- - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

President Obama’s open hand to the Castro brothers in Havana has been met with a clenched fist. Only the naifs at the White House could have been surprised. Cubans protesting the most repressive regime in the history of the Western Hemisphere have been beaten and abused in answer to the visit of the president, and on camera. Several thousand Cubans were thrown in jail on the eve of Mr. Obama’s arrival, and Raul Castro added a pointed snub of protocol when he would not meet Mr. Obama at the airport.

The renewal of relations with Cuba throws in sharp relief what might have been but for the timidity of American policy to the island nation after Fidel Castro’s success in establishing a Communist satrap in the region. John F. Kennedy declined to follow through with the expected air support of the aborted campaign to liberate Cuba in early 1961, a campaign planned in the final days of the Eisenhower administration.

One American policy, however, succeeded in an unexpected way and enabled many thousands of Cubans, who were willing to risk their lives, the means to flee to freedom here. The decision to grant asylum to anyone who could step on American soil also led to the uncounted hundreds who were lost when their leaky boats, homemade rafts and even inflated inner tubes failed at sea. The price of freedom can be high, indeed, and it is a tribute to the human passion to live free that so many are willing to pay that price.

The fact is that American policy toward Cuba through a half-dozen Washington administrations achieved important ends. John F. Kennedy prevented the Soviet Union from establishing a nuclear base 90 miles off the Florida coast, and foiling Nikita Khrushchev’s attempt to establish nuclear missiles in the hemisphere contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union three decades later.

U.S. policy afforded hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles a new home and a new life in America. Their success underlines the despair and courage of all of the brave who ventured into the dark unknown to make their getaway. Fidel Castro, in a spectacular misjudgment, then opened his prisons in 1981 to permit the departure of 10,000 of his tempest tossed, yearning to breathe free, to flee to the United States. He imagined that he would thus punish the home of the brave and the land of the free. The flood grew, and more than 125,000 Cubans — the Marielitos — eventually made it to the American shore. They succeeded, as generations before them had, in living the American immigrant story.

American policy was effective, too, to prevent Fidel’s attempt to establish other Soviet-aligned regimes in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Threats to the smaller islands in the Caribbean were blunted to halt the Soviet advance in the new world. Had those small Communist states come into existence, the Cold War might have taken a quite different turn away from the eventual American triumph.

The American policy toward Cuba has been occasionally miscalculated and often unproductive. But the assertion that it has failed, a favorite boast of the left, is further reflected in the empty slogans of an administration and its supporters who would limit the use of American power to insure peace and stability in an unstable world.

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