"President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War." (NY Times)When Nixon, in 1970, announced he was going to China to reestablish diplomatic ties, it was 21 years after the Communists defeated the Kuomintang.
It's taken almost 65 years since Castro took over Cuba in January 1959, for the US to finally begin to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Havana was both prosperous and corrupt before the revolution, and there was a huge economic gap between the cities and the rural areas. From PBS:
Between 1952 and 1958, Cubans from all walks of life -- students, businessmen, mothers, politicians -- united in opposition against Batista. Author Carlos Alberto Montaner describes the mood: "the talk was about democracy, freedom and respect for human rights; the... objective was to restore the rule of law that had been swept aside by Batista."Cuba had been a Spanish colony and then, after the Spanish-American War essentially became a colony of the US. Again from PBS:
Since achieving independence in 1902, Cuba had suffered what simply could be called bad government. A bloody and costly struggle to achieve independence from Spain had devastated Cuba's economy. The insurgent leaders, known as the had been decimated. José Martí, Cuba's , was killed in battle in 1895. On May 20, 1902, the birth date of the first Cuban republic, no leader had the power to harness the passions and ambitions unleashed by independence. The U.S. Congress passed the Platt Amendment, granting the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuba to protect its interests there. The U.S. position further undermined the legitimacy of the government, as it placed the United States at the center of Cuban affairs. Invoking the Platt Amendment, the United States would occupy Cuba between 1906 and 1909, and continue to intervene in later years.If we hadn't been so consumed by the Cold War and still being lapped by the ripples of the McCarthy era, and had not been so blindly supportive of American business interests in Cuba, we might have worked with Castro from the beginning. But CIA chief Allen Dulles and others were hostile. His (and his brothers') strong support for US business interests can be seen in this discussion of the Dulles brothers and Nixon in 1948. By 1959, John Foster Dulles was dead, but Allen was CIA chief, presumably with the same interests of protecting US corporations. Castro's flirting with communism was a big problem for them. Castro versus the Eisenhower Administration gives a sense of the competing interests and policies.
We don't know how all the wealthy, who fled Cuba for Miami, made their fortunes in Havana, but in many cases, I suspect they would not want their true stories exposed. Other people had more legitimate gripes. But the Cuban-Americans, bolstered by the US loss of face by having a Communist country 90 miles from its borders, have been able to hold the Castro regime and the people of Cuba hostage to US embargo for over 50 years. Whatever evils Castro has committed, and he clearly did not live up to the revolution's promises of democracy, they aren't worse than other countries we have diplomatic relations with - China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, our WW II enemies Germany and Japan, and various South American dictatorships over the years. The difference is an emotional difference fired up by an active Cuban refugee community. Even the sting of losing a war to Vietnam only lasted 20 years before we had full diplomatic relations again.
In the same way, marijuana was emotionally linked with the hippies and the anti-war movement of the 60's and 70's. And a huge illegal drug smuggling business whose wealth is able to corrupt law enforcement officials, legislators, and private companies.
In both the cases of Cuba and marijuana, US policy was twisted from reasonable and humane by strong, negative emotional reactions and the power of those with a vested interest in the status quo. For many, marijuana represents lawlessness and the anti-government protests of the Vietnam war.
Cuba has had and continuous to have serious issues. Moving toward normal diplomatic relations with Cuba ends a 55 year grudge. It doesn't solve all the issues, but it's a step forward.
Legalizing marijuana also moves us to more reasonable and sensible approaches for dealing with the side effects of marijuana use. It doesn't mean we'll adopt good policies. Certainly the new Alaska law legalizing marijuana, is imperfect. It gives away too much power and incentive to private sector businesses to sell as much grass as they can. The state needs to craft regulations to most sensibly implement the legalization, such as requiring more consumer protection in terms of quality of the products and labeling and limiting advertising.
But at long last we can stop the costly, ineffective wars against Cuba and marijuana users, and move on to more positive and productive relationships.
Just as Nixon's trip to China is seen as his greatest legacy, I'm sure that Obama's reopening our relationship with Cuba will be a big part of his legacy.