This year was indeed historic for Latin America. Fidel Castro finally stepped down from power and handed the reins to his brother Raul. According to a panelist at a recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Raul, unlike his brother, is no charismatic political leader; he is a military man, a manager of bureaucracy. Does that matter? Perhaps.
The panelists also made clear Fidel will most certainly not return to power due to deteriorating health, though he still does manage to “put his foot down” from time to time and exert influence on various issues. In short, until Fidel actually dies, he will continue to bend his brother’s ear to some degree or another. With that said, the likelihood that Raul Castro will be a significant improvement is far-fetched. The slight economic and cosmetic changes Raul has made in the economy are but baby steps toward true democratic governance.
Contrary to what the likes of filmmaker Michael Moore and his ilk on the far left say in their praise of Cuba, Freedom House continues to assign this island nation in the Caribbean its worst scores for both political rights and civil liberties. Freedom House also reports that the U.S. Congress appropriated $46 million to democracy groups in Cuba even though many dissidents have complained that the money never reaches them.
Have we forgotten that Cuba is a communist dictatorship? That used to be offensive to the American conscience. Granted, the island nation no longer poses the threat that it did during the days of the Soviet Union, but this is the nation where speaking out against the government results in beatings and time in jail. The state still controls more than 90% of the economy and, according to The Heritage Foundation’s 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, government spending yields 71.6 of GDP.
The next president will no doubt engage with Cuba and he should continue the economic sanctions until Cuba implements genuine democratic reforms. In a presidential campaign where “change” is the predominant theme, America must continue to lead and stand for a true democratic Cuba and not to go wobbly like the European Union has. That our stance is unpopular in the rest of the world has not deterred us before from exhibiting bold leadership and it should not deter us now.