Carter in Cuba

In the end — after all the whining from conservatives — former President Carter said what needed to be said in Cuba. On national TV, he told the Cuban people that the U.S. should lift the embargo and that Cubans deserved an opportunity to vote on the Varela referendum.

According to Fox News, the referendum would ask Cubans “if they favor human rights, electoral reform, an amnesty for political prisoners and the right to have a business.” Obviously, a free and fair referendum would yield overwhelmingly positive results, and public pressure would be put on Castro to change things.

Carter was perhaps naïve in thinking that his time in Cuba will have any impact, but his soft approach got him something no hard-liner has ever gotten: an unfiltered appearance on national TV and freedom to meet with Castro’s political opponents. But he’s right on something else. He said, “Because the United States is the most powerful nation, we should take the first step.” By that he meant that the United States should first take steps to end the embargo.

I agree. I think the embargo is stupid and counterproductive to begin with, though. So, even if it is not taken as a sign of good faith by Castro — which it probably would not — it would still make Americans and Cubans better off. Castro has done just fine with the embargo in place, as it has given him plenty of ammunition to deflect blame for the failures of his communist disaster.

But ordinary Cubans’ suffering has been immeasurably worsened, and Americans have been cut off from the dreadful realities of Cuban life. By not allowing Americans to trade or visit, the government has only made it harder for them to help Cubans improve their lives and seek alternatives to Castro’s brutal dictatorship. Embargoes always hurt the least powerful in a given society, and operate on the ugly principle that the oppressed must be made to suffer so that they will revolt.

Innocent people who have no control over their leaders shouldn’t be cut off from the world’s resources. It is not their fault they are oppressed. They shouldn’t be punished even further, and they shouldn’t be used like pawns on a chess board. By doing so, we deny them their dignity and undermine our own claim to moral superiority. I think Carter understands this. Which is why he went to Cuba in the first place and why — all things considered — he deserves credit for sticking to his guns despite intense criticism.