Trump’s Options for an Unchanging Cuba

By Kevin Hulbert

Kevin Hulbert is a former senior intelligence officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations who retired in June 2014.  He is currently the President of XK Group.  Kevin served multiple overseas tours as CIA Chief of Station and Deputy Chief of Station.

I remember remarking to Cuban American friends in Miami some 20 years ago and in the wake of the passage of the Helms-Burton Act (which formalized the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba) that it was my humble opinion that if we just got rid of the embargo against Cuba and opened up a McDonald’s and a Hard Rock Cafe, the companies and people and ideas would flood in to Cuba, and then-President Fidel Castro wouldn’t last three months. My idea was not warmly received by my Cuban-American interlocutors, who felt that any “caving in” (their words) to the Castro regime was a big victory for him and a resounding defeat for the United States. I countered, “But, if you agree that the overarching goal of the embargo is to get Castro out of power, don’t you admit that what we have been doing for the last 30 plus years has been completely ineffective and that maybe it’s time to try something new?” My interlocutors were adamant in their point of view that we shouldn’t cave in to Castro. I lost this argument.  But no one lives forever, and now, Castro is gone. 

Cuba has existed since 1959 in what seems like a high school social studies project. The island nation is like a petri dish of Cuba’s own brand of communism. Tourists flock there, mostly from Europe, to see a sort of communist theme park they think is quaint and old-fashioned. In Cuba, new ideas and political opposition are not tolerated; any dissent is dealt with immediately and harshly. Most of the brave and industrious types who really wanted change have long since left the island (sometimes, by bravely kicking out to open water on an inner tube), and the Internet and other forms of communication with the outside world are still restricted and controlled by the government.

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