Why Conservatives Should Like Cuba

With pressure mounting for the U.S. government to drop its unilateral economic embargo against Cuba, conservatives will be tempted to buck the trend. After all, isnÕt this a perfect opportunity to kick one of the last communist countries while it is lying on the ground gasping for breath? Critics of the embargo have pointed out that the most likely result of the current U.S. policy of trying to squeeze Cuba is that a social upheaval there will produce a massive wave of emigrants to southern Florida. But there is also a positive reason to oppose the embargo: Cubans have developed some "family values" that we could learn important lessons from. Contrary to what theories of "totalitarian" society would lead us to believe, the strongest institution in Cuba is not the Communist Party, it is the family. Whether a Cuban familyÕs politics are left, right or center, you will find the typical family to be strongly bonded, affectionate and loyal. Children show respect for parents, and parents donÕt drive their children out of the house when a strong disagreement flares up. Elderly people in Cuba are respected and not tossed on a scrap heap once they are too old to produce at maximum efficiency. It is common when visiting a Cuban "circulo de abuelos" (elder center) to find children from the neighborhood running in and out, mingling with the old folks spontaneously. The old people love it and so do the kids. School attendance in Cuba is extremely high. Students do not abuse or attack their teachers; they hardly even sass their teachers. Cuban teenagers do not think carrying a knife or gun to school is a cool thing to do. Drug abuse -- at epidemic proportions in our own country -- is virtually unknown in Cuba. Other than a minute amount of homegrown marijuana and a few prescription drugs that find their way into the wrong hands, Cubans simply do not use illicit drugs. The Cuban government is extremely tough on drug dealers. There is very little street crime in Cuba. Even with the current economic crisis and its resulting increase in crime, the overwhelming majority of crimes are property crimes -- theft of one sort or another -- and do not involve violence against people. You can walk Cuban streets at night in greater safety than you can in any major city in the United States. Like conservative politicians here, Cuban government officials have very low tolerance for street crime. In the past, conservatives criticized Cuba for restricting free enterprise. But in recent years Cuba has done more to open up its economy than many of the eastern European countries that are recipients of U.S. government aid. The skeptical may be thinking, "But what about CubaÕs human rights abuses?" LetÕs be frank. The Cuban government does restrict freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom of the press. Many Cubans would argue that the other half of human rights -- the economic rights such as health care, jobs, housing and education -- are better provided for in Cuba than in most other countries. But that still leaves the nagging problem of restricted political rights in Cuba. Think of the double-standard of U.S. foreign policy. In the case of Mexico and China and every other country with human rights problems where we trade openly, the U.S. government argues that increased contact will liberalize these countries and increase their observation of human rights. But somehow this argument does not apply to Cuba. Overall, Cuba meets many of the social criteria of the conservative agenda at a much smaller price in human rights restrictions than do right-wing regimes that canÕt come close to matching the social cohesion of Cuba. President Clinton's recent normalization of relations with Vietnam shows that he knows the difference between being a politician and being a statesman. The president should now demonstrate that we really are "the land of the free and the home of the brave" by ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba and establishing normal relations with our island neighbors.

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