Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Castro steps down after half a century

Fidel Castro shocked the world yesterday by announcing his retirement after 49 years of rule.

His brother Raul, who has been running the country for the past year and a half, will likely be elected president at Sunday's National Assembly meeting. What changes Raul might bring as president remain to be seen, though as acting leader of Cuba he has taken a somewhat softer tone than his older brother Fidel, and has introduced some limited market reforms.

But one change that should come about is the end of America's nearly half-century boycott of the island.

America steadfastly maintains an embargo on Cuba. I don't know whether this is an example of stubbornness, optimism, or just a move to appease the Cuban-American political lobby, but it is a policy that has long outlived its usefulness. An American embargo is not going to bring the downfall of Cuba's Communist regime, not when Havana's beaches are filled with tourists from Europe, Canada, and South America. I remember seeing a story on CNN not too long ago about crumbling buildings in Havana's historic old quarter that are being rebuilt after years of neglect thanks to these tourists and the money they bring. If there is enough money to repair these buildings, then the economy must not be on the verge of collapse thanks to an American embargo. If five decades of an economic embargo haven’t worked, and if we’re the only major economy still even enforcing it, then what’s the point in continuing?

And recent history shows that when America opens - rather than closes - its doors to Communist nations, changes occur. Look at the improvements in US-Soviet relations in the 1980s, or our relations with Vietnam. When you have access to a society that is when you can affect change, not when you stubbornly refuse to talk with them.

Fidel Castro's resignation marks an opportunity for change for Cuba. Let's hope that it marks a change in US-Cuban relations as well.
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