Friends of improved relations with Cuba argue that citizen contact, people-to-people interaction, and lifting current impediments to travel and trade will pave the way for an improved U.S.–Cuba relationship and greater mutual understanding.
Yet if the climate for change is as favorable as they suggest, in a moment of heightened international tensions and growing fear regarding Iran’s rush to a nuclear weapon, why do the Castro brothers choose to host Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with grand fanfare as part of his recent four-nation tour in Latin America?
Why does its premier educational institution, the University of Havana, award an honorary doctorate to one of the world’s most brutal leaders and one who believes that the ultimate answer to the evils of the West and capitalism may be the delivery of nuclear Holocaust?
In his acceptance speech at Havana U, Iran’s leader confined himself to a requiem for capitalism: “Thankfully, we are already witnessing that the capitalist system is in decay. On various stages it has come to a dead end—politically, economically, and culturally.”
Blithely ignoring the recent desperate efforts by Raul Castro’s regime to breathe a touch of private property, capitalist competition, and entrepreneurial life into Cuba’s moribund socialist economy, Ahmadinejad applauded the communist status quo: “Capitalism lacks logic, and it resorts to weapons in order to kill and destroy. Murder is the only thing left for capitalism today.”
One of the great liberal mantras is that dialogue, exchanges, visits, and more tourism will open the doors of understanding and mutual comprehension between Cubans and Americans. Somehow, college and synagogue tours, listening live to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club, or watching vintage cars splash along the Malecon will gradually crack the solid casing that protects the core precepts of the Cuban regime: anti-Americanism, revolutionary fervor, denial of individual rights, and the might of the state over the rights of the individual.
Questioned a confused Cuban blogger Irina Echarry: “I still don’t understand how the Cuban government is advocating changes in people’s mentality here (supposedly to advance, prosper, improve the country), when it welcomes a man with a policy as retrograde, anti-feminist, homophobic, warmongering and anti-environmental as [Ahmadinejad].”
Sadly, the truth is that as long as the heights of leadership of the state, the educational system, and the state-controlled media in Communist Cuba remain under the monolithic control of those who have more in common with the leader of “a vengeful, martyrdom-obsessed state in the midst of a never subsiding fury against the West” than with democracy, freedom, and human rights in the Americas, there is little reason to believe that the Obama Administration’s tepid policy of permissive engagement will ever alter the way Cuba’s leaders—not the man in the street—think or act.