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. monkE

    oh yeah, capitalism will change cuba alright. look at all the great things it's done for amurka.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:06 am | Reply
    • senn

      Predictable. Capitalism has brought more people out of poverty than any other system or government program ever has. The fact that you have a computer to type that dumb comment is a testament to its success.

      December 15, 2013 at 10:15 am | Reply
      • Extortion is production

        Public R&D money via government taxes payed for the revolutions in technology in the 20th century. The transistor, the PCB, satellite technology, the Internet, most of the stuff we take for granted today was not made with capital investment. That statement is sadly a terrible fallback mechanism to grasp onto when reality presents a harsher history and extrapolation of future trends without the help of you or I to fund future thieves' hundred billion dollar corporations. Most of googles algorithm patents came from DARPA research, the iPhone was subsidized in part with American parts and research as well. Where are my royalty checks? Instead of getting reimbursed on my productive work time to fund google, I get to pay for Eric schmidt's subsidized jet fuel flights to schmooze the president and play golf.

        December 15, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • tim

      Are you retarded?

      December 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • am

      who care what Cuba eat.

      December 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  2. Eric Schwing

    The corporate News, CNN and Fareed Zakaria wants to co opt, corrupt, Cuba with class enslavement. Like all the pom pom cheerleaders, and class ideologues, their embrace of monopoly, parasitic, Patriarchal class tyranny , " the MARKET" , hiding the failure of Western social development, ended with Zakaria asking for class compromise, as the Social Enlightenment did, with colonialism, slavery, apartheid, class enslavement i.e. his demand that they "Try Capitalism for 5 years. " in return for friendship with Western, Patriarchal, totalitarian, Parasitic class enslavement.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:29 am | Reply
  3. TheTruth

    Another CNN article that reads like a 4th grade essay. A child-like attempt at journalism touting markets, trade, travel as cures to socialistic societies. Cuba is decades ahead of USA in education, health care, crime, distribution of wealth and labor. It is obvious the. shyster who wrote this has never set a foot in Cuba, and is stealing the paycheck.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, TheTruth, for your intelligent input here. I'm sick and tired of all these ignorant, anti-Cuban comments here made by either the right-wing fanatics, Tea Party members or the Mafia. These stupid rants never seem to end!

      December 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • VastConspirator

      AAAAHAHAHAHAHHAHA! That's a good one, you almost had me there! Cuba is way ahead of us aaalahahahha.....wait, you WERE joking, right?

      Certainly you couldn't be serious about a country where people are KILLED for trying to escape it as being "ahead" of us.
      You can't really believe that a country that tortures to death anyone who speaks out against government is superior???
      Oh, wait, their health care is "free" so in the minds of low information Obama voters that makes all the atrocities perfectly fine.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Another idiotic comment from another right-wing, feeble minded Tea Partier above. Is this bozo truly this ignorant? With posts like these, we appear to be in league with the third world when it comes to education!

        December 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • Yankee Mike Bravo

      According to WHO, the U.S. is a little bit better than Cuba when it comes to healthcare. I don't know enough about primary education to comment, but the U.S. flattens Cuba when it comes to university-level education; as for wealth-distribution, there's no argument there. The U.S. wealth-gap rivals those seen in African. We can also whip Cuba at baseball.

      December 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • PattyD

      Well Fareed. I don't thinkLenin or the present Pope would agree with you!

      December 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  4. Paul

    Canadian and Europeans have been vacationing in Cuba for years. "Regime change" has to be one of the lamest excuses since the US trades and borrows money from China. But then again, these other countries don't worry about having to placate the Cuban exiles living in Florida every election time. Certainly, the citizens are lacking in many products we take for granted but they are well educated, get free medical and are not basically violent in nature. Walking down a street at night and feeling safe is not problem as in some Us cities. A real bonus is not seeing all those commercial signs like McDonalds inundating the landscape. It feels like a "real" holiday away from it all.

    December 15, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
  5. Paul

    A 50+ yr. embargo on Cuba just because Fidel gave the US a bloody nose. Talk about holding on to a useless grudge. The Cold War has ended and the US trades and borrows money from China. I mean......... get real all you American politicians.

    December 15, 2013 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Yankee Mike Bravo

      The reason the embargo is still in place is because it's favored by Cuban ex-patriots, who have become naturalized U.S. citizens. They are now the battleground voting group in Florida, the nation's chief battleground state. Neither party dare cross them.

      December 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
      • Abraham

        Why do you call them "ex-patriots" if they are already American citizens ?
        So the USA has been strangling Cuba economically for decades because of the Cuban immigrants to the USA. That is nice to know.

        December 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  6. tim

    The biggest supporters of the embargo are the older Cuban Americans. They blame Castro for them leaving behind their wealth and properties. So at the expense of their own families still living in Cuba they hope to impose a revenge upon Castro and his Cuba.

    December 15, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
  7. Alex279

    Why not try capitalism for five years? - meaning what? Try for a limited time and see whether it works, and then decide later whether to accept it or go back?

    An interesting thought, although not without historical precedents. In fact, all contries who made transition from socialism to capitalism whent through the same path:

    (1) Given solialist, soviet-style planned economy create and install parasitic class on top of it.

    (2) Asquire, privatize, bancrupt, liquidate, buy for penny-for-dollar, and sell to somebody for a little bit more.

    (3) Get rid of all social services, free education and medical help - wellfare state is for lazy people.

    (4) Extort and export capital to offshores. Suck, skim, and waste.

    (5) Reduce economy to purery raw material exports an import everything else. Join WTO and suppress domestic manufacturing of everything by bringing better goods from outside. Get rid of niclear energy (if any) and let all other infrastructure to deteriorate.

    (6) Accept outsourced low-paying bureocratic and accounting jobs - such as corporate tax return preparation for US companies outsourced to Poland.

    ...And what if it does not work after 5 years, or people do not like it? How to reverse it back? Another socialist revilution followed by a civil war?

    December 15, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • Abraham

      Well said Alex!!

      I could add many more descriptive points of the great USA system , but yours will suffice for the time being.

      December 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  8. saywhat

    I tend to agree with sentiments expressed by@Paul.
    We should get real and not only with Cuba but elsewhere.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  9. Bill Ammons

    There is even a better path and at no cost to the the American taxpayers. Just drop the embargo, and any trade or travel rules. The Cubans will follow the new opportunities and listen less and less to the tired drum beats of their "Leadership". Our economy will grow as Cuba can now import from the U.S. instead of buying from China.

    I also wonder how many billions the government wastes each year hating and monitoring Cuba ? That cost would go away. Any numbers from the Congressional Budget Office anyone ?

    December 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • SweetWillliam

      Sounds good to me and I live in the USA.

      December 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  10. GatorALLin

    The best way to bring change and improve the lives of those most manipulated by controlling power of Gov't , etc is to bring knowledge and transparency and truth.

    Sure...empower the people of Cuba with Capitalism. But please bring with you the Internet, and cell phones so the people can share information and knowledge or self organize the change THEY want... not what we think they want/need.

    I agree our long standing trade and travel embargo on Cuba is not working for regime change ... lets try something new. The Cuban people are smart, hard working, resilient and the damage our government has imposed has hurt their people Most of all... even if their own government is also to blame. Lets move beyond the past... please.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  11. sfg

    Fareed the Blovine is still here?

    Mr. Plagiarism never had an original thought.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  12. Rosslaw

    Any mental midgets that think the Castro regime changed any minds or made any headway with its own people because of a handshake at a funeral need to get out of their mommy's basement and into the world more. The genuises who promote a completely failed 53 year old embargo of Cuba are the same who promote the completely failed, economic alchemy of trickle down economics and critcize Pope Francis for not being as "smart" as they are.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  13. kingofhearts

    Please folks, just ignore the ignorant comments that I made here earlier. I was so drunk that I bashed the Cubans and their current government! That's what happens when a person afflicted with "affluenza" drinks too much! Now I figured it all out. The people on Capitol Hill have the same sickness and that's the very reason we have these so called economic "sanctions" against Cuba!

    December 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  14. Marcin Cichocki

    The poor people of Cuba will be taken advantage of by major corporations and will be producing stuff for $1 per hour. Just the same way capitalism works in other 3rd world countries

    December 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      That it will Mercin, that it will.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  15. Mark Irwin

    Fareed, I agree with ya... it would really be nice if we could let by-gones be by-gones and patch things up again with Cuba. If Hilton, Marriott, Sandals, etc. all opened up shop in Cuba, THOUSANDS of new jobs would be created for Cubans. Add that to 3 or 4 new ports of call for mega cruiseship lines a la Royal Caribbean, Carnival, etc. and all of a sudden, you've got a thriving economy for the island nation.

    The bottleneck?? The Castro brothers. As long as they keep spouting the "America is evil" propaganda, (while paying off the military to enforce their rule), change is unlikely. But, if the general population could ever get motivated by watching the DOZENS of cruise ships whizz right by every week and convince the military to switch sides, then Cuba could indeed vault into the future. Heck, it might even vie with St. Thomas or St. Martin for tourism commerce!

    December 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  16. Greg

    Capitalism is almost always the answer to economic woes anywhere. I know the liberal democrats hate to hear this, but it is true.

    December 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • s~

      You mean give people choices with their own lives chance to prosper?
      That's crazy thinking.

      December 15, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  17. J

    You can call me a commie, a Marxist, or a socialist, I don't care; capitalism as we know it in America is a disease.

    December 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      You nailed it, J. Thank you.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  18. Evelyn Connaway

    Cuba was once a party place for the politicians, American rich and underworld Mafia, when Batista was in charge. Castro's revolution got rid of him, and they didn't like it. They like those wide open gambling places, that were corrupt in every way. So did the rich and wealthy Cubans.

    December 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  19. BGC

    This opinion article is pretty one sided and ignorant. Having recently been to Cuba as part of an educational trip I can tell you firsthand that while the country is struggling- it's not any more broken than the US. The comment on their economy being self imposed- rubbish. And as for releasing political prisoners- we should start doing that here in the US before we demand other countries do it. We trade with North Korea but not Cuba? Stupid.

    December 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      Thank you, BGC. I am so sick and tired of seeing these nitwits here vomiting out their anti-Castro bla-bla-bla. These vacant headed people won't admit that Fidel Castro did more for Cuba than any other man who ever lived and none of their right-wing bla-bla-bla here is going to change that!

      December 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Reply
    • Milton Platt

      Your comments are interesting. Can you name a few political prisoners in the U.S?

      December 15, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  20. Noshel

    We should not try to make Cuba the mistakes of the Middle east. like Egypt Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian territory.

    December 15, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  21. CubanCapitalist

    Good old US of A, the only country where you can arrive with just the clothes you have on, work hard and become successful. I, many others are proof of that. Worked hard, went to college, I live in a huge beautiful house and my children attend a very expensive and excellent private school. That is the American dream. Capitalism is the only regime that works.

    December 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      But what about the vast majority who came but didn't "make it", CubanCapitalist? Not everyone who comes are quite as successful as you. Did you hear that back in 1919, thousands of Russian immigrants were deported although none of them had anything to do with either of the 1917 Revolutions in Russia at that time? Then again, try telling those underprivileged minority kids in our ghettos about how this system is "helping" them.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  22. Cuban visitor

    Just got back from Cuba, people lovely, no crime, no guns, they need to catch up with rest of the world, however be a disaster if the Americans are allowed to swamp a lovely country and make it like it was under Baptista. Cubans need to change slowly.

    December 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  23. am

    who care if it work or not. The Cubans must decide on their own.

    December 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  24. noteasilyswayed

    This Fareed guy sure thinks a lot of himself..... delusions of grandeur; he thinks he's some kind of a great statesman and people will surely listen to the BS that pours out of his mouth. ROFLMAO!

    December 15, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  25. Cortes

    Is Cuba a force in the world? No. So the embargo did work. Empowering Cuba the way we have china is not the answer. Enough naïveté.

    December 15, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  26. yapido

    What concession is Cuba expected by the US to make that will end the embargo and sanctions? (I forget.)

    December 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  27. s~

    Those of you who believe Cuba is better, please get on the next plane or boat and go. Swim if you must. Just get your a55 over there.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  28. SweetWillliam

    Maybe they'd rather have their health care.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  29. josh

    Cuba knows what is the best for the country

    December 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  30. CharlieSeattle

    This article was written for and or by US companies that want a closer place to off shore jobs too.

    China was once treated as the pariah threat it still is. just like Cuba. Then Nixon went to China. The real damage came when...

    Clinton Gives Strong Push To Admitting China to WTO
    By Brian Knowlton – Published: April 8, 1999.

    WASHINGTON— As Prime Minister Zhu Rongji of China began a delicate state visit to the United States, President Bill Clinton made a strong pitch Wednesday for the country's membership in the World Trade Organization, calling such a move "profoundly in our national interests."

    WTO membership has been resisted by some in Congress because of China's trade barriers and human-rights practices.

    Like the results now?

    December 15, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Such is to be expected from someone like you Charlie, with your obvious limitations. I bet that you never inasmuch have ever set foot in Cuba, let alone know anything about their current economic status. Speaking of China, we sorely need that country to finance our current spending deficit and as a threat, we are the only country today that poses any kind of threat to anyone due to our vastly over sized military!

      December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Reply
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