Mark Falcoff: From Cuba to Venezuela

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute and author, among other books, of Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy. He is also on occasional contributor to Power Line. He writes:

Not long ago when the Obama administration decided to end our diplomatic and political embargo of Cuba many friends and associates asked me, as a long time Cuba-watcher, what I thought about it. At the time I remarked that there were two possibilities. One was that, given the collapse of oil prices and the chaos in Venezuela, Cuba’s sponsor and ally, this was Obama’s way of throwing a lifeline to the Castro regime, with which it has more ideological affinities than it dared to publicly admit. The other–and this was one frequently offered by pragmatic liberal supporters of the policy–was that in ending Cuba’s isolation from the United States we would be setting into motion forces which would bring about economic, and eventually political liberalization. A happy ending all round–a painless soft landing.

What was certain, I thought at the time, was that both could not be right.

Now comes Walter Mead of The American Interest (with whom, by the way, I visited Cuba in 2001), to suggest a third possibility. He sees both Cuba and Venezuela headed for societal collapse. Both are too close to the United States to view their problems with indifference. Indeed, he even goes so far as to suggest that it might be in our interest to shore up–if not the Castro brothers–at least a Red nomenklatura that can keep the lid on things and prevent a massive departure of a starving population for the United States. He leaves open what measures we might take to help sustain President Maduro or at least the Chavistas in Venezuela (or at any rate, to prevent total chaos in that country, as if we somehow possessed the means to do so).

This is an old dilemma for American policymakers in the Caribbean. Faced with the prospect of chaos and societial collapse, we almost always opted for “stability” over more open political options. This is how we got the Somozas in Nicaragua, the Trujillos in the Dominican Republic, and–why not say it?–Batista in Cuba. It’s ironic that things have come full circle. Maybe we don’t like the Castro brothers or Maduro, but the alternative is a political and social void into which we’d rather not chance.

Insofar as Cuba is concerned, my own impression of the country when I visited it more than a dozen years ago was that it more nearly resembled Trujillo’s Dominican Republic than the Soviet Union or a tropical version of Bulgaria. Like the DR, one brother ran the government, another ran the military and police, another liaised with foreign investors, and the army was the only real political party in the country. When Trujillo fell to an assassin’s bullet in 1961, the experiment in democracy with Juan Bosch ended in a civil war.

Following U.S. military intervention, there was a frantic search for someone to bridge the old regime with the new. Which is how we discovered the virtues of Joaquin Balaguer, Trujillo’s house intellectual and mouthpiece, who by the way ruled the country for much of the next thirty years. What Walter is suggesting is a return to realpolitik in the region, leaving both readers of The Nation magazine and advocates of human rights in Cuba by the wayside. Why not? It’s happened before.


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