How serious is President Bush about this spreading-democracy business? When it comes to Cuba, where I recently spent several fascinating days, the answer appears to be: not serious at all.A detached, nonpartisan observer might think, "Yeah, the Bush policy toward Cuba isn't working, but at least Bush is sticking to what he sincerely believes is the right thing to do." Right? Wrong.
Since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, our Cuba policy has been regime change. We have plotted to assassinate and invade. We have frozen assets and suspended diplomatic relations. Most significant today are the sanctions we maintain, which forbid most trade and prevent Americans who cannot obtain a special Treasury Department license from visiting the island.
... Castro is the world's longest-serving political leader. Given the obvious failure of our 45-year embargo, an American president intent on liberating Cuba would surely be considering alternatives.
The most obvious one, never tried, is free trade and increased contact. It's hard to imagine that Castro would still be in power today if Havana had spent the last couple of decades awash in American tourists, Cuban-American visitors, and development-driving entrepreneurs ...
Trade-fueled growth doesn't always undermine autocracy — look at China. But it does tend to, because liberal ideas and truthful information come as part of the package.
... At the behest of right-wing Cuban exiles who are central to Florida politics, the administration has tightened the screws of the embargo, making it much more difficult for Americans to obtain licenses to visit Cuba and reducing the frequency of permitted family visits by Cuban-Americans to once every three years.
Americans who go illegally are now sometimes prosecuted, and a refrain in Havana is that the Department of Homeland Security is routinely denying visitor visas to Cuban artists, academics, and officials who wish to travel to the United States.
... But at the same time, Bush has overseen the expansion of trade under a huge loophole for the export of American agricultural commodities. One of the "Ladies in White," the wife of an imprisoned independent journalist I visited in Havana, told me that the rice she gets on her official ration card comes from a bag with a Texas stamp.Am I supposed to be shocked at the prospect that an agri-business firm somewhere in Texas is profiting from a Bush policy?