Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GUTIERREZ: Cuba today 50 years of Castro's reign

GUTIERREZ: Cuba today 50 years of Castro's reign
Carlos M. Gutierrez
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fifty years ago on Jan 1, 1959, Fidel Castro's rebels marched into
Havana overthrowing the Batista dictatorship and promising the people of
Cuba a revolution based on democracy, prosperity and social justice.
Instead, the Cuban people have been abused and repressed for half a
century. The prosperity Castro promised was never realized as the
economy stagnated under the weight of communism. Those who dared to
criticize Castro's government were executed, imprisoned, or forced to
flee their country.

The "revolutionary" promises never materialized. Instead, the Cuban
people have experienced the most tyrannical regime in the modern history
of the Western Hemisphere, with the same political elite in power for
the past 50 years.

Today, the average Cuban lives on $20 a month and relies on government
ration cards. There are shortages of basic foodstuffs and supplies such
as cooking oil and soap. It is illegal for Cubans to open their own
businesses to provide for their families.

If Cubans speak out against the government, corruption, or their lack of
food, they face intimidation, violence, and imprisonment. If they decide
to emigrate, they lose their jobs and are harassed. The Cuban government
is currently holding at least 240 political prisoners whose only crime
is that they spoke out against the injustice of the system.

The question I am always asked is: "When will the United States change
its policy towards Cuba?" The real question should be: "When will the
Cuban government change its policy towards its people?"

One must understand that Castro is first and foremost anti-American. His
regime has maintained power for 50 years by blaming the United States
for the hardships of the Cuban people. Whenever the Cuban government has
had surplus resources, ordinary Cubans have never benefited. Instead,
resources were used to finance Cuban adventurism abroad by sending
money, soldiers, and arms to support insurgencies in Africa and Latin

Like the nine administrations before it, the Bush administration has
pressed Cuba to respect its citizens' fundamental human rights, release
its political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections. Over the past
50 years, the Cuban government has made it close to impossible to
improve relations between our two countries. This can be easily
confirmed with a review of history over the past half century.

In 1959, after Castro traveled to the United States, he instructed his
ministers to reject U.S. aid. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis,
he urged the Soviet Union to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the
United States. In 1977, President Carter sought to improve relations by
opening a U.S. interests section in Cuba. The Cuban government responded
by including dangerous prisoners and patients from its jails and mental
health facilities in the Mariel Boatlift. In the mid-1990s, President
Clinton eased restrictions on travel and remittances. Havana responded
by creating a migration crisis and shooting down two U.S. civilian
planes over international waters.

This year, Cuba was ravaged by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The United
States offered five humanitarian aid packages, without conditions, but
the Cuban government refused, once again putting politics above the
welfare of its people.

Those who hold power in Cuba are determined to maintain their positions
of privilege even if it means the people of Cuba must continue to
suffer. The communist regime of Cuba has made no secret that it is a
staunch enemy of the United States. The regime's disdain for human
rights is appalling, yet the United States is criticized for its
policies towards Cuba.

The goal of U.S. policy must remain focused on helping the Cuban people
transition to a free society, while denying Castro resources. That has
always been the endgame. But, there are those today who would accept
less. To suggest unconditional dialogue with the Castro brothers would
only signal that the conditions in Cuba are acceptable. If the United
States does not continue to stand for the ideals of freedom and human
rights and against the many guises of tyranny and oppression, who will?

Carlos M. Gutierrez is U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

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