If You Give a Dictator a Cookie . . .

by Ian Tuttle

In a perfect exhibition of the chasm between the power the Obama administration actually wields in foreign relations and the power the administration thinks it wields: the current White House offered, virtually without condition, the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba (a one-party dictatorship with a gulag, which has been forced for decades to rely for survival on the largesse of America’s enemies, from the Soviet Union to Chavez’s Venezuela) — and it is Raul Castro who is putting conditions on the deal. Via NBC News:

“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Castro told delegates [at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica on Wednesday].

The United States’ base at Guantánamo Bay was established in 1903 — meaning it predates the current Cuban regime by 56 years — and reaffirmed in a treaty with Cuba in 1934, the terms of which grant the territory to the U.S. into perpetuity, unless both nations agree otherwise.

But that is, of course, not all that Castro wants:

He also demanded the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they’re suffered.”

That is, the economic damage caused by the United States’ half-century trade embargo that, as everyone from Rand Paul to the White House averred last month, “hasn’t worked.”

If by that phrase critics mean that the embargo has not effected regime change, that is true; but that likely is a result of the fact that the embargo has often been observed in the breach, not that it has failed despite our most aggressive enforcement efforts. Regardless, for the past 50 years the average cubano is the one who has suffered, not because of the embargo as such, but because the response to it from the Castro regime — the military, the administrative cronies, los jefes themselves — has been to seize for itself as much as it can of the wealth that comes into the country. Since the same coterie that has controlled the island since the revolution will manage investment opportunities in post-embargo Cuba, it is entirely plausible that lifting the embargo will simply enable the regime to channel greater wealth into its own pockets.

That is precisely where any “just compensation” offered by the Obama administration would go. But with the president so eager to secure his legacy with this diplomatic coup (and others), is he even capable of saying no?

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