Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ozzie the Liberator: Time for a Debate on U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

Something tells me Ozzie Guillen isn't going to survive the firestorm that he ignited last week with his complimentary remarks about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. And maybe he shouldn't. I don't have an opinion about what should happen to the Florida Marlins' manager.

But if Ozzie's remarks can ignite a conversation in this country about U.S. policy toward Cuba, his political misstep will have served a good and healthy purpose. Because the truth is that America's Cuba policy has for far too long been set with a view to what is acceptable to the most rabidly anti-Castro elements in the Cuban "exile" community, not what is most conducive to the interests of the United States and, for that matter, of Cuba.

Yes, Castro--first Fidel and now Raul--is a dictator and, yes, Cuba is a dictatorship. But the United States has found ways to deal with dictators in myriad other countries, to the benefit of the U.S. and, often, the benefit of the citizens of those countries. Cuba is the great, glaring exception.

Long since it made any economic or political sense, we continue to impose an embargo on Cuba and to isolate it in many other ways. And the reason: because that's what the Cuban exiles in Florida want. And because both major parties covet their votes and Florida's electoral votes, neither party challenges that domination of national policy by a small group.

I don't fault the Florida Cubans for using their muscle on behalf of their cause. I do fault the politicians who are supposed to represent the United States of America for allowing the exile tail to wag the national dog. It's time this foolishness was ended.

With any luck, Ozzie Guillen will have given us the opportunity we desperately need to have a long-overdue conversation about our Cuba policy. Ozzie may not be salvageable, but American policy toward Cuba may be.

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