It’s a little late for Fidel Castro to be second-guessing his handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, but all’s well that ends well, we suppose. “Knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all,” he told a visiting American journalist last month.
The real money quote in Castro’s extended interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was his matter-of-fact admission that the nation’s communist system has failed. Asked if Cuba’s economic model would be viable elsewhere, the 84-year-old revolutionary leader said, “The Cuban economic model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”
It now appears that Castro was having a senior moment. Though he agrees he was quoted accurately, he now says what he meant was that capitalism doesn’t work.
Foreign investors are lining up to show him that yes, it does, thanks to some cautious reforms enacted by his younger brother, Raul. But while the rest of the world eagerly seizes new trade and travel opportunities, American businesses and tourists are shut out — not by Cuba’s government, but by their own.
Last month, Raul Castro signed a law meant to turn the island into a tropical golf destination, allowing foreign investors to lease state-owned lands for 99 years. Developers from Canada, Spain and Great Britain have drawn up plans for at least four resorts, ringed by thousands of condominiums that would be owned by foreigners.
Golf has never been big in Cuba — there are only 27 holes on the entire island — mostly because Fidel viewed it as a sport for the idle rich. Now, of course, that’s precisely the point.
Foreign travel publications, meanwhile, are full of glowing reviews about Cuban excursions, along with not-so-subtle hints to help American tourists circumvent the U.S. travel ban. To visit legally, though, American citizens must obtain a license from the U.S. Department of Treasury, available only for narrow purposes such as research or humanitarian work. The application process, considered case by case, can take many months.
Declaring the island off-limits to most Americans isn’t hurting Cuba, which welcomed 2.4 million foreign tourists in 2009. But it’s a growing sore point with U.S. citizens, who are tired of being told they can’t travel to the “terrorist” nation all those Canadians are raving about.
Last year, President Barack Obama relaxed restrictions that kept Cuban-Americans from traveling freely to visit relatives on the island. The administration has signaled that it will likely go further, easing limits on academic, religious, cultural, sports and educational trips — but only after midterm elections and only on “purposeful travel,” which means no tourism.
The president can make those changes by executive order, but lifting the travel ban entirely requires an act of Congress. There’s a bill in play that would do so, along with eliminating a lot of senseless obstacles that make agricultural commodities grown in, say, China more affordable than the ones grown in the U.S.
Since 2000, it’s been legal — though difficult — for American farmers to do business with Cuba. Sales are conducted through third-country banks, for example, and payment is required upfront. This, too, hurts us more than it hurts Cuba.
What Congress ought to do, of course, is dump the whole economic embargo against Cuba, speaking of things that have proven, over 50 long years, to not work. Polls show that a majority of Cuban-Americans now favor lifting the embargo. But every attempt to bridge relations with Cuba is vehemently opposed by a handful of lawmakers who answer to a handful of hard-line exiles.
Even Fidel, on his better days, is having second thoughts about the 1960s. It’s time to move on.