December 14th, 2013
01:26 AM ET

Give capitalism a chance to change Cuba

By Fareed Zakaria

In the midst of the extraordinary spectacle of Nelson Mandela's funeral – in a stadium with some 90,000 mourners, including more than 90 heads of government – a small gesture caught the world's attention. President Barack Obama moved to greet Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil. On his way, he shook hands with the person to Rousseff’s right. The photograph of that handshake ricocheted around the world. Understandably, because the man Obama shook hands with was Raul Castro, president of Cuba.

Remember, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, and has a tight trade embargo in place against the island nation. So, many wondered whether this handshake was the beginning of a great shift in policy.

I hope so. Let's begin by asking whether the existing policy is working. In 1960, the United States enacted an embargo against Cuba. Its purpose was simple and explicit: regime change. Did it work? Well, until he retired from the presidency in 2008, Fidel Castro was the longest serving head of government in the world. Surely that's about as powerful evidence as one can get that the policy did not work and is not working.

The truth is that Cuba's miserable economy is almost entirely its own fault. The Castro regime has coupled political repression with communist economic policies and the result, predictably, has been total failure and stagnation. But things are changing in Cuba. The government has been experimenting with opening up elements of the economy. By some estimates about 20 percent of the Cuban economy is now in the private sector.

The best path forward for Washington is one that has been recommended by many experts, from Jorge Casteneda, the former Mexican foreign minister to Human Rights Watch. The United States should shift from a policy of regime change in Cuba, which has not worked, to one that promotes reform and human rights aggressively.

President Obama should offer the Cuban government a series of steps that would relax restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba – but only if they are matched by real economic and political reforms in Cuba. Let the Cuban people know, for example, that if its government were to free all political prisoners, the United States would be willing to relax the embargo.

Americans should have greater faith in the power of markets, trade and travel to eat away at the Cuban dictatorship, strengthen Cuban civil society, including private business, and thus change the character of the country. Washington has tried isolation, sanctions, and embargoes against Cuba for more than five decades with dismal results. Why not try capitalism for five years?

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Topics: Cuba • Fareed's Take

soundoff (258 Responses)
  1. Son of the god

    Jesuse will come very soon to Eu or USA

    I need raise capita USA 100 million l to my company upeter capital market in the zionest state

    December 15, 2013 at 1:46 am | Reply
  2. Son of the god

    Pleas help me I am jesuse I need to raise capita to leave the Zionist state they can not crusify me again

    December 15, 2013 at 1:48 am | Reply
  3. Bill F

    Greed conquers all. Let them try it out.

    December 15, 2013 at 4:17 am | Reply
  4. large ripply veiny purple cawk

    Trollolol. 8=====>

    December 15, 2013 at 6:04 am | Reply
  5. miscreantsall

    Normalize the relationship with Cuba, period.

    Transform our interactions with Cuba to mirror our relationship with other communist nations like China, etc.

    It is that simple. Change will happen inside Cuba all on its own.

    Republicans are the only roadblock for this shift in policy.

    December 15, 2013 at 6:47 am | Reply
    • Harry

      F L O R I D A

      December 15, 2013 at 8:16 am | Reply
      • Matt

        Spell it correctly... F L O R I D U H

        December 15, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      The policy on capitalism is straight forward; If you outright reject it, then we'll plot and fight against you until you do consider it. When you finally consider it, we'll be more inclined to befriend and trade with you. Once we're in business you'll be made to follow our rules. The rules are pretty much the same for everyone, but most importantly you must rely heavily upon our military for your defence and the use of our currency. Everything else will take care of itself.

      December 15, 2013 at 9:53 am | Reply
    • BILL, WI

      The U.S. does not trade with Cuba because in the late 50's through the mid 70's, because Cuba did not want anything to do with the U.S. While its true Cuba nationalized American interests in Cuba, no compensation was only a small part of the hard feelings between the two countries.

      Nothing in the U.S. embargo says that Mexico, Germany, Canada or any other country can not trade with Cuba.

      U.S. citizens may not be allowed to travel to Cuba, remember it is Cuba that prevents its citizens from travelling to other countries.

      This bad U.S. argument is nothing but red herring and it is becoming a little thin.

      December 15, 2013 at 10:34 am | Reply
  6. john vance

    The embargo on Cuba may have made sense in the era of domino theory and an aggressive, expansive Soviet Union but it turned out that nationalism was a stronger motivating force than communism and that everbody needs money and trade.
    The current situation has more to do with Florida being a populous swing state than seedy little Cuba being a threat to anyone. A million American tourists and spring break students can do far more to introduce American culture than an anachonistic embargo on a neighboring country.
    The decisions over fear of a themonuclear juggernaut hanging over our heads should be different than those made over fear of a cluster of ex-pat voters in Miami.
    Let's move on. There are nice beaches in Cuba.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • Gregg

      Well said. Right on the money.

      December 15, 2013 at 7:56 am | Reply
    • Harry

      When all the people who owned property in Cuba are no longer with us, then maybe relations can be normalized.

      December 15, 2013 at 8:19 am | Reply
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      @ John vance: You said "A million American tourists and spring break students can do far more to introduce American culture than an anachonistic embargo on a neighboring country."

      Having been to Cuba over a dozen times, all I can say is I hope this never happens. Introduce "American culture"???? It would destroy the culture of Cuba! Yes, Cuba needs Walmart and MacDonalds and all of the other trappings of a sick and dying empire.


      December 15, 2013 at 9:07 am | Reply
  7. Mark Irwin

    Am reading this article from a cruise ship sailing RIGHT PAST Cuba. Think how many billions would POUR into Cuba via ports of call stops if relations between our two countries were normalized!

    December 15, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
    • AustinTxn

      Why oh why are you on the internet? Take in the natural beauty of the Caribbean and toss that IPAD into the ocean.

      December 15, 2013 at 9:28 am | Reply
  8. jsaaty

    There is a misestimation here, a bit of naïveté by Fareed - turn Cuba capitalist and it's more than likely it turns into another Jamaica. Drug ridden, poor, extremely violent, uneducated. Or Haiti. Or the Dominican Republic. Awful outcomes. The ONLY islands in the Caribbean that are not like this are protectorates of large western economies such as Puerto Rico, the BVI, or US VI. We would simply be planting another problem child directly off of our coast. Cuba is a proud, educated, but poor nation. How to make the transition effectively@

    December 15, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
    • Harry

      Bravo. Communism, Capitalism...they just want to be left alone. The U.S. went into Cuba right at the moment the Cubans were on the verge of ejecting the Spanish and then we basically took over. For the next 60 years it was exploited by big companies and was a playground for the Mob. We need to leave these people alone because in the words of Bob Dylan: "Everything the U.S. Government touches turns to sh1t".

      December 15, 2013 at 8:28 am | Reply
      • Paul32

        The problem with these two senseless remarks is that the people don't have the slightest idea of what capitalism is and how it has changed in order to survive. I suppose that their idea of pure capitalism is working in a company town.

        December 15, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  9. pdxdave

    If Zachariah loathes Capitalism in America so much, why does he want to see it in Cuba?

    December 15, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • Reddog9500

      It isn't capitalism that he loathes so much as it is America itself.

      December 15, 2013 at 7:39 am | Reply
    • howudothat

      It's not capitalism he hates – it's "FREE" market capitalism – letting corporations set the rules for human and environmental policies – monopolies – or fascism.

      He's pushing for "FAIR" market capitalism – free trade – with basic human and environmental rights

      December 15, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
  10. He advocates socialism here, BUT WHAT?

    Thought Socialism was the answer listening to Zakaria in the past.

    Great, now he advocates Socialism here in the US and want's Capitalism in Cuba,

    December 15, 2013 at 7:38 am | Reply
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Repeatedly, avaricious looters and moochers cry for the violent imposition of communistic economic systems on thriving countries, only to prove, after decades of suffering, that only capitalism functions..
    I remember the horror in my father's voice as we watched Fidel Castro's henchmen strap a Cuban citizen to be shot because he owned a little something. "Oh my God," he said, "they're going to kill that man!"
    The looters did shoot him, and many others. The moochers got their cake, and now they are eating it.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:39 am | Reply
    • Harry

      They did the same thing right after Machado was overthrown. The Arnaz family (Desi Arnaz et al) showed up to the U.S. with exactly ten cents in their pockets. They were a prominent family in Santiago during and before Machado. This is nothing new.

      December 15, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply
  12. Reddog9500

    Ahhhhhh....They should just let organized crime run the island like in the 50s. Build a few casinos and the 1% will flock to the island.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:45 am | Reply
  13. Rick

    They really need to fire Fareed Zakaria, he's always so off base it's an embarrasment to CNN as a whole.

    December 15, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
    • TennBob

      I agree–Fareed is off-base more than on. Why does CNN still use him? Diversity?

      Wish CNN would wake up, stop catering to the LEFT and report the news. FOX is
      as bad or worse to the RIGHT. We have to keep switching back and forth to maintain
      a semblance of balance.

      December 15, 2013 at 8:20 am | Reply
      • wolverene13

        Wait a minute, Zakaria is advocating for Capitalism, yet somehow that equates to catering to the left? How on Earth do you figure that? Either way, Fox caters to the right, MSNBC caters to the left, and CNN is somewhere in the middle, a little more to the left. I come here when I get tired of extreme ideology and am looking for a little bit of sanity. There is no "centrist" news outlet because it's impossible to do.

        December 15, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Matt

      Yes, stop catering to the left. How dare he suggest that free americans be allowed to travel to Cuba on their own accord. Has he not looked the definition of american freedom where someone else chooses for you.

      December 15, 2013 at 9:37 am | Reply
  14. Stephen

    Members of the once privileged class, who escaped with their lives and little else, are the major roadblock to normalizing relations with Cuba. These folks have thrived in Miami and other places and contribute significantly to the Republican party and its voter base. Until they either die off or are paid off in some way, they will continue to oppose befriending the folks who expropriated their stuff.

    December 15, 2013 at 8:12 am | Reply
  15. derykhouston

    I think what bothers me most about this article is the idea of interfering in Cuba. Imagine...criticizing another country for all it's failures at the same time you are willing to crush the entire population and contribute to their misery.
    Yes Cuba has it's problems. The people will sort it out. They are well educated. Great medical system. Sanctions have to be one of the wests biggest failures. Look at Iraq for example. (UNICEF reported that several hundred thousand children died as a direct result of those sanctions.)
    Cuba has to embrace change and it will. But it should be done by the people there and not by a crushing fist from outside.
    It is an exiting time for the Cuban people. I think they will do well and grow. The young people there are eager to embrace new technologies and build a strong and independent Cuba.

    December 15, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • Almiquí

      "great medical system" lol

      December 15, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
      • wolverene13

        Actually, it does have a great medical system. That's why people like Hugo Chavez go there instead of any other country to have operations. Is it better than the U.S.? No, and Canada is probably better too, but other than those two countries, Cuba is the best place to go in the Western Hemisphere.

        December 15, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  16. john.deatherage

    Free Market Capitalism has freed more people from poverty than any government or religion in the history of mankind.

    December 15, 2013 at 8:32 am | Reply
    • Matthew Grant

      Sure capitalism does help develop country bring people out of poverty but once a developed country has growth to a certain point than it becomes a parasite to the people. In a capitalism system there will always be poverty as inequality is built into the system itself. It is an intrinsic value of the system. The capitalism system is an outdated way of organizing a society. It works for a culture that has scarcity in the basic resources they needed to survive but once a society reaches a point where the basic resources (Human needs and not human wants) are in a post-scarcity state then it actually becomes a determent to the population.

      December 15, 2013 at 11:00 am | Reply
  17. fartstar

    Yeah lets try capitalism in Cuba so it can turn into Miami, LA, Honolulu, Cancun, or any other palm lined pit of commercialism and consumerism. Zakaria, you jerk....cant we have one place in the whole damn world that's NOT just like the U.S. and created in our image?

    December 15, 2013 at 8:36 am | Reply
  18. fartstar

    TRY. LIFTING. SANCTIONS. Zakaria, you idiot....

    December 15, 2013 at 8:37 am | Reply
  19. Helen Troy

    zach for a socialist why talk about always will miss the matter how intellectually superior you think you are compared to the readers...

    December 15, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
    • Matt

      Pot meet kettle. Have you ever gotten a point beyond your own?

      December 15, 2013 at 9:39 am | Reply
  20. Tom Greg

    Implementing capitalism would be the way to maximize the number or poor and uneducated people....

    December 15, 2013 at 9:14 am | Reply
  21. TheLancer

    Keep Cuba for Canadian tourists!
    When Americans ask me why I go to Cuba for vacation/, my reply is "Because you guys can't!"+
    Generally speaking Americans are loud, crude and uncouth when visiting a foreign country

    December 15, 2013 at 9:25 am | Reply
    • Matt

      You forgot to add americans are exceptional...loud, crude, etc

      December 15, 2013 at 9:40 am | Reply
    • wolverene13

      Right, keep regurgitating what you hear in your media. I've spoken to numerous Europeans, Canadians, etc. who have told me that they thought the same thing until they actually met some Americans overseas and here in our own country. Only then did they realize that it's all a bunch of bunk. We're no more loud, crude, and obnoxious than the French are smelly, the British have bad teeth, or the Canadians are polite. All are stereotypes, and you are living proof that the last one is such.

      December 15, 2013 at 10:08 am | Reply
  22. Serge Storms

    We can't force capitalism on Cuba but we can end the ridiculous embargo. The cold war is over, we do business with countries more oppressive than Cuba.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:28 am | Reply
  23. Felipe J Saap

    Mr Zakarias I have the feeling that you are very naive thinking that Castro brothes want free capitalism,What they want is to stay in power and free capitalism could be a risk for their system of slavery.If they would beleive in free capitalism they can set it without any help from the USA.They blame the USA embargo as a justification to have the Cubans united behind them.I sorry that you as journalist canot see that.You as and educated man should know better that leftish regime lie and fool their citizens to keep them under their control.It is not first time that it happened.If you do not know about , please read the History books.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
  24. Just Common Sense

    Fareed's suggestion is reasonable, though arguable. But the notion that the Republicans are the roadblock to improving relations with Cuba, as some commenters here argue, is completely bogus. President Obama can take any number of steps on his own authority, including appointing an Ambassador, without the need for a single Republican vote. Heck, he just concluded a deal with Iran with whom we have no diplomatic relations either. The roadblock for all you Castro lovers is the President himself, not the Republicans.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:43 am | Reply
  25. paofpa

    Is it a Step by Step Reform of Cuba? Or is it a Step by Step Reform of the US trying to get it nose out of Cuban business? When their people see money they will change trying to keep what they see as is the best from both worlds. Our right will need to find another monster under the bed.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:47 am | Reply
  26. gstlab3

    I think we should take Cuba and turn it into the 51st state., a party resort island for the wealthy and then take Puerto rico and the Bahama islands and then we should invade south America and Mexico so we can get on with the north american union and complete the new world order on this side of the pond.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:51 am | Reply
    • paofpa

      Be warned, the Armies might fight on opposite sides.

      December 15, 2013 at 10:02 am | Reply
  27. Noshel

    Mr. Zakaria,
    I watch your programs every chance I get, because I do believe that you are the most balance commentator on all television talk show in this country, with the exception of 60 Minutes. But now you seem to having me questioning your take on Capitalism.
    You know as much as I do, that capitalism is worst than communism!. at lease all Cubans can put their pot on the fire, knowing where and when their next meal is coming from!. But in this the so-call greatest capitalist country in the world, we have over several million starving people. and we have even some of our own troops who went to war to let some of us become billionaire, they come home and some of them have to be sleeping under bridges and overpass, and in deplorable condition. which is not the case in Communist countries!. We should be ashamed, May be we should try communist for a change, I believe the world would be a better place!.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
  28. MightyMoo

    Take a long hard look at America and think about giving capitalism a chance. No question it does offer some nice perks but there are serious down sides to it that you can see in America. Money getting in to politics, money buying your way out of jail (See recent Texas DUI with the kid killing 4 people), and how capitalism unchecked monopolizes everything in our country under "To big to fail" companies who can't go to jail when they break the law.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:03 am | Reply
  29. Charles

    Sanctions only work if they are multilateral, as they did in South Africa. The US standing alone against Cuba hurts them, but not enough to force change. Now, they can blame the US for their economic woes rather than their inefficient system. Giving Cubans a taste of freedom is much more likely to prompt a push for more change.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
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