Cuba: Real normalization, or no deal

by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2014, at 5:41 pm

It’s been 10 years since I did some reporting from Cuba, but faces flashed by my eyes as I heard President Barack Obama’s plan to normalize relations with the Communist country: the Baptist minister with Abraham Lincoln biographies and 18 Don Quixote statuettes on his shelves, the Assemblies of God pastor seeking freedom to distribute medicine to those in need, the Salvation Army captain who wanted to open up homes for the elderly, and the wife of a political prisoner who operated from her apartment a lending library with books by George Orwell and others.

Washington’s debate is likely to have Democrats (with the exception of some Cuban-Americans) favoring normalization and Republicans opposing it. But I hope Republicans, instead of just saying no, call for full normalization, which means freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the other great freedoms we enjoy in America. It was good to see half a hundred political prisoners released, but hundreds remain locked up, and those released may be rearrested at the Castro regime’s whim. That’s not normal.

Real normalization means open communication, with churches and individuals allowed laptops and internet access. A decade ago in Havana I spoke with observers who talked about the material problems in Cuba but saw the nonmaterial problems as even greater. They spoke often about the distrust for neighbors they had developed over the years as Cubans spied on each other to avoid imprisonment themselves. Real normalization means freedom from fear.

One positive Cuban development over the years has been the growth of civil society institutions that care for Cubans in the wake of governmental failure. We may discover history repeating itself in an anti-Marxist way. Vladimir Lenin wrote 98 years ago, just before the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, “Side by side with this government … there has arisen the chief, unofficial … embryo of a workers’ government, the representative of the interests of the entire mass of the poor section of the population, i.e., of nine-tenths of the population, which is striving for peace, bread, and freedom.”

The non-governmental distributors of medicine, milk, and books deserve our help. Real normalization means minimizing government-to-government deals and maximizing church-to-church and person-to-person help. Republicans should promote real normalization and not settle for the construction of one more Obama show palace. Republicans should help not the Castro brothers but the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. No real normalization, no deal.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

Read more from this writer