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Mares: Cuba Revisited

It was the best foreign policy news in a decade, even better than killing Osama bin Laden. I mean President Obama's agreement with Cuban President Raul Castro, with the help of Pope Francis, to begin to normalize relations between the two countries. This action lances one of our biggest foreign policy boils on the American body politic.
 
Historically, it ranks with Franklin Roosevelt's recognition of the Soviet regime in 1933. And it follows the normalization of relations with the united Vietnam where more than 55,000 Americans died in an 8-year war.
 
The sanctions policy we pursued for 50 years was a failure in its avowed purpose of getting rid of the Castros. Only the ordinary Cubans suffered; the elite made out like bandits. For many Latin American countries (and the world) the policy fit into a 100 years of American interventionism in hemispheric affairs adding to their suspicions and dislike. By demonizing Cuba we gave a rallying cry for other Latin American left wing regimes.
 
It distorted our domestic politics, and gave the émigré Cuban-American community in Florida an outrageously disproportionate influence in American presidential elections, especially in the infamous Bush-Gore contest of the year 2000.

During one short trip to Cuba (a decade ago) I went looking for the "big bad wolf" of Cuba. What I saw was beautiful, run-down, quaint, and full of tourists from other lands. The streets were a mobile museum of American automobiles from the 1950's. The infrastructure was woeful, There was food rationing.
 
With my imperfect Spanish I found a people who were friendly but proud, hungry but not beggars. They fretted about the new class system which had developed between those with access to dollars through remittances from abroad or through tips
.
It's naive to deny the political repression in Cuba, but if that's the criterion for diplomatic relations why don't we break them with China and Russia?
 
As Sen. Leahy has said, " Normalization with Cuba will be a process. Its pace and scope will depend, in part, on the actions of the Cuban government to permit dissent.”
 
Armando Vilaseca, the former Vermont commissioner of education who was born in Cuba, told me, "This change is long overdue. Maybe the policy made some sense during Cold War, But now it does nothing but punish the poor and give an excuse for the government's repression and ineptitude."
 
In a metaphor for baseball hungry Cuba, Obama has done more than level the field; he has shown the way to a new diamond.

And, to paraphrase Mark Twain: By doing the right thing we gratified some and astonished the others.