My thoughts on the world around me

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Five Foreign Films (Maybe More) Show Hollywood’s a Bit Soft

Below are the five nominees for the Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film. After seeing all five trailers, a couple issues came to mind:

(1) Why are these foreign language films not competing against the likes of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Frost/Nixon” for Best Picture contention? If my memory serves me correctly, “Il Postino” has been the only foreign film, at least in recent years, to be among the five nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. These films are, in my opinion, far more raw, intense, provocative, and ultimately more gratifying to a film lover. While there are exceptions (“Scent of a Woman” and “Brokeback Mountain” to name just a couple), I feel that terms like “grittiness” and “beautiful,” while commonplace among foreign films, are still not usually associated with Hollywood pictures.

My final thought is that Hollywood is much too safe; it focuses on the bottom line rather than on satiating our appetites as human beings.

(2) How was “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” nominated over “Entre les Murs” (“The Class”)? “Entre les Murs” won the Palme d’Or (Best Picture) at the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival, and it’s France’s official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film! Interesting…

Going back to the movie trailers, I’ve arranged them from worst to best based on my own personal preferences.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (“I’ve Loved You So Long” – France):

I will say this about Kristin Scott Thomas: she’s perfect for this kind of role (the character who carries pain silently, or has a mysterious or troubled past). There is a melancholy look to her blue eyes, most emblazoned in my mind by the movie “The English Patient.”

Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (“Everlasting Moments” – Sweden):

For other artistic works based on female liberation or empowerment (at least that’s what I got out of the trailer), I particularly find relevant Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (“The Baader Meinhof Complex” – Germany):

Gomorra (“Gomorrah” – Italy):

Vals Im Bashir (“Waltz With Bashir” – Israel):

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments