Improving Cuba-U.S. Relations: America Should Change Its Policy From Containment To Engagement

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba after 1959 (after the Cuban Revolution). The last U.S. President to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge, who went to Cuba in 1928, 88 years ago. It took him three days travelling by ship compared to about 3 hours for Obama’s plane. This may end more than 50 years of Cold War between the two countries. Diplomatic relations were severed 54 years ago. This also may signal a significant shift in America’s policies from containment to engagement. However, the shift may not be very smooth because it depends upon the U.S. Congress to approve such shift. Cuba wants two things from the U.S.:

·         End economic embargo

·         Return Guantanamo Bay

Some conservative Republicans oppose both of these moves. The US leased Guantanamo Bay from Cuba in 1903. It became the notorious retention facility where so many prisoners have been subjected to the most cruel and inhuman torture. The U.S. has kept economic, trade and financial embargo against Cuba in spite of the U.N. General Assembly passing resolutions for 24 consecutive years to end this embargo. Compared to the American policy, America’s immediate neighbor and one of its closest allies, Canada, is one of the largest trading partners of Cuba.

President Obama raised the issue of Human Rights in Cuba. However, Cubans countered that by saying that Cuba has provided education and healthcare to all of its citizens and its education and healthcare systems are among the best in the world. Cubans also reminded Americans that America did not have much success in providing quality healthcare and education to all its citizens, particularly to minorities and the economically disadvantaged. President Castro made it clear that Human Rights mean different things to both countries, making it clear that Cuba is unlikely to change its political system. Many countries do not agree with America that it is the Human Rights Champion of the world.

America has tried to change the government and the political system in Cuba many times. We can look at the American actions from the Bay of Pigs invasion to Operation Mongoose, and from the multiple failed assassination attempts on Fidel Castro to the trade embargo. If America wants to change its policies from containment to engagement, then it has to stop imposing its will on other countries and let the people in those countries choose their own governments and their own political systems. If America does not give up its policy of containment, then one day it may face complete isolation from the world community. America should keep in mind that it is no longer the only superpower of the world, and in all probability, the American influence and stature in the world are going to decrease further.

The policy of engagement means that America should work with, rather than against, other countries to make the world safer and more peaceful. Unfortunately, American policies so far have been confrontational and it has tried to contain other countries instead of engaging them. These policies have increased tensions and have made the world less safe and more dangerous. It will be a very welcome change if the Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba can end because not only is Cuba situated right next to America, but it also exerts considerable influence in the rest of Latin America and the world. The old saying, “Charity begins at home” also applies here. Better U.S.-Cuba relations are not only good for both countries, but also for the rest of the world. The whole world will welcome the improved relations between the two countries.

The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations can provide Obama the best opportunity to leave behind a legacy of his Presidency. Obama healthcare is unlikely to prove such legacy. Obama has not been able to improve America’s relations with Muslims as was originally expected of him. Tensions between the West and the Islamic world are running at an all-time high. In a stark reminder of this unpleasant reality, the Brussels bombings have stolen headlines from Obama’s Cuba visit. Regardless of the news headlines, the fact remains that improved U.S.-Cuba relations and the end of the Cold War between the two countries is far more important for world peace than the terrorists and fundamentalists. It is a good opportunity for America to test engagement instead of containment because the experience can help it to try to change its policies toward China and Russia also. In the final analysis, world peace depends upon the relations between the U.S. and China and between the U.S. and Russia. Cuba gives America a chance to practice engagement instead of containment.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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