Tag: Cuba

Obama in Cuba

Over the weekend, Obama became the first President to visit Cuba in almost nine decades. It’s part of the slow thawing of relations between the two countries.

Naturally, there is a lot of opposition. And it’s not an opposition anyone who isn’t Cuban can really understand. The Cuban community has first and second hand memories of Castro murdering and imprisoning their families. They’ve watched as he has turned what was once a functional, if corrupt island into a nightmare prison state. They see celebrities going to Cuba, getting the guided tour and pronouncing everything wonderful and it drives them crazy. They see a media that fawns over Castro and ignores his brutal oppressive regime.

But I was struck by this quote, courtesy of the Coyote Blog:

I meant to post this a while back, but Jeff Flake totally gets it on Cuba, and I appreciate his leadership among the Republicans on this. I absolutely loved this quote:

Flake has long said that Americans should be free to see for themselves the stunted fruit of socialist policy. He tells the story of meeting with Lech Walesa, the great activist who challenged Soviet domination of Poland. “I have no idea,” Walesa complained, “why you guys have a museum of socialism 90 miles from your shore and you won’t let anybody visit it.”

After three generations, I think one can safely call a policy like our embargo “failed” and try something else.

Robert Heinlein once said the same thing about the Soviet Union. After touring it in 1961, he said that we should send a million Americans to tour the Soviet Union. The cost and the influx of hard currency to the USSR would be worth it if a million Americans got a real glimpse of the depraved impoverished police state that Khrushchev had promised us.

Right now, socialism is in vogue. We have an open socialist running for the Democratic nomination. Socialist ideas are portrayed as cute and idealistic. Let’s send a bunch of Americans to see what a real socialist paradise looks like. Let them see 14-year-old girls turning to prostitution to feed their families. Let them see the “free” hospitals that are open air infection wards. Let them smoke terrible Cuban cigars and inhale the failure of socialism into their lungs. Whatever benefits it gives to Castro’s regime will be worth it just to have a generation of Americans see where the road to socialism ends.

Opening Cuba

This is a pretty big deal:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions on the nation, an historic shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” to U.S.-Cuban relations.

Obama said he’s instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, and that the U.S. will re-open an embassy in Havana. The administration will also allow some travel and trade that had been banned under a decades-long embargo instated during the Kennedy administration.

There are aspects of the embargo that Obama can’t undo because they were encoded into law when it was feared that Clinton might normalize relations with Cuba. Related to this are the release of about 50 political prisoners in Cuba, including Alan Gross and at least one US intelligence asset who has been in prison for 20 years. Apparently, the Vatican and Canada played a role in bringing this about.

As you can imagine, this is drawing a lot of fire from Cuban-Americans and Cuban-American politicians:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he would do everything in his power to block any potential U.S. ambassador to Cuba even receive a vote.

He also called the easing of economic restrictions “inexplicable” in a statement.

“Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy,” he said.
Rubio promised that as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee he’ll “make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s [sic] expense.”

I have long been in favor of lifting the embargo. For 53 years, it has accomplished nothing. The vile Castro brothers have kept their brutal police state in place while becoming extremely wealthy. Meanwhile, average Cubans are among the poorest in the hemisphere, despite past support from the former Soviet Union and ongoing support from other socialist and communist idiots. It’s not like we don’t have relations with vile regimes like China or Saudi Arabia.

Will this cause “reform” in Cuba? I’m dubious, especially as the embargo is only partially lifted and most American businesses will not be able to open shop in Cuba. But I’m also aware that the Castros are in their 70s. Even assuming that they live for much longer, their rule is going to become increasingly fragile. Trade and travel between the two countries can hasten that day by loosening the absolute political and economic power Castro has over his citizens. But even if it doesn’t, it is long since time we abandoned this stupid and destructive approach.

We’ll have to see what happens. But overall, I think this is a good step. The most encouraging sign to me is the number of liberals lamenting that capitalism is going to take over Cuba.

Good Lord, we can only hope so.

The Hijacking Boom

Wired has an excerpt from a new book about the so-called “Golden Age of Hijacking” when US airplanes were routinely taken by crazy people and flown to crazy places like Cuba. In a span of four years (1968-1972), over 130 planes were hijacked, a threat level that, if it occurred today, would have the NSA’s nose firmly wedged in our genitals.

I found the excerpt fascinating for two reasons. First, the description of what happened to these people once they reached the island communist paradise of Cuba:

But though Fidel Castro welcomed the wayward flights in order to humiliate the United States and earn hard currency—the airlines had to pay the Cuban government an average of $7,500 to retrieve each plane—he had little but disdain for the hijackers themselves, whom he considered undesirable malcontents. After landing at José Martí, hijackers were whisked away to an imposing Spanish citadel that served as the headquarters of G2, Cuba’s secret police. There they were interrogated for weeks on end, accused of working for the CIA despite all evidence to the contrary. The lucky ones were then sent to live at the Casa de Transitos (Hijackers House), a decrepit dormitory in southern Havana, where each American was allocated sixteen square feet of living space; the two-story building eventually held as many as sixty hijackers, who were forced to subsist on monthly stipends of forty pesos each. Skyjackers who rubbed their G2 interrogators the wrong way, meanwhile, were dispatched to squalid sugar-harvesting camps, where conditions were rarely better than nightmarish. At these tropical gulags, inmates were punished with machete blows, political agitators were publicly executed, and captured escapees were dragged across razor-sharp stalks of sugarcane until their flesh was stripped away. One American hijacker was beaten so badly by prison guards that he lost an eye; another hanged himself in his cell.

I had never heard this before. That’s not surprising — either the treatment or the fact that I’d never heard of it. The treatment isn’t surprising because anyone with an IQ bigger than their underwear waistband knows that Castro was and is a brutal dictator. Donna did a series of posts on the old Moorewatch website describing the conditions in Cuba and little has changed since then. Little has ever changed in Cuba.

But the lack of publicity of that treatment isn’t surprising either. Many of the Left, especially in the 70’s, happily turned a blind eye to Castro’s oppression. Many bought into the cartoon version of Cuba that he happily sold to the West. And the media were very reluctant to call shenanigans on the whole thing. When Castro, having washed the blood off his clothes, is was praised and decorated by other countries for his “achievements”, the Cuban exile community, who had endured his brutality and lost relatives to his murderousness, went nuts. I don’t blame them.

The other interesting part is the response to hijacking. The hijacking boom was when the policy began that hijackers were not to be resisted or opposed. For the safety of the airplanes, crews and passengers were instructed to comply with the hijackers’ demands. That policy would be exploited on 9/11 to devastating effect before it was summarily rescinded by the brave passengers of United 93.

The other interesting part is how the hijacking boom was stopped, at least for a while.

John Dailey, a task force member who also served as the FAA’s chief psychologist, began to attack the problem by analyzing the methods of past skyjackers. He pored through accounts of every single American hijacking since 1961—more than seventy cases in all—and compiled a database of the perpetrators’ basic characteristics: how they dressed, where they lived, when they traveled, and how they acted around airline personnel. His research convinced him that all skyjackers involuntarily betrayed their criminal intentions while checking in for their flights. “There isn’t any common denominator except in [the hijackers’] behavior,” he told one airline executive. “Some will be tall, some short, some will have long hair, some not, some a long nose, et cetera, et cetera. There is no way to tell a hijacker by looking at him. But there are ways to differentiate between the behavior of a potential hijacker and that of the usual air traveler.”

Dailey, who had spent the bulk of his career designing aptitude tests for the Air Force and Navy, created a brief checklist that could be used to determine whether a traveler might have malice in his heart. Paying for one’s ticket by unconventional means, for example, was considered an important tip-off. So, too, were failing to maintain eye contact and expressing an inadequate level of knowledge or concern about one’s luggage. Dailey fine-tuned his criteria so they would apply to only a tiny fraction of travelers—ideally no more than three out of every thousand. He proposed that these few “selectees” could then be checked with handheld metal detectors, away from the prying eyes of fellow passengers. Most selectees would prove guilty of nothing graver than simple eccentricity, but a small number would surely be found to be in possession of guns, knives, or incendiary devices.

Profiling, in other words. Needless to say, this program was a success. Only one in every 200 passengers was picked for extra screening. Most did not object. Hijackings dropped. And janitors reported finding abandoned weapons.

The excerpt cuts off at that point and hijackings did boom again after the Dailey program. I may actually get the book to see why and learn how the problem was solved in the long term. But it comports with what Bruce Schneier and others have been saying about our approach to security: that we’re better off trying to identify terrorists than strip people of potential weapons. Almost anything can be used as a weapon. But very few of us are terrorists. It’s much more productive to find the latter than the former.