(Not Quite) Taking It to the Streets

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A news article about a home-grown (but apparently self-surveiling) computer network in Havana raises some interesting questions about the effectiveness of our longstanding trade embargo against the communist regime as well as the wisdom of ending it. Early in the article, we learn that the powers-that-be there blame the embargo for the unavailability of Interent access to most Cubans. Our own Nomenklatura wanna-bes seem to agree with them, as do their media lapdogs, as we see in the first and third paragraphs of the below excerpt:

Cuba's status as one of the world's least-wired countries is central to the new relationship Washington is trying to forge with Havana. As part of a new policy seeking broader engagement, the Obama administration hopes that encouraging wider U.S. technology sales to the island will widen Internet access and help increase Cubans' independence from the state and lay the groundwork for political reform.

Cuban officials say Internet access is limited largely because the U.S. trade embargo has prevented advanced U.S. technology from reaching Cuba and starved the government of the cash it needs to buy equipment from other nations. But the government says that while it is open to buying telecommunications equipment from the U.S., it sees no possibility of changing its broader system in exchange for normal relations with the U.S.

Outside observers and many Cubans blame the lack of Internet on the government's desire to control the populace and to use disproportionately high cellphone and Internet charges as a source of cash for other government agencies.
What the Cuban government claims, some opponents hope, and its imitators here claim to hope is put to the sword by a quote buried, epitaph-like, at the very end of the article -- just as the "outside observers" (Cuban diaspora?) would expect (in more ways than one):
"It's proof that it can be done," said Alien Garcia, a 30-year-old systems engineer who publishes a magazine on information technology that's distributed by email and storage devices. "If I as a private citizen can put up a network with far less income than a government, a country should be able to do it, too, no?"
Translation: The line about why most Cubans lack decent Internet access is a lie. The government publishing this lie will be the main beneficiary of any increase in wealth a lifting of the embargo will bring, and will do what it can to control the flow of information, should the embargo (aka, its favorite all-purpose excuse) come to an end.

Our sanctions plainly haven't driven the Cuban regime out of power, but they obviously haven't inspired a revolution, either. (People have free will, and deprivation will not make them pursue any particular course of action. Plenitude, as if that would happen, won't, either.) What the sanctions have done is prevented a nearby country with such a ruling class, whose people tolerate it to a degree, from becoming any more powerful, at least with our help. At the same time, Cuba's rulers, haven't been able to line their own pockets quite so effectively.

It is not the proper purpose of our government to spread freedom around the world, but to protect it here. (This could include aiding a rebellion in Cuba, should that ever come to pass.) I don't regard embargoes as a substitute for war, when it is called for. However, embargoes can be a proper response to tin-pot dictatorships that don't respect individual rights and would cause us problems if we were foolish enough to treat them like ordinary nations.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

‘The line about why most Cubans lack decent Internet access is a lie.’
Of course the Cuban government has plenty of trade with individuals and governments from many countries other than the US, plus you can’t tell me the necessary technology isn’t available on the black market.
‘will do what it can to control the flow of information’
The only way removing the embargo could effectively help the Cubans is if the government became unable to control the flow of information. I am not sure how likely that would be.
‘I don't regard embargoes as a substitute for war’
I think a lot depends on the level of the threat and the amount of effort it would take to mount a war. Clearly Cuba hardly seems worth it. OTOH, the regime in Iran should have been removed forcefully years ago.
‘It is not the proper purpose of our government to spread freedom around the world, but to protect it here.’
True, but if they did their job here better, they could not help but be a shining example and spread freedom around the world without even trying. This is actually a truly sad commentary on today’s situation. Had the Western governments, especially the US done their job at home we would have a far better world overall. Given the strength of the US military there is really no excuse for how poorly recent US presidents have done. Reagan performed reasonably well, since he had to contend with the possibility of a nuclear strike which would restrict to some extent the actions he could take. With that one exception, I can’t think of a single president since Eisenhower who understood that a president’s job is to be the commander in chief not a career counselor. There is no way the US should have let Russia threaten them with a nuclear strike when we invented the atom bomb first.

Gus Van Horn said...

Even if the Cuban government lost control of the flow of information, a (real) revolution might not happen there. Just look at whom Americans elected -- twice. Or what the GOP says about Obama. Who says that the Cubans wouldn't merely sweep a more "competent" Castro into power?