By Martin Dyckman
Insanity has been defined often (though most likely never by Albert Einstein himself) as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
By that standard, the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba is a spectacular example of insanity.
After almost 53 years, it still is nowhere near to bestowing liberty on the Cuban people, which is supposedly the purpose.
To the contrary, it helps keep the Castro dictatorship in power by providing a plausible excuse for everything that’s miserable about life in Cuba, from the chronic shortages of food and such basic consumer goods as soap to the constant suppression of free speech and the imprisonment of dissidents.
President Raul Castro admitted as much – in effect – when he warned that the new diplomatic rapprochement would not lead to political reform in Cuba. That means he’s afraid that it will.
The embargo has succeeded at nothing – or so it would seem – other than to perpetuate the misfortunes of a captive people.
The more that Cubans might see of a nearby nation, largely populated by people just like them, where speech is free and small business is allowed to flourish, the less they’ll tolerate what they have to put up with now. The more they could earn from trade, the less the Castros could control them.
This was evident in the joyful response in Havana to President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would resume diplomatic relations and liberalize non-tourist travel.
But the logical consequence of lifting the embargo requires Congressional consent, which seems to be even more remote now that the Republicans rule both houses.
It’s a dreadful twist of fate that puts Sen. Marco Rubio in charge of the subcommittee that can block it.
Although Rubio’s parents fled Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power – and lost nothing as a result – no one is more outspoken or outwardly devoted to perpetuating the spectacular failure of the embargo.
So is that insanity on Rubio’s part?
That depends on what he, and other pro-embargo politicians, actually expect of it.
If they really think it will bring down the Castros, then it is insanity.
But if their actual expectation is only to secure and lock down the political support of the older Cuban exiles, whose intense hatred of the Castros colors their judgment, then they’re getting just what they expect. Never mind how much harm it does in the bargain.
The aging exiles are single-issue voters. As with the gun lobby and the anti-abortion movement, nothing else matters to them. And until recently, they have had the perceived power to make the difference in elections in Florida, New Jersey and scattered congressional districts across the nation.
But did they account for Charlie Crist’s 64,145-vote loss to Rick Scott after Crist said he would visit Cuba? Not likely. Accustomed to voting hard-red Republican ever since the Bay of Pigs, they would not have voted for a Democrat on any account. Crist probably gained even more votes, from younger or non-Cuban Hispanics, by reversing his own course on Cuba.
Obama, certainly, is aware that support for the embargo has evaporated among the second-and third-generation Cuban-Americans.
What Rubio needs now to consider and accept is that Florida, situated where it is, has more to gain from trade with Cuba than any other state.
Although nobody seems to be talking about it, there could also be a huge benefit for the Everglades should renewed trade with Cuba lead to importing Cuban sugar once again. It would then be impossible to maintain the current U.S. system of domestic price supports and import quotas.
Alfonso Fanjul, one of the two Cuban expatriate brothers who rule the sugar roost in Florida, disclosed to the Washington Post last February that he had begun visiting Cuba and would be eager, under the right conditions, to resume sugar production there. It’s a safe bet that he and Obama have been discussing this.
The more sugar cane the Fanjuls grow in Cuba, the less phosphate pollution will flow into the Everglades.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of the embargo remains as flagrant as the insanity of expecting it to unseat the Castros.
Cuba has posed no threat of any kind to us since Nikita Khrushchev took his nuclear missiles home in 1962. China, on the other hand, is a hugely more populous and powerful rival, with an economy and population well over 100 times more than those of Cuba, and it is every bit as totalitarian as Cuba. Yet we have free and open trade with China, along with other undemocratic regimes.
The hypocrisy is the consequence of single-issue politics. We need to get beyond that, and if Rubio can’t bring himself to lead, let him at least get out of the way.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina.