US should not disengage from Cuba

With the death of Fidel Castro, American policy toward Cuba is back in the spotlight.

The small island nation just 90 miles off of American shores has been ruled with an iron fist for more than 50 years by Fidel and his brother, Raul.

Though the death of Fidel Castro is certainly not the end of tyranny on the island, it is imperative that the United States learn from history and engage with Cuba with the aim of encouraging greater freedoms.

Castro came to power in 1959.

Mass executions, land seizures and the arrest of political dissidents became commonplace. More than anything, though, it was Castro’s suspected and eventually confirmed commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology that ultimately prompted the United States to take actions that not only failed to dislodge the Castro regime, but in many ways reinforced and emboldened it, to the detriment of the Cuban people.

In addition to numerous plots to assassinate Castro, as well as the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the United States imposed and has maintained ever since a trade embargo on Cuba, which for decades has been the regime’s chief scapegoat for the ills and failures of communist rule.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy, out of necessity, has gradually liberalized some sectors of its economy. But there is still obviously tremendous work to be done to expand freedoms on the island, restore basic freedoms of speech, expression and travel, and continue the process of liberalizing the economy.

In a novel approach among American leaders, President Barack Obama, citing the “failed approach of the past,” has maintained a policy of engagement toward Cuba, capped off by a historic visit to Havana and easing of the embargo.

It’s an approach that may be reversed with the incoming Trump administration.

“Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners — these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told Fox News.

Trump took to Twitter Monday pledging to undo the current “deal” unless Cuban leaders “make a better deal for the Cuban people.”

While there’s little disputing the desired outcomes, this is not the time to consider disengaging from Cuba. Freer trade and open discussion are likelier to yield better outcomes for the Cuban people than the opposite.