The United States and Cuba have shared a relationship filled with decades of hostility, diplomatic manipulation, and economic disparity. Outside of the U.S.’s initial interventionism, most of conflict between the two nations can be pinpointed to the rise of Fidel Castro in 1959. He asserted his position as head of state by nationalizing all U.S. businesses- without compensation- resulting in the U.S. trade sanctions and eventually an embargo with Cuba three years later (1962). Much strife followed suit: the Bay of Pigs incident, Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba shooting down two American aircraft, and the legal battle over Elian Gonzalez. It was not until 2007, when current President Raúl Castro acknowledged that he would be willing to engage in talks between the two nations, that progress towards reconciliation begun. Since then, U.S. President Barack Obama has allowed for the passage of Americans to and from Cuba for family visits, negotiated the release of international prisoners being held past their time, and most notably, visited the island last month.
The trip caused much controversy, because while Obama announced on Twitter that he was traveling to “...advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people”; many notable Republicans criticized the president for legitimizing the Castro regime, which constantly denies its people of the human rights Obama so heavily advocates for. Ben Carson commented on the issue, saying that “It would have been much smarter to wait until they had a change in leadership”, allowing for more leverage towards democracy. Even President Castro himself later commented on the visit, saying that “we don’t need the [United States] ... to give us anything.” He then proceeded to publically list abuses the U.S. had incurred against Cuba, which is significant because his support is needed for any kind of compromise between the two countries.
"Only when we recognize where the equilibrium between the two lies, will we be able to make government decisions that prioritize the well-being of both nations."
During President Obama’s visit, Castro was publicly confronted with human rights questions, and criticisms about Cuba’s lack of internet connection, which is now essential for any kind of development or global connection. It was a defining moment for Cubans to see their leader faced with questions he could not answer, as well witness Obama’s message of hope and a future. The U.S. embassy in Cuba is now open, and many Cuban-Americans are watching the interaction between the two nations with much anticipation.
Many questions still remain, but one of the most important is this: what about the trade embargo?
Conservative politicians have almost unanimously expressed their support for the U.S.-Cuba embargo, saying that Cuba has not met the requirements to be freed from the 54 year-old policy, which explicitly states democracy and human rights as necessities. They argue that it is important the U.S. does not compromise its stance for the sake of international appearance, and that it is a moral responsibility to make sure Cuba’s citizens are equally protected under the law before changes are made. Meanwhile progressives are advocating for the removal of the “Cold War relic”, saying that it has failed and harms both Cuban and American economies. Their main claim is that democracy cannot be promoted when U.S. residents are not allowed to travel or invest freely, citing many international criticisms as support. But what both sides have in common is that their defense of Cuban-American relations falls under an obligation to Cuban citizens and a global community.
Romans 12:15-18: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
President Obama is right to be concerned about the well-being of the Cuban people, and reach out for a diplomatic solution. But one visit will not solve everything, or revolutionize the mindset of the youth and pivot the direction of the country. In fact, much of the hostility that occurred both during and after his visit was expected.
As Christians it is our responsibility, both civically and morally, to seek out restoration and reconciliation wherever possible. It means that ignorance or generalizations cannot suffice. There is a balance between seeking justice and embarking on a crusade to assert the United States as a world power, just as there is a difference between kindness and being unwilling to make hard decisions. Only when we recognize where the equilibrium between the two lies, will we be able to make government decisions that prioritize the well-being of both nations. Whether it means investing in Cuba economically, learning about their political culture, or allowing them to revolutionize their policies independently, only through true understanding will a consensus be reached- understanding which comes from God’s love instead of automatic hostility.
--Rio Arias is a student at Grove City College