When ‘Cuba’ and ‘national security’ are mentioned in the same sentence, they tend to be followed by phrases like ‘refugee wave,’ ‘Marxist revolutionaries’ and ‘missile crisis.’ The steps towards normalization of relations with the old Communist foe have caused reactions as varied as the embargo is old, but the ship has set sail and Americans should start accepting that this country’s future with Cuba is going to look a lot different than it did to their parents. Or grandparents. Or great-grandparents.
Since the plans to force Fidel from power and placing a stranglehold on the island didn’t work out as intended, this new chapter should be viewed as an opportunity for the United States to start anew with the Caribbean’s largest and most populous nation. The United States has no shortage of tasks going forward, but some of the long-term goals can’t be deemed unworthy of the challenge;
- Roughly 2 million American citizens or residents of Cuban heritage, and growing.
- As the causes of the embargo and their family’s displacement fall further into history, there is a growing trend of Cuban Americans in favor of reengaging with their familial homeland. Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country,” and it’s time Cubans are granted that right, whether to reconnect with family or settle an old score.
- Claims tribunal for American citizens and companies for seized property.
- The nationalization of private property left most Cubans with little to nothing, but a major point of contention between U.S. and Cuban officials is the settlement of 6,000 claims totaling roughly $8 billion in assets (adjusted from $1.9 billion in 1972). Cuba has no shortage of claims itself, from economic damage due to the embargo to the cost of the Bay of Pigs invasion, totaling between $121-$833 billion by their own estimation. Bear in mind that the United States successfully completed similar programs with China and Vietnam, inter alia, and has an active tribunal with Iran, as well.
- Extradition of American fugitives of justice in Cuba.
- Cuba has been home to several high-profile fugitives from justice, including one convicted of murdering a police officer, one in connection with a $7.1 million bank robbery, and a convicted explosives expert/bomb maker. Regardless of whether one considers these individuals fugitives from justice or political refugees, they are not above the rule of law and must answer for their crimes.
Considering the diplomatic energy necessary to completing these tasks is an exhausting thought, but this list if far from exhaustive. Before despair sets in, however, consider how far the United States has come with other Latin American countries that have been marred by a troubled and hostile past. Colombia fell into a period known as ‘la Violencia’ in 1948, from which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was born and continues to terrorize parts of the country with kidnappings and extortion. Most people with a Netflix account can recite the story of “Narcos,” a show dramatizing the grotesque level of cartel violence that plagued Colombia throughout and beyond the 1980’s.
Colombia, rife with total-war between drug cartels, political assassinations, and producing 90% of the world’s cocaine, could have been dismissed as a country turned failed narco-state, the western hemisphere’s Afghanistan, perhaps. But a concerted effort to resist the violence between the Colombian and United States’ governments paid off. Today, Colombia’s cocaine production has dropped to 50% of peak levels, a working extradition treaty was developed between Colombia and the United States, 2015 was the least violent in 35 years (thanks in part to Cuban diplomacy), the State Department lowered the travel warning to Colombia, the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2006, and, since 2000, the Departments of “State, Justice, and USAID have provided nearly $1.3 billion for a wide range of social, economic, and justice sector programs… aiding internally displaced persons and reforming Colombia’s justice sector.” Colombia is a success story deserving recognition and ought to be taken in the abstract and seen as a formerly failed state Cinderella story.
Diplomacy between Cuba and the United States stands to gain a lot. Cuba has an opportunity to meet the United States halfway and be brought out of its state of 1950’s-themed crippling depression while maintaining that its revolution remains undefeated. In addition to the reasons above and many more, the United States gets a chance at redefining its relationship with not only Cuba, but also Latin America as a whole. Cuba’s human rights violations are well known, but the United States may have the worst record in the Americas, proximately speaking. Full normalization of relations between the neighboring states is daunting but not insurmountable. Through complex and dedicated diplomacy, both the United States and Cuba have the opportunity to close one of the final doors on the Cold War and begin a new era of strong economic ties and peaceful cooperation.