CONSERVATISM AND OUR POLICY ON CASTRO
By Hugo J. Byrne
Time and again the case has been properly and eloquently made that American conservatism springs from an attitude of ethical respect and protection of individual freedoms, as established by our Constitution. This cerebral and pragmatic stand, centers on a healthy regard towards the past, rather than a utopian hope about the future.
A true conservative always envisions the government in Washington as an entity whose basic function is to maintain American society on a civilized level. Thus, to a conservative, the federal government should concentrate its efforts on defense, foreign affairs, and very little else.
To a conservative, federal government meddling in labor disputes, beyond those negatively affecting vital services rendered by federal employees, should be the unfortunate exception, rather than the rule. Government aid of private businesses to the detriment of free competition should be anathema to a true conservative. The same criteria should be applied to the so-called "foreign aid."
Conservative thinking asserts that very few federal programs of foreign aid have ever been successful. The Marshall Plan helped devastated Europe at the end of World War II, but more than 80% of our tax dollars earmarked for foreign aid during the past 50 years, have come to miserable waste at best. Some even helped our enemies.
We have listed a few very basic elements in the agenda of the American conservative philosophy. Those principles stand in sharp contrast with the "liberal" approach used by some contemporary politicians and their cohorts. The liberal media labels as "conservatives" many whose obvious political interests lay at the very opposite end of conservatism.
Such is the case of archliberal Curt Schaeffer in a piece he wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August. His subject is the American "trade embargo" on Castro, how it is loosing ground, and why that is a good thing for us.
In the process, Schaeffer calls attention to the collusion of some seventy-three republican congressmen with one hundred and eighty nine democrats, who last July lifted travel restrictions on U.S. citizens wanting to visit Castro's Cuba. Schaeffer, who had the dubious honor of socializing with Castro earlier the same month, found the dictator "hospitable, curious and in the end, verbose." Really? Could Castro be verbose?
"Why is there so much bipartisan support for normalizing relations with Cuba", questions Schaeffer, "led by a conservative Republican from Arizona, Jeff Flake?" In another paragraph, Schaeffer states that there are "both liberal and conservative advocates for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations." That, of course, is presently an oxymoron. Let's discuss why.
For starters, any American conservative foreign policy initiative vis-à-vis Castro or any body else should take into consideration only the enlightened vital interest of the U.S. The trade embargo, initiated by the Eisenhower administration in the early sixties was meant as a meaningless political scheme to appear as a punishment for Castro's alignment with the Soviets. The embargo was a domestic gambit to appease political conservatives.
The outcome of the 1962 missile crisis, far from the overwhelming victory the liberal media cheered, was a strategic stalemate. In the end, it was the U.S., not the U.S.S.R. that blinked. The sad historical truth is that the Soviets never agreed to the removal of their offensive mid-range missiles until President Kennedy promised to dismantle our own bases in Italy and Turkey, giving Moscow assurances of Castro's impunity. The Soviet blackmail was a brilliant success. After our government abjectly promised protection of the communist dictatorship in Cuba from "any invasion from the U.S. or anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere" and proceeded to enforce that agreement, the "trade embargo", started since 1960 became the one and only way of pretending to oppose Castro's totalitarian rule in Cuba. At the time of its inception and for the next three decades the embargo was largely upset by the Soviet subsidy to Castro of over $4 billion a year.
The "embargo" alas, was kept in place just for political perception. The hidden reality was the consolidation of Castro's regime in 1962. The liberal blessed Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement has been the cornerstone in the Cuban policy of every U.S. government ever since. That included the governments of Johnson, Nixon, Ford and, most specially, Carter. But even the Reagan administration, in spite of its courageous proactive defense of the Hemisphere in Grenada, El Salvador and Nicaragua, tried unsuccessfully at first to come to terms with Castro. The late Ret. General Vernon Walters discussed U.S.-Castro differences with the Cuban dictator as envoi of the newly elected Reagan in 1981. According to the old general, their meeting lasted six hours: "Castro spoke during five hours and I spoke only one. Generally I do better than that." That of course is the "verbosity" Schaeffer writes about.
That meeting illustrated the reality surrounding our long and hard differences with the communist regime in Cuba. It is always the U.S. advancing the olive branch, and Castro in the end refusing it, while embracing every anti-American agenda in the process. Castro's undeniable open or covert participation in terrorist activities -past or present- underlines that process.
From a conservative standpoint, the choice of whether or not to maintain the trade embargo on Castro cannot be decided upon without consideration of that historical record. We have learned recently that Castro had a greater role in the 1962 crisis than he was credited with at the time. According to former Soviet leaders the dictator went as far as demanding a Russian preemptive nuclear strike against us in 1962.
According to the proponents of the American reconciliation with Castro on the dictators terms, such as Curt Schaeffer's, or the Arizona "conservative" republican Jeff Flake, a political change in Cuba could be more dangerous than keeping in power an old totalitarian anti-American zealot who forty years ago wanted the Soviets to nuke American soil into oblivion. Is this a blatant ignorance of recent history, or just plain bad faith?
Yet, as conservatives, we should consider mostly the present circumstances. The center of the well-oiled campaign to dismantle the embargo rests on the notion that the "cold war is over, Castro does not pose a danger to our national security any more, and our businesses are losing great opportunities in the thriving Cuban market."
To be sure, a conservative would oppose in theory the very notion of a commercial embargo for political reasons, whether directed against former racist South Africa or present communist Cuba. Conservative thinking however, demands a reasonable and rational approach, as opposed to the utopist fanaticism of the "liberals", or the corrupting political opportunism of those phony "conservatives" equating free trade with government subsidies.
We conservatives cannot regard the U.S. embargo on Castro as something happening in a vacuum or accept its abrogation by virtue of political expediency. Such drastic change in foreign policy, departing from past bipartisan consensus could be very deleterious to our interests in times of economic retreat.
Granted, in 1962 the embargo was nothing else than a smoke screen hiding our tacit acceptance -and protection- of a communist outpost ninety miles from our shores. However, at that time our government did not impose on the taxpayers the plunder of agro subsidies, some of which fall in the budgetary category of "entitlements." Now Uncle Sam does, and relating to the embargo it makes all the difference in the world.
No conservative could be in favor of such system of unconstitutional wealth redistribution as we suffer now, whether supposedly "helping" poor families or corporate executives. Ironically, given the intricacies of the present legislation covering so-called agricultural subsidies, the Cuban embargo is probably the only barrier preventing U.S. taxpayers from forcibly underwriting the Cuban regime.
That is the reason why so many republican "conservative" congressmen -of the "Flaky" type- are finding common ground in that issue with their socialist peers in the Democratic Party. That coalition is in part a product of the recent record breaking agricultural subsidy program signed into law by President Bush.
Is Castro's Cuba truly an attractive market today for U.S. trade? Not if you take a conservative stand on the predicament of the U.S. taxpayers. Let's see why.
At the time of the demise of the former Soviet Union in the early nineties, Castro was already a dubious credit risk. His regime stopped most payments on its multi-billion dollar foreign debt by 1986. Ever since, the Cuban dictatorship has tried to attract foreign investment under rigid constraints with mostly marginal success. The opening of the Cuban market to the U.S. dollar -and other currencies more recently- marked the peak of that effort. However, bad habits die hard, and a society accustomed to surviving on foreign subsidies for more than thirty years did not adapt fast enough to the new reality.
The events of September 11 had also a devastating impact in the Cuban economy, both in terms of a drastic reduction of new foreign investment and in the amount of goods and cash sent to the island by Cubans living in the U.S. The inability and unwillingness of the regime to pay its foreign debt however remained the biggest obstacle for Spanish, Mexican and Canadian entrepreneurs.
Foreign investment in Castro's fiefdom was reduced from $448 million in 2000 to less than $40 million in 2001. The ever-present scarcity of basic items is worse than ever, and the regime's ability to deal in practical terms with such disaster diminishes by leaps and bounds. The energy crisis is getting much worse now when even Castro's friends like Venezuela's Chavez requests payments of crude oil in cash and in advance of deliveries.
As it was during the early nineties, long blackouts are again plaguing Cuba. The recent government decision to make "socialism untouchable" assured permanent scarcity thru totalitarian control in the foreseeable future of the island.
In the middle of all the fanfare generated by the sale of U.S. grain to Castro on a cash basis, very little publicity was given to the complaint of two foreign governments to our State Department, of their dues from Castro being suspended on account of that sale. Obviously the smaller sheet cannot cover head and toes at the same time any more. That would not deter merchants aspiring to plunder the U.S. taxpayers, or the politicians they control.
The lack of hard currency coupled with Castro's poor credit history has set the stage for the latter's bid to obtain credit from the U.S. However, most American lending institutions are ready to advance payments only under certain provisions. Those provisions of course include U.S. guarantees of payment, and the current legislation on farm subsidies assures those guarantees. That is why the "conservative Republicans" Curt Schaeffer writes about, are grabbing with gusto the anti-embargo banner. They are enthusiastically going to bed with the likes of "Charlie" Rangel, José Serrano and Maxine Watters, extreme radical left-wing democrats and Castro's old staunch supporters in the U.S. This strange bed fellowship does not spring from those "conservative" politicians respect (as they claim) for the free market system, or their defense of our constitutional right to free travel. We know what their real purpose is.
What they are really after is the advancement of businesses among their constituents or political contributors, regardless of the negative consequences to every U.S. taxpayer. These consequences could be similar to the addition of nearly $80 billion of unpaid loans to our national debt, incurred at the inglorious demise of the Soviet Union. In the name of freedom of commerce we were swindled into underwriting the Soviet tyranny. Later, we were forced to pick up the tab. Does that seem like a policy true conservatives could sponsor?