'Sunshine policy' toward Cuba?
Similar wishful thinking failed to bring together the two Koreas
By Mauricio Claver-Carone
5:59 p.m., Monday, June 28, 2010
North and South Korea are facing their gravest crisis since the end of
the Korean War as South Korea threatens to retaliate against North Korea
for sinking one of its warships. Forty-six sailors died in the torpedo
attack by a North Korean submarine.
Yet only a decade ago, South Korean politicians and pundits were saying
that five decades of political containment and economic isolation had
"failed" and should be replaced with a new policy of engagement and
reconciliation toward the totalitarian regime of North Korea's Kim
Jong-il. The rest of the world had moved on past the Cold War, they
argued, while the Koreas were still trapped in a state of conflict and
If that sounds familiar, it's because opponents of U.S. sanctions policy
use the same argument regarding Cuba.
In 1997, Kim Dae-Jung was elected president of South Korea by a new
generation of South Koreans who didn't share their grandparents'
horrific war experiences and viewed North Korea as a harmless Cold War
relic. A year later, Mr. Kim began articulating his sunshine policy of
greater political and economic contact between the Koreas to create an
atmosphere conducive to change and reform in North Korea. The policy was
greeted with great international fanfare. Mr. Kim and North Korean
dictator Kim Jong-il held a high-level summit in Pyongyang, initiating
high-profile business ventures, and a series of family reunification
visits commenced. Kim Dae-Jung was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.
Critics, however, were voicing concerns that unconditionally fostering
better relations with the North Korean regime while ignoring the
repressive, belligerent nature of its dictatorship would prop up Kim
Jong-il at a time of economic vulnerability and uncertainty. The Soviet
Union, which had been North Korea's main supplier of military and
economic aid, had collapsed just years earlier.
Ten years later, the critics have been proved correct. The sunshine
policy provided the North Korean regime the wherewithal to become an
international nuclear menace while intensifying the brutal oppression of
Nonetheless, there are U.S. politicians and pundits arguing today that
it's time for the United States to set aside its policy of isolation and
containment toward Cuba and the Castro regime and adopt its own sunshine
policy of dialogue and engagement.
Similarities abound in the relationships between South and North Korea
and between the United States and Cuba. The two Koreas share a
geographical and cultural proximity. While the population of South Korea
is only twice that of North Korea, its economy is 30 times greater than
that of the North, making it the North's most natural source of income.
The United States and Cuba also share geographical and cultural
proximity. Thanks to a large Cuban-American community, the United States
is Cuba's most natural (and currently most pursued) source of income.
The purchasing power of 2 million Cuban-Americans residing in the U.S.
is 30 times that of Cuba's 11.5 million people, so Cuba looks to the
United States as a natural source of income.
Similarities also abound in the regimes of North Korea and Cuba. In
addition to their daunting totalitarian tastes for control and
repression, the regimes of Kim Jong-il in North Korea and Raul and Fidel
Castro in Cuba also share a pathological hatred for the United States
and the unenviable distinction of remaining the world's sole communist
command-economies. Both countries are unwilling, irrational and
North Korea didn't use the billions in aid and trade that flowed out of
South Korea's sunshine policy for the benefit of its people. Neither did
it undertake any discernible political or economic reforms. North Korea
used the money to solidify its repressive control at home and be a
The same can be said of every penny Cuba's regime has received from
abroad, be it the aid from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, from European
and Canadian tourists throughout the 1990s or from Venezuelan oil for
the past 10 years. People's lives in Cuba didn't improve one bit, but
Castro's internal repression and regional menace increased proportionally.
The Castro brothers' regime has been crippled by its current economic
crisis. It is facing a determined pro-democracy movement led by such
courageous leaders as Guillermo Farinas, now in the third month of a
hunger strike, and the Ladies in White. It is beset by domestic
criticism and calls for change from a new generation of bloggers and
independent journalists. And it has been internationally discredited by
the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in an 85-day hunger strike protesting
the use of torture in Cuba.
The United States has a choice to make: It can just give the Castro
regime the "sunshine" and legitimacy that it so desperately wants, or it
can remain steadfast in its demand that Cuba first demonstrate respect
for human rights and begin enacting democratic reforms.
As South Korea's sunshine policy demonstrates, only after the sun sets
on repression can it shine on and for the people of Cuba.
Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and
founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington.