The View From The Middle: Cuba Normalization -- Good Deal or Bad?

Posted: January 11, 2015 at 1:30 a.m.

I often criticize President Obama, not because of his party affiliation, but because he is often extreme. His views on abortion, deficit spending and the size and purpose of government are inconsistent with the thinking of average Americans. However, if and when he does something that hits the sweet spot between the right and left, I will gladly support it.

Recently, President Obama decided to normalize relations with Cuba. My first clue this might be a good decision was the bipartisan support and opposition for it. On the Republican side we have Rand Paul and Marco Rubio squaring off in a semi-heated early presidential debate. Rand Paul is in favor of this move and Marco Rubio is not.

On the other side of the political fence we have Hillary Clinton in favor of normalization and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey firmly against. I can even understand both sides of this argument.

From Marco Rubio's and Bob Menendez' side, I can comprehend that they see this as an endorsement of a cruel and rigid communist regime managed by the Castro brothers for more than 50 years. The Castro brothers are not nice people, and they deserve our loathing.

Cuba's history is bloody and violent and the Castro brothers fit right in. While their original intentions might have been noble, to improve the living conditions of the poor in Cuba, their leadership has led to more repression, poverty and violence of its own.

Fidel ruled Cuba with an iron fist, eliminating all political opposition and ruling the country with one decree (executive order) after another. Freedom and liberty were the first to leave Cuba followed by about a million Cubans fleeing to other countries, primarily the US. Fidel then aligned with all of our enemies as he established his communistic government. On this, I agree with Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez. I certainly would not want this move by President Obama to serve as some sort of empowerment of the Castros.

But, my first hint this might be a good move came from the response of the Cuban people themselves. They seem to be extremely excited. Of course, this is anecdotal. There hasn't even been time to poll the Cuban people, but the American people support this move by about a 2-to-1 ratio. I'm guessing any poll done of the Cuban people right now would even exceed those results.

Then there is the logical argument. First, we have been trying to change Cuba by isolating them for more than 50 years now, and it has not worked. I would argue that the best way to influence that country is to allow its people to experience capitalism at its finest. We trade with countries like China, Vietnam and Venezuela. Cuba should be easier to influence and track.

As Americans invest in real estate and construction and millions of dollars pour into Cuba's tourism industry, it will be impossible for Raul or Fidel to keep some of the dollars from flowing down to every Cuban in the country. Cubans will also see and get to experience the newest technology as cell phones, iPads and laptops invade Cuba in the hands of these tourists.

As their economy improves, so will the lives of its people, who I believe will benefit most from this move. Sure, some American companies will benefit from a freer trade policy with Cuba, and some profits will be made and, of course, taxed by this country, but the big winners will be the Cuban people.

I am also not so naive as to think that this move is the end of the story with Cuba. Congress will have to lift the embargo, which I think will happen although with considerable debate. Our government will have to work hard to insure that as much of our investment as possible works its way down to the Cuban people.

One big question keeps coming up, however, and that is, "could we have gotten more concessions out of Cuba for the move?" I doubt it. When you are dealing with people like the Castros, who don't really give a flip about their people, it is tough to get huge accommodations. As long as their lives are good, they seem willing to allow their citizens to suffer.

We could wait until the Castros are gone. Fidel is 88 and in failing health, and Raul is 83, but who knows what Miguel Diaz-Canel, the heir apparent to the throne, will do. His primary qualification to this spot seems to be loyalty to the Castros and their philosophy. Why even wait? Let the light of democracy and fee enterprise shine on Cuba today and elevate the condition of Cuban life.

KEVIN CANFIELD OF SPRINGDALE IS AUTHOR OF "MASTERING SALES." HE ALSO BLOGS AT KEVINCANFIELD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Commentary on 01/11/2015