Blunders prolong Castro's tyranny
By By Roger Hernandez
Not least of the Bush administration's foreign-policy fiascos is its inability to influence change in Cuba in a period when Cubans are pleading for change.
Like most people, Cubans do not like being ruled by decrepit dictators. Who can possibly support a political system that puts a guy in jail for handing out pamphlets saying freedom of speech is a good thing? Who agrees that, if you study plumbing, it should be illegal for you to go off on your own to unclog pipes? Who enjoys being told by government officials that, no, you do not have permission to surf the Web?
In one recent poll taken for the International Republican Institute (largely funded through the National Endowment for Democracy), 75.6 percent of people polled in Cuba thought their lives would improve by a transformation to democracy "with multiparty elections, freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
So much for the left-wing screed that supporting democracy in Cuba violates the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The people of Cuba want democracy, and it is the Castro regime that thwarts their will.
It's something that President Bush understands, whatever his other faults. His tough talk last month was meant to help Cubans achieve that goal. Bush promised U.S. generosity for a post-Castro Cuban democracy, urged other nations to call more loudly for democratic changes, told ordinary Cubans to hang tough and advised the Castros to give it up. Lots of applause lines, to which the anti-Castro crowd responded as expected.
Unfortunately, it won't amount to more than rhetorical flourishes.
And that's a disgrace. Anti-Castro Cubans should be livid at Bush because at a time when the Havana regime is fragile, doing its darndest to keep democracy far away while managing the passing of power from one Castro to another, the United States is impotent.
It's not only when it comes to Cuba. Diplomatically, politically, even militarily, this country has seldom found itself as unable to project its power as it is now. When American officials bring up the subject of human rights, the torture of mistaken terror suspects gets thrown in their faces. When they bring up the rule of law, somebody else brings up illegal wiretapping. And when Fidel Castro says Bush is obsessed with Cuba and that "new measures to accelerate the 'period of transition' in our country [are] the equivalent of a reconquest by force," he can point to the needless invasion of Iraq to get people on his side.
Unfortunately, too many countries think, if it's a policy of the Bush administration, let us discreetly distance ourselves. What a different world it would be had Bush's people been smart enough to hold on to the international sympathy Americans gained following the 9/11 attacks.
The world we have instead is one in which countries like Italy or Brazil – regional powers generally friendly to the United States – pretend they don't hear Bush's call for toughness on Havana. Which means they also pretend they don't see that cozying up to the Castros in their moment of weakness prolongs the nightmare Cuba has lived for nearly 50 years.
Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.