough to prop up the despot, but they haven’t produced enough cash to ensure success for Castro’s successor. America’s continued embargo of Cuba is not, as the CSG and its allies contend, a “failed policy.” Quite the contrary; the sanctions have caged in Castro, limiting his financial resources. His communist government was forced to do something our Congress hasn’t done in a very long time: cut the public payroll. The Cuban regime had massive layoffs in the early 1990’s, precisely because Castro didn’t have access to American cash. The laid-off workers, estimated at 250,000, created a new self-employed class of cab drivers and home-based restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, though the government tightly restricted growth factors such as capacity and total volume. When the self-employed sector started to become too successful, Castro put the squeeze on through more red tape and punitive taxes. Cuban officials now brag that they managed to pare back the self-employment rolls by some 100,000 people. Looking at the experience of the self-employed, it is easy to foresee that if the Cuban people did manage to benefit from booming trade and travel, Castro would respond immediately and put a stop to it, just as he has done time and again. In the 1980’s, crop shortages were wreaking havoc on the Cuban economy. Acting as any economist would, Castro allowed farmers to sell off excess crops, a move clearly designed to spark increased production. It worked—-a little too well. Some of these farmers were turning excess production to “exotic” crops, such as garlic. Many of these co-op farmers became filthy rich, at least by Cuban standards. Castro brutally shut down what he termed “Garlic Millionaires,” and the policy abruptly ended in 1986. With Castro getting up there in years, the last thing America should do is to institutionalize communism. Whoever succeeds Castro will have a very difficult time without Castro’s cult of personality or access to American capital. Our policy should be predicated on the desire for tyranny in Cuba to die with Castro, something recognized by President George W. Bush. Bush’s new Cuba initiative is laying the foundation for democracy to take root once Castro kicks. With direct engagement of the Cuban people through humanitarian and church groups, as well as a scholarship program for Cuban citizens to study in America, Bush is sowing the seeds of freedom—-without engaging Castro. Bush’s new policy does not bode well for Castro or communism, but it provides at least a glimmer of hope for the Cuban people-—something they desperately need.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

Be the first to read Joel Mowbray's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.