pageok
pageok
pageok
Interesting Interview with Cuban Dissident Armando Valladares:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting interview with Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, an opponent of Castro's communist dictatorship who was imprisoned by the regime for some 22 years. Valladares' memoir Against All Hope is one of the better books produced by dissidents from communist states.

I discussed the Cuban government's massive human rights violations (the scale of which is still rarely appreciated) in this series of posts, where I also explained why its mostly mythical successes in providing health care do not come close to offsetting the harm caused by its political and economic repression.

Timster2233 (mail):
Why is Naomi Klein all upset about Pinochet's anti-democratic coup and ensuing dictatorship, but not bothered by clearly worse authoritarian repression in Castro's Cuba?

Human rights violations are OK, as long as you have free health care, but not OK if you introduce privatization and free-market reforms?

Go figure.
8.17.2008 12:53am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Why was Cuba one of the few dictatorships that survived the world-wide collapse of Communism? What is similar about China, Vietnam and North Korea and Cuba? Isolation? No, Albania was even more isolated from the world than Cuba. It also had Hoxha who was in power almost a long as Castro.
8.17.2008 2:45am
Public_Defender (mail):
I was hoping that the column would give some ideas about what exactly to do to improve the situation in Cuba. What parts of the embargo, if any, can be lifted or changed to encourage positive change? What kind of pressure can the US realistically bring on the regime?

My fellow liberals should be embarrassed about the uncritical eye they have cast on Cuba (and sometimes outright support). But conservatives won the policy debate, and at best, their policies haven't done any good. Arguably, they've made things worse.
8.17.2008 4:53pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"What parts of the embargo, if any, can be lifted or changed to encourage positive change?"

I don't see the embargo as amounting to that much as Cuba is free to trade with other countries. But they don't because their fundamental problem is a lack of hard currency to make purchases. So how can a lifting of the US embargo amount to anything unless the US is also willing to extend credit to Cuba? So the issue really isn't the embargo, it's credit.

I still hear liberals say that Cubans drive 1950's vintage American cars because of the embargo. When I ask why they don't buy cars from Japan, they change the subject. Of course everybody knows why-- they're too poor.
8.17.2008 5:29pm
Gringo (mail):
"What parts of the embargo, if any, can be lifted or changed to encourage positive change?"

Did you realize that the US is Cuba's fifth leading trade partner? The US is Cuba's third largest First World trade partner, behind Canada and Spain.

Agricultural products are Cuba's biggest purchase from the US. Cuba is required to pay CASH for US products, which given Castro's financial history, is very good policy.

Hat tip: Babalu blog

These figures on milk production show the "success" of Castro's agricultural policy, courtesy of Renaissance and Decay and the UN.

Venezuela 1959 387 (1000 metric tons)
Cuba 1958 828 !!!!!!

Venezuela 1996 1,477
Cuba 1996 920 !!!!!

Cuba's milk production under the Castro regime, as evidenced by Ubre Blanca, has been noteworthy only for propaganda purposes.
Reflect on this and "positive change."
8.17.2008 6:05pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Gringo:

From your first link:
"If the embargo were lifted then a flood of trade and investment would pour into Cuba, transforming both the economies of Cuba and South Florida in the process,"...
That's quite possible, but I can't help wondering why a flood of trade and investment does not pour into Cuba from the rest of the world right now. Why is the world ignoring this supposedly wonderful investment opportunity? Is it simply the proximity to the US that would make that investment worthwhile?
8.17.2008 8:42pm
Gringo (mail):
Zarkov: Gringo: Why is the world ignoring this supposedly wonderful investment opportunity? Is it simply the proximity to the US that would make that investment worthwhile?

You quoted Mr. Erikson from the article I cited. Mr. Erikson reflects his own opinion, not mine. I cited that article to point out to some well-intentioned people that the embargo is actually rather porous. For all the brouhaha coming from Castro and the PSF about how the embargo is "starving" Cuba, Cuba purchases a considerable amount of its foodstuffs from the US. I doubt that the poster I quoted in my first posting was aware of that.

What foreign investment there has been in Cuba since the fall of the Soviet Sugar Daddy has not benefited the Cuban people much, because Castro structured the deals so that the Cuban government would take the lion's share of foreign exchange.


For the last half century the Cuban government has done all it can to asphyxiate personal initiative, fearing anyone having any semblance of power or self-sufficiency whose surname is not Castro. This has much more to do with the current conditions in Cuba than any amount of foreign investment has had or would have. By contrast, China is a hive of personal initiative.My opinion is that conditions in Cuba will not improve until Fidel is six feet under, as Raul is afraid to do anything that Fidel might find out about when he wakes up from his naps.

I highly recommend that all well-intentioned liberals read the Renaissance and Decay article I cited.
8.17.2008 10:26pm
Houston Lawyer:
It would be a humanitarian gesture to invade Cuba and kill off the communist rulers. That would do much more good than ending the embargo. The capitalism that might arise following the lifting of sanctions won't necessarily stop the repression.

I saw numerous lefties saying that we should invade Burma to help following the typhoon. There are a few countries in our own hemisphere that we should invade first.
8.18.2008 12:43am
David Warner:
"My fellow liberals should be embarrassed about the uncritical eye they have cast on Cuba (and sometimes outright support). But conservatives won the policy debate, and at best, their policies haven't done any good. Arguably, they've made things worse."

First of all, the openness and honesty of your first sentence made my day. I'm also open to being convinced of the truth of the second and third. My current estimation, however, is that it flows from the flaw identified in the first. I.e. the appeal of the noble savage myth.

The noble accounts for the overestimation of Castro's accomplishments, the savage for the denial of his own agency vis-a-vis U.S./Cuba relations. It not unlikely that the embargo was the best we could do, enabling a shadow Cuba of sorts to develop in Miami instead of slowly being starved, or quickly being shot, to death within Cuba proper.
8.18.2008 1:22am
Public_Defender (mail):

It would be a humanitarian gesture to invade Cuba and kill off the communist rulers. That would do much more good than ending the embargo. The capitalism that might arise following the lifting of sanctions won't necessarily stop the repression.

I saw numerous lefties saying that we should invade Burma to help following the typhoon. There are a few countries in our own hemisphere that we should invade first.


Overestimating the capacity of the military to solve non-military problems used to be more a problem on the left than the right. Now that's changed. Paraphrasing George Will, the military is fantastic and killing people and breaking things. Building up civilian political and social structures is something they just aren't designed for.

If we kill the top leaders (easier said than done), what would be left? Castro's tentacles reached deep into Cuban society (block-by-block, I've read), and how far would you go? According to the column, Fidel Castro is near death and only rarely lucid, yet he still strikes fear into all levels of Cuban society. Getting rid of those last fleeting moments of lucidity is not enough to bring democracy.

When it comes to Cuba, I don't see anyone offering practical solutions. I seen naive trust in too may on the left. I see fanatical wackiness on the right, as well. Do the people on the right really believe that all Cuban parents should be deprived of their child if they choose to stay on the island? And do they really think that 50-year-old property claims will be honored?
8.18.2008 8:30am
Brian G (mail) (www):
Bush continued to perpetuate our keeping the Cubans in poverty for the past 8 years. As soon as Obama is elected, he will lift the embargo on Cuba and they will become a prosperous nation.

(Hey, I could write for the NY Times with brilliant analysis like that!)
8.18.2008 12:18pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
A couple of weeks ago that sage of wisdom and international affairs known as Whoopi Goldberg asked on "The View"

...besides, what was wrong with communism?

Genius.
8.18.2008 2:58pm
David Warner:
"what was wrong with communism?"

Well, that's a question each new generation will naturally ask. If we keep its discussion verboten, should be surprised that some conclude it was communism's expressed goals that were resented, rather than its barbaric means, inherent contradictions, corrupt practitioners, economic illiteracy, or illiberal polity?

As long as we have charlatans with us willing to exploit ignorance, the case needs making.
8.18.2008 11:18pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
Point taken, but is The View the platform for the discussion?
8.19.2008 2:00am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Ilya is right about Castro, but railing against Castro without understanding Cuban history and how Castro came to power is rather unproductive and leads to false solutions.

I recommend "Havana Nocturne" by T.J. English for a better understanding.
8.19.2008 9:56pm
David Warner:
"Point taken, but is The View the platform for the discussion?"

My impression is that The View's ratings are higher than, say, the Volokh Conspiracy's.
8.19.2008 11:47pm
David Warner:
"I recommend "Havana Nocturne" by T.J. English for a better understanding."

Or this for the mob that replaced them. New boss, same as the old boss.
8.19.2008 11:51pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
David:

That's silly. No doubt Castro was the USSR's client, but part of the reason that happened is because the US put so much energy and effort into overthrowing him that he had no choice but to avail himself of the only available option. It's similar to the support that Nelson Mandela-- whom history has shown to be one of the greatest leaders of all time-- received from very unsavory, anti-American elements. That's where you have to go when the US chooses the wrong side.

It was obvious in 1959 that Castro wasn't the long-term answer for Cuba but that there was no way that we could or should restore the dominance of organized crime, sex merchants, and exploitative multinational corporations that preceded him. Had we not been so concerned about the property claims of American enterprises, we probably could have influenced and even coopted Castro, or at least been a player in efforts on the island for greater political freedom. Instead, we ended up on the sidelines, where we've been screaming about Castro's all too real abuses for 50 years. And, in our absence, the KGB, of course, filled the vacuum in Havana.
8.20.2008 1:30am
David Warner:
"he had no choice but to avail himself of the only available option"

First SSM and now this. What is this, No Choice Week? What happened to the Tabula Rasa?

If one assumes that the U.S. and anything associated with it was an irredeemably malign force a priori, then indeed he had no choice. That seems to be stealing three bases, however, when at the time the CIA were so obsessed with fighting communism they were embracing dictators the world over. Why not good old Fidel the flashy southpaw?

He and fellow rich kid Che decided to play the World Revolution (batteries included!) game instead.

BTW, is your theory that the KGB propaganda was actually correct? Does it cause you any concern that so much of it has become conventional wisdom?
8.20.2008 8:03pm
David Warner:
Let's see. Mandela went to prison for 27 years, where his influence was decisive. Castro sat on his throne for nearly 50 years, where he sent thousands of his own countrymen to prison for having the temerity to question him. His influence would be pathetic, if it were not so tragic.

I'm not seeing the parallel here.
8.20.2008 8:08pm