I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Cuba organized by the N.C. Museum of Art and led by its director, Larry Wheeler. It was a trip I looked forward to and long wanted to take. I was not disappointed, just discouraged by the experience.
In 1962, along with its staunch ally, Russia, Cuba brought us to the brink of nuclear disaster. Cuba, just 90 miles away, was a threat to our national security. Today, she no longer poses any threat. The combination of Russia’s withdrawal of its missiles, money and military personnel and our embargo has transformed the country from a bastion of Cold war hostility to a benign anachronism. She has been neutered and devastated.
In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, its subsidies that propped up the Cuban economy were withdrawn. Cuba entered an era of economic hardship known as the “Special Period,” an ironic name for the harsh reality it ushered in. To describe Havana as dilapidated understates its condition. Today, the city is littered with the ruins of mansions built in the 1920s and ’30s when sugar made many Cubans as rich as our oil, railroad and banking tycoons, when Rockefeller, Harriman, Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan became household names. These art deco and Mediterranean-style mega-homes attest to the magnitude of the wealth of their owners. The city is literally crumbling. On average, in Havana, 3.1 buildings a day collapse. Many of the rest are in such a state of disrepair as to appear disreputable. Many will not be there when prosperity returns.
President Obama’s reversal of 50 years of national consensus and policy changed the landscape but raised new and important issues and concerns. Chris Christie identified one. Using Joanne Chesimard as an example of the many American criminals the Castro regime has harbored on the island, he demands that they be returned. Marco Rubio, although in tones shriller than it seemed necessary, questioned what we received in exchange for our largess. Surely, he argues, human rights and economic freedom were not too much to ask.
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Yes, the time to end the embargo has come. But not unconditionally and not without any consultation with the branch of government that will have to confirm an ambassador, fund an embassy and diplomatic effort, and provide the funds to help the people of Cuba move forward.
William A. Webb
Senior adviser, Shanahan Law Group
The length limit was waived.