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Free and Fair: Trade with Cuba

Feb
27
2008

Since I am not running for president of the United States and winning over voters in Florida is not critical to my career choices, I can say one thing without hesitation: it’s time to tear down the wall between the United States and Cuba.

Although Cuba’s “elected leaders” did little more than continue their dynastic politics in handing over leadership to lifelong Cuban President Fidel Castro’s brother, Raúl, last week, the handover offers the United States an opportunity to affect change we can believe. It’s time to end the Cuban embargo and allow free trade, travel and investment in our island neighbor.

If we learned anything from the end of the Cold War, it should have been that free trade leads to free people. Our embargo on Cuba may have served only to prop up Fidel Castro, but by opening up the borders to Cuba, we will either bring down the regime of Raúl, or force it to bring change.

A year ago, writing about the war in Iraq, I wrote that, “the day we see a Starbucks in Baghdad will be the day we know we’ve won the War on Terror.” That is because multi-national corporations have a stabilizing effect on global politics. They force their host countries to adopt investor-friendly policies, while keeping countries where they hold investments from fighting each other.

My uncle, Jerome Schmidt, just returned to the States from Vietnam. It was his first trip back since he served there in the United States Army three decades ago. In his daily correspondences with family and friends in the states, Uncle Jerry had one recurring question: why did we fight this war?

His questioning of the Vietnam War wasn’t fostered by the anti-war sentiments of the 1960s, but rather by the realization that Vietnam today is as free and capitalist as America. In fact, some might argue that there is more economic freedom in the Saigon than in San Francisco! Although the tactical was in Vietnam may have been lost, the war of ideologies was, in the end, won. And everybody is better off for it.

With Kosovo gaining its independence from Serbia, the last remnants of the Iron Curtain hang just off the coast of the Florida Keys. And you have to ask: if Vietnam’s politics can change after a healthy dose of global capitalism, why can’t Cuba’s?

Imagine if investment and travel restrictions on Cuba were lifted. Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and Sandals would rush in to Havana to redevelop the best real estate into mega-resorts. Arnold Schwarzenegger could open a cigar shop! Starbucks could introduce the Green Tea Mojito Latte, and MacDonald’s could try its hand at a Torta Asada, Cuban Style.

Faced with a flood of potential investment of the United States, Cuba would have to change its policies to make these companies feel safe in making the investment, and social policies would have to be reformed to make the American tourist feel welcome.

Within a year, I’d bet, the average Cuban would see his or her standard of living double – if not triple – and they’d ask themselves why they tolerated the policies of the ancien regime for so long.

We do not need guns, bombs, or secret assassinate plots to free the people of Cuba. America needs to take leadership in an economic change – and chance – to bombard the island nation with economic shock-and-awe. Free trade leads to free peoples, and is that is the only way we will see a Free Cuba!

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:32 AM | Permalink

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